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Black & Tan Club

Theme: Arts & Culture

Seattle’s music scene was often the only place where people of all backgrounds could socialize freely. One of the most well-known neighborhood venues was the Black & Tan, on the border of the Chinatown-International District and the Central Area.

Harry Legg, a Black entrepreneur, purchased the street-level storefront at 12th Avenue and Jackson Street in 1916. There he opened the Alhambra Grocery and later the Alhambra Cabaret on the lower level in 1920. Tragically, Legg died in an accident just three years later. The cabaret’s ownership changed hands multiple times over the next decade. Still, the club developed a following as a hangout for good music, good drinks, and a good time. Even during Prohibition, the club remained a vibrant social space and active bar scene.

In the early 1930s, E. Russell “Noodles” Smith and Burr “Blackie” Williams purchased the club. They decided to change the Alhambra’s name to “Black & Tan,” a common name referring to the racially diverse clientele of music clubs in Harlem at that time. Though the club eventually gained a reputation as a site of illicit activities, the Black & Tan thrived despite Seattle’s political, social, and demographic changes. Under Smith & Williams’ management, the Black & Tan hosted nearly every nationally acclaimed jazz musician and well-known local talent. Among locals, it was a venue where almost anyone with an instrument could drop by for a late-night jam session. The Black & Tan also employed an almost exclusively Black staff, which was an integral part of Harry Legg’s vision from the beginning.

The Black & Tan remained in operation until about 1969. Although there is no official record of the club’s closing, it is likely that the doors were shuttered for good following the death of the owner at the time. As of 2017, efforts have been underway to revive the spirit of the Black & Tan at a new venue in the Hillman City neighborhood by the same name.

Images

Original location of the Black & Tan Club.

Photo courtesy of Converge Media LLC.

Original location of the Black & Tan Club.

Photo courtesy of Converge Media LLC.

E. Russell "Noodles" Smith and three friends in a vintage car in Seattle, circa 1935.

Photo courtesy of the Black Heritage Society of Washington State.

The International Sweethearts of Rhythm perform at the Black & Tan in 1944.

Photo courtesy of the Museum of History & Industry.

Clubgoers toast at the Black & Tan in 1950.

Photo courtesy of the Museum of History & Industry.

A singer and jazz band perform at the Black & Tan, circa 1947.

Photo courtesy of the Museum of History & Industry.

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