Harry Hill's Infamous Dance Hall

Vice at Harry Hill's

Harry Hill was known for running the "only reputable vile house" in New York City. The image above is from the Police Gazette. Click here for the full picture.

Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 gives the following account: “Hill, born in Epsom, England, had been working there as a jockey and horse trainer when in 1850 a visiting American turfman invited him to manage a model horse farm in Astoria. Hill did so for two years, then moved to Manhattan and opened his own sporting house. After the war, Hill’s place drew ‘judges, lawyers, merchants, members of Congress and the State Legislature, doctors and other professional men’ who liked to mingle with pugilists, politicians, and the race track crowd and drink with fast women (not all of them professionals). Harry’s prominent patrons were reassured by the proprietor’s tight surveillance—a prominent sign that warned that ‘no one violating decency, will be permitted to remain in the room’—and his provision of private room in which to sober up, lest they be waylaid by thugs outdoors.”
(Burrows, 957-9)

More Vice at Harry Hill's

Morris describes Hill's establishment: "Harry Hill's place made no concession to the new taste for an atmosphere of luxury. A huge red-and-blue glass lantern identified it, and it occupied the whole of a large, shabby, two-story frame house. ...

The ground-floor room, with its long bar and counter where oysters and sandwiches were sold, was reserved for Hill's sporting patrons. Upstairs was the dance hall, with a counter on one side where, after every dance, couples ordered their drinks, which were brought to the table by a waiter girl. Hill always had at least one hundred girls on hand for his patrons to dance with, and he insisted that they be well-dressed and well-behaved while in his establishment.

Patrons selected their own girls; if they did not, Hill assigned them partners. It was his inflexible rule that whatever bargains were made, alliance formed, or traps set for the unwary male, no victim must be snared while at Harry Hill's; any crime to be committed must take place elsewhere."
(Morris, 51)

Read Reverend Matthew Hale Smith's scandalized account of Harry Hill's.

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Last updated on 4/17/08