Dickie Wells Club, Harlem, New York, 1940-1950

October 15, 2017

Dickie Wells was called the Harlem Playboy, and his club originally built as a bowling alley Dickie Wells aka “Dickie’s club” (above left photograph) was meant to be an off shoot of his reputation at 162 West 133rd Street at Seventh Avenue, in Harlem, NY, 1940-1950.

Dickie Wells was called the Harlem Playboy, and his club originally built as a bowling alley Dickie Wells aka “Dickie’s club” (above left photograph) was meant to be an off shoot of his reputation at 162 West 133rd Street at Seventh Avenue, in Harlem, NY, 1940-1950.

Harlem’s legendary Tree of Life (or “Tree of Hope“) stood right in front of his club next to the Lincoln Theater on 7th Avenue & 132 street by the place know as “the corner” which was a hangout street spot.

Insgrum writes that as Dickie’s reputation grew, so did his interest in owning a Harlem-based restaurant. According to street legend, a rich female admirer of his fronted him the cash to start a Supperclub, which, by the early 1930s, became one of the most popular nightspots in Harlem during the Jazz Age. His club was patronized by the likes of Tallulah Bankhead, Errol Flynn, Ava Gardner, Clark Gable, Bumpy Johnson and Charlie Chaplin, Joan Crawford, and Harlemite Walter Winchell. A headliner was female impersonator “Gloria Swanson” (Walter Winston, 1907–40), who sang bawdy ballads attired in furs and fancy frocks. His star faded during Mayor LaGuardia’s campaign to outlaw cross dressing in clubs in the late 1930s. And it was here that the “chicken and waffle” recipe came to life.

According to dancer Honi Coles in Past and Present: Sankofa:

You’d see all these chauffeured limousines out there, chauffeurs sitting up sleeping; they were for, say, people who’d been to Connie’s Inn or the Cotton Club, downtown people. This would be at eight o’clock in the morning; kids would be going to school, and the chauffeurs would be waiting for these people to come out of the joints, like Dickie Wells or whatever.

Rich, rich people- celebrities, politicians, royalty, like the Duke of Windsor. Harlem was his hangout; he made all of the joints. Dickie Wells’ spot was the most famous, and Dickie was probably the most popular man in Harlem. There was wonderful entertainment, stars from the big clubs like Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Ethel Waters and Duke Ellington.

Since Dickie’s club catered to the late night/early morning crowd, most of his customers were undecided on whether to order dinner or breakfast. Dickie fixed that problem by serving them a little bit of both: some coffee here, a shot of bourbon there, and a hot plate of chicken and waffles. This odd but tasty dish soon became the new craze in Harlem and everyone started to get in on the action. Actress Ethel Waters opened her own restaurant that served the dish as did another Wells (J.T. Wells not related), who opened his famous “Wells Supper Club” (not to be confused with Dickie’s club) in 1938. But it was Dickie who first introduced Harlemites to the dish in 1930. Roscoes House of Chicken & Waffles is the most popular restaurant chain that continues to serve the dish. Its founder, Herb Hudson, who was born and raised in Harlem, brought the dish to the West Coast in the 1970s.

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As for Dickie Wells, he died at the young age of 41. When news of his death spread from Harlem to Hollywood, Ava Gardner cried for days while Tallulah Bankhead collapsed and fainted. Billie Holiday was scheduled to perform at his funeral but was too distraught to do so. Over 25,000 people (mostly crying women) attended his funeral service.

The building above was destroyed in 2012

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