McGlory’s Armory Hall

Billy McGlory
Billy McGlory

Billy McGlory was one of the most infamous men in Manhattan in the 1880s, at the center of organized crime and well connected.

Adapted from Wikipedia (footnotes intact; clicking will take you to Wikipedia):

William “Billy” McGlory (1853 – ?) was an American saloon keeper and underworld figure in New York City during the mid-to late 19th century. He was well known in The Bowery and Five Points districts, owning a number of popular establishments throughout the city, most notably McGlory’s Armory Hall, up until the turn of the 20th century. A gang member in his youth, his  Armory Hall remained a popular Bowery hangout for members of the underworld in the old Fourth and Sixth Wards during the late 1870s and 1880s.

Armory Hall

McGlory opened McGlory’s Armory Hall, located at 158 Hester Street,[5] in the late 1870s. It was described by a journalist for the Cincinnati Inquirer as having “a beastliness and depravity… compared with which no chapter in the world’s history is equal.”[1][3] It very quickly became a popular underworld resort, frequented by thieves, pickpockets, and procurers throughout the old Fourth and Sixth Wards for nearly two decades.[2] Armory Hall was often the scene of barroom brawls and gang violence. Drunken customers were robbed, many times by the female regulars who flirted with the victim beforehand, and then dragged from a table by a bouncer and thrown out into the street. Once outside, the victim would be searched by for anything of value and was usually stripped of his clothes.[1][6][7]

In January 1879, McGlory was indicted for running a disorderly house. [See Prostitution] When he failed to show up in court the following month, his $500 bail was forfeited but no further action was taken. … McGlory spent time in The Tombs.[8]

Many of the much feared bouncers of McGlory’s Armory Hall were well-known criminals and hired thugs of the Five Points and the New York waterfront. These men were described as “some of the most expert rough-and-tumble fighters of the period” and could be seen walking the club freely wearing pistols, knives, brass knuckles, and bludgeons which they often used against unruly or otherwise uncooperative customers.[1][7]

In 1883, McGlory’s Grand Scarlet Ball included a cakewalk, mixed boxing matches, a beauty contest and a masquerade ball.

Armory Hall was entered from the street through a double doorway, which led into a long, narrow passageway with its walls pained “dead black”. Fifty feet down the unlighted passage was the barroom and from there the main dance hall, furnished with chairs and tables, which accommodated up to 700 people. The music played in the dance hall included a piano, a cornet and a violin. A balcony ran around two sides of the hall with small box seats, some containing secret compartments,[9] separated by heavy curtains reserved for wealthy patrons. These were usually out-of-towners who were known as big spenders in the city’s many resorts and clubs. Private exhibitions were held in these boxes “even more degraded then the Haymarket” and McGlory, as an added attraction, employed half a dozen half young males as waitresses “dressed in feminine clothing and circulated through the crowd, singing and dancing.”[1][3][7] (see Gay Culture) They were “painted like women” and spoke in high, falsetto voices. As well as the many prostitutes and “serving girls” working in the dance hall, the concert saloon was widely known for encouraging homosexual activity among its patrons.[9] McGlory also held athletic events at Armory Hall and charged 15 cents to attend these promotions.