“Hello, Suckers!” – this is the way you would have been greeted if you entered the club in its heyday in the 1920s. The greeting would have been delivered by the infamous Texas Guinan.
Texas Guinan came from Texas (thus, the nickname) to take New York by storm. Starting as a simple showgirl she worked her way up into the movies as the first movie cowgirl, nicknamed “The Queen of the West.” She made a career of “kissing horses” (the way she put it) starring in 36 movies, the respectable number which she, in her later stories, inflated to 300. Brainy and brassy, she got tired of her cinematic horse-loving success and took a career change, conveniently afforded by the Prohibition.
With her larger-than-life personality, striking looks, disregard for authority, and wisecracking wit, she became New York’s most famous hostess and club owner. Club Intime, the “swingingest” speakeasy in town, was opened by Texas together with Owney Madden, infamous bootlegger from Hell’s Kitchen with the short but descriptive nickname “The Killer.”
Ms. Guinan was the life of the party… in fact, she WAS the party, and the “suckers” came in droves. Once inside the cozy little basement of Club Intime, the guests found themselves among barely dressed showgirls, illegal booze, and a chance to be the target of Texas’ wit. For all that, they happily parted with an exorbitantly high cover charge of $25 – an equivalent to $350 today!
She earned the moniker “Queen of the Night” – it was even said that if Jimmy Walker, the mayor, ran New York by day, Texas Guinan ran it by night.
The tiny club, filled with smoke, booze, and ladies, attracted politicians, Broadway actors, businessmen, and gangsters.
In 1929 Club Intime was raided by police and shut down in a most theatrical way, with pianos, chairs, tables and other furnishings piled on the sidewalk. It wasn’t a big deal, since as soon as the club was closed another one was opened instead. Guinan and Madden simply sold Club Intime to Dutch Schultz, a big-time Prohibition mobster, who speedily opened his Club Abby in the same exact place.
Texas Guinan was not a stranger to police raids and managed to make quite a show every time she was arrested. Once when she was taken into custody she said, “I don’t know when my jewels have seemed so safe.” Her regular arrests weren’t in any way deterrents to her brisk professional activity. Every time she was taken into custody, once released, she was ready to open another joint.
A true symbol of the Prohibition she died in 1933 just one month before the Prohibition was repealed. She remained a popular figure to the end – her funeral was attended by thousands of people. On her deathbed, she said, “I would rather have a square inch of New York than all the rest of the world.”