The Troy Street Observer

May 22, 1955: The Legendary Latin Quarter Closes

On May 22, 1955, an era in Boston nightlife ended when the Latin Quarter closed its doors for the last time.

The Latin Quarter (46 Winchester Street) packed a lot of nightlife history into its 16-plus years, none more fascinating than its last chapter, from October 1952 to May 1955. That was the era of Rocco “Rocky” Palladino, a character with a cloudy past, a stable of race horses, and a history of run-ins with the Boston Licensing Board.

Photo of Christine Jorgensen
Christine Jorgensen: The Boston Licensing Board had it in for her

The BLB forced Palladino to close another of his clubs, the College Inn, for putting female impersonators on stage in 1952. That was illegal in Boston, and had been since 1948. I’m sure the BLB was less than pleased to see Palladino back in action at the Latin Quarter.

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Feb 27, 1937: City Bureaucrats Hit “Lawless Nightclubs”

It was page one news in the Boston Post: “Lawless Nightclubs Doomed by New Rules”! In the first major push to “clean up nightlife” since repeal of the Volstead Act, Police Commissioner Joseph F. Timilty (no angel, that one), the Boston Licensing Board, and the state’s Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission mandated strict club closing times and an end to after-hours liquor sales.  And wouldn’t you know it, the bureaucracy found a jazz club to serve as whipping boy.

In early 1937, there were two nightclubs at Mass Ave and Columbus featuring jazz prominently in their entertainment mix: the Royal Palms at 410 Mass Ave, and Little Harlem at 428 Mass Ave. Both were owned by whites, hired black performers, and entertained racially mixed audiences.

Little Harlem was the hotter spot, with one of the top bands in town, the Little Harlem Orchestra led by Dean Earl and including the violinist and saxophonist Ray Perry, bassist Slam Stewart, and drummer Dave Chestnut. It also had a colorful owner, Eddie Levine, who just had trouble remembering to close his club at the appointed hour of 1 a.m. With repeated closing violations on its record (three in the first eight days of 1937 alone), Little Harlem was just the kind of “all-night, liquor-selling type” of club that the licensing board was after. The new regulations stationed police on the premises of problem clubs to ensure prompt shutdown, and also explicitly forbade barricading the door, a common tactic held over from speakeasy days, used to stall the police until any potentially incriminating evidence was poured down the sink.

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