Shakespeare’s Row, Gentlemen Only

Gideon Deshler, c. 1850s
Gideon entered the game room and strode straight to the bar to purchase a beer. Tobacco fogs swirled over tables, and lights from gaslit chandeliers danced in their mist. Murmurs punctuated whirring roulette wheels. Along a far wall, men played games of twenty-one and faro. Billiard balls cracking against each other echoed from an adjoining room.
Gideon never played roulette, though he did sometimes play billiards, and he occasionally engaged in twenty-one and faro. Poker, though, was the pastime he’d come to love. Men who stood beside him at the bar conversed while drinking their liquors of choice. The entire place smelled of beer and tobacco.

In the above scene the protagonist in my WIP, Gideon Deshler, enters a game room in antebellum Mobile’s popular gaming establishment, Shakespeare’s Row. Like New Orleans, Mobile attracted gamblers from a variety of backgrounds—gentlemen, professional gamblers, and the unsavory types.

Shakespeare’s Row, however, only catered to well-mannered and honest gamblers, those who at least appeared to be gentlemen. Troublemakers and dishonest players weren’t allowed on its premises. One writer described it as a string of brick buildings housing numerous businesses along the street, then when a person entered through one of its two arched doorways, he’d find a courtyard. In the middle of this courtyard stood a three-story building, with stairways, that housed twenty-eight game rooms facing it. Gambling activity continued there all night.

Shakespeare’s Row is one of the central settings of my novel-in-progress, tentatively titled Thoroughbreds and the Prodigal. 

Sources

Amos, Harriet E. Cotton City: Urban Development in Antebellum Mobile, Tuscaloosa and London: The University of Alabama Press, 1985.

Chafetz, Henry. Play the Devil: A History of Gambling in the United States from 1492 to 1955, N.p.,Bonanza Books, 1960.

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