Filed Under Gambling

Club Harlem (site)

Operated by African Americans and open to all, the club bucked the segregated policies of Reno's mainstream casinos.

By the 1940s, Reno's casino district was in full swing, but its gambling establishments and clubs were not equally open to everyone. The vast majority of Reno's casinos would not admit any patrons of color, even when African American entertainers were performing on their stages.

To meet the needs of those affected by these racially discriminatory policies, a handful of operators opened a few small clubs and casinos on Reno's east side. One of those operators was William "Bill" Bailey, a U.S. Army veteran who had first moved to Reno in the 1930s. In 1945, Bailey became part owner of the Peavine Club, which catered to African Americans, at 219 Peavine Street (now Evans Avenue). Bailey renamed the establishment Club Harlem (often referred to as the Harlem Club).

The club closed after just over a year when the building was condemned. In 1948, Bailey opened a new location of Club Harlem at 221 E. Douglas Alley, between Lake Street and Evans Avenue. The building's north side faced East Commercial Row, just southeast of the American Railway Express Office (see separate entry).

For nearly two decades, Club Harlem was one of the few integrated clubs in Reno. After their regular shows were over, many African American entertainers who performed in Reno's segregated clubs and casinos came to Club Harlem for spontaneous jam sessions. As Bill Bailey later recounted, it was common for Pearl Bailey (his cousin), Louis Armstrong, Sammy Davis Jr., and B.B. King to play there until the wee hours of the morning.

Bailey sold his interest in the club in 1958, when Norval Embry became its sole proprietor. With the passage of the federal Civil Rights Act in 1964, all of Reno's gaming establishments were finally legally obligated to open their doors to all people of color. In 1968, Club Harlem became known as the Soul Club, which operated until 1977.

Images

Club Harlem
Club Harlem The second location of Club Harlem was at 221 East Douglas Alley, between the alley and Commercial Row. This photo taken in the 1960s looks southwest from the Commercial Row frontage of the club. The top of the First National Bank building (the current Reno City Hall) can be seen at the corner of Virginia and East First Street. Source: Nevada Historical Society Date: 1967
Club Harlem description, 1951
Club Harlem description, 1951 A description of Club Harlem appeared in the April 10, 1951 edition of the Reno Evening Gazette. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: April 10, 1951
The lineup at Club Harlem
The lineup at Club Harlem An ad for the Club Harlem in the Reno Evening Gazette on April 20, 1951 reveals the entertainment lineup for the upcoming weekend. Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: April 20, 1951
Soul Club and Cafe
Soul Club and Cafe In 1968, Club Harlem became known as the Soul Club and Cafe, which operated until 1977. This photograph looks southeast from Commercial Row. Source: Nevada Historical Society

Location

221 East Douglas Alley, Reno, Nevada

Metadata

Alicia Barber, “Club Harlem (site),” Reno Historical, accessed April 12, 2024, https://renohistorical.org/items/show/251.