The “black and tan” clubs of Minetta Street

Minetta Street and Minetta Lane, two tiny paths off Sixth Avenue in the Village, were named in the 1820s for the brook that still runs underground.

Charming, right? But from the Civil War to Prohibition, the Minettas actually had a morally reprehensible reputation.

That’s because the Minettas and the surrounding streets were home to “black and tan” clubs, bars were blacks and whites mingled freely.

The clubs were there because this is where New York’s black residents lived. The neighborhood had been settled by freed slaves, and by the Civil War, it was known as Little Africa, a poor area inhabited by thousands.

“In Minetta Street and Minetta Lane the last of the Cornelia Street colored colony remains entrenched. The crooked, narrow streets are lined with wooden rookeries, amply provided with rear tenements, accessible only through cramped alleys,” states a New York Times article dated February 13, 1910.

Within a decade, black New Yorkers relocated to Harlem, and Italian immigrants moved into the Minettas. Lined with speakeasies during the Depression, it’s now quiet and residential.

[Photo of Minetta Street and Minetta Lane in 1925: NYPL digital collection]

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19 Responses to “The “black and tan” clubs of Minetta Street”

  1. Macy’s Black Friday Ad leaked | RedHotNews.org Says:

    […] The “black and tan” clubs of Minetta Street « Ephemeral New York […]

  2. Stephanie Says:

    What’s the columned structure in the background?

  3. wildnewyork Says:

    I’ve been trying to find out!

  4. Joe R Says:

    Hi Wild-
    That columned building in the background is apparently the former location of Our Lady of Pompei, now on Carmine Street. I guess it was demolished when 6th Avenue was extended. Check out this 1899 map from the (wonderful) New York Public Library site: http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/dgkeysearchdetail.cfm?trg=1&strucID=847776&imageID=1524408&total=133&num=20&parent_id=847740&word=&s=&notword=&d=&c=&f=&k=0&sScope=&sLevel=&sLabel=&lword=&lfield=&imgs=20&pos=36&snum=&e=w

  5. wildnewyork Says:

    Great map, thanks Joe R.

  6. Nabe News: November 8 - Bowery Boogie | A Lower East Side Chronicle Says:

    […] Mintta Lane and Minetta Street of Prohibition days.  At a time of segregation, it was a place where blacks and whites mingled in clubs [Ephemeral […]

  7. Patricia Says:

    hmm… I think that the columned building is actually St. Joseph’s Church, which is still on 6th ave near Minetta Lane. The building as well as the streets have changed some over the years, but I am pretty sure it’s St. Joe’s:

    http://www.washingtonsquarecatholic.org/index.cfm?load=page&page=154

  8. petey Says:

    hmmm … the picture of st josephs’ at their website shows a building with two columns, but the one above has four.

  9. Patricia Says:

    if you are familiar with St. Joseph’s current facade (the building has been worked on many times, inside and out, over the past 150 years or so) there could have been four columns, where the outer two used to be there is now a different architectural detail which serves to enlarge the interior narthex area. I am not certain, but its silly to rule out St. Joe’s based on the columns. Buildings in NY undergo many transformations, esp when they have been around this long. Just sayin’…

  10. Joe R Says:

    I dug a little more into the NYPL photo archives and check this out:
    http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/dgkeysearchdetail.cfm?trg=1&strucID=406488&imageID=716690F&total=110&num=20&word=Bleecker%20Street&s=1&notword=&d=&c=&f=&k=0&lWord=359227&lField=11&sScope=Source&sLevel=&sLabel=Manhattan&imgs=20&pos=36&snum=&backparam=&pNum=0&e=w
    The address noted on Bleecker Street puts this church at just about the mouth of Minetta Street. Also note the (four) Ionic columns. St Joseph’s has Doric columns.

  11. Alex Says:

    I believe it is the church Joe R says it is, and 28-212 Bleecker that would put it in the south west corner of 6th Ave and Bleecker, where the fenced garden is which begins Downing Street.

  12. Patricia Says:

    Joe, Alex- interesting, looks like it may be Pompeii after all. Great photo find, Joe!

  13. Alex Says:

    It think Patricia and Joe are right. Today’s Pompeii, which is at about 230 Bleecker Street, is at least one block further west, which may possibly been at least partly on today’s 6th Avenue . That’s why the fenced garden sticks further out on 6th.

  14. Alex Says:

    There’s a street sign on the left corner in the photo. I zoomed in but can’t make out the street name. It’s possible it may read Downing Street.

  15. Joe R Says:

    Looking back at the real estate map of 1899 linked above, I guess that street in the background would be Hancock Street, which no longer exists. It would have disappeared when 6th Avenue was extended in the 1920s. I think this explains that odd triangular bit of open space on 6th Avenue at the south side of Bleecker.

  16. Peter Bennett Says:

    You can read the street sign on the right side of the photo of Pompeii, it says ‘Bl’, Bleecker street for sure, The street sign in the back would then be Hancock street. I used to go to school at Little Red Schoolhouse on the corner of Bleecker and 6th ave. The kids from Pompeii use to make life miserable for us everyday. Amazing to think they would just tear down all those buildings along 6th ave, 7th ave and 8th ave.

  17. Don anon Says:

    It is not St. Joseph’s Church. It is definitely Our Lady of Pompeii.

    St. Joseph’s Church was a predominantly Irish parish, and it did not cater to the residents of the Minettas. Instead, the church of St. Benedict the Moor, a parish for black Catholics, served the area. That parish occupied the building pictured–210 Bleecker Street–from 1883 to 1898. (It was previously the home of a Universalist congregation.)

    When the black population of the area moved out of the area (first to the Hell’s Kitchen/Lincoln Square area and then to Harlem), St. Benedict’s moved as well. The church was then rededicated as Our Lady of Pompeii to serve the Italian immigrant population replacing the former black residents of the area.

    The building was demolished for the IND subway (which was accompanied by an extension of Sixth Avenue) in the 1930s, when the current church building was erected.

  18. Notorious Village dive bar the Golden Swan « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] it was a seedy gathering place at this corner in the early 1900s—when the West Village was a shabby mixed-race neighborhood of boarding houses and bars, not […]

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