Upon hearing the interesting phrase Blind Tiger, you may think, if I am ever lost in a jungle, and encounter a tiger, may that “wondrous big cat” (Talladega Nights) be a blind one, so that I may stand a decent chance of surviving.
But, Blind Tiger’s origin has nothing to do with the jungle or even the cat species. The etymology of Blind Tiger actually dates back to the mid-late nineteenth century, as the moniker was used to disguise illegally operating bars as exhibition halls.
These speakeasies referred to as Blind Tigers swept the country just as quickly as the Temperance Movement. Blind Tigers began pouncing up around Charleston in the year of 1893, in wake of the highly controversial Governor Benjamin Tillman’s ban on private alcohol sales in the State of South Carolina.
According to legend, Broad Street, was home to many of Charleston’s speakeasies over the years. And, nearly a hundreds years after these illicit establishments began operating, a legal public house emerged on Broad, and in honor of its predecessors it was named the Blind Tiger Pub.
On July 1st, in the year of 1893, the South Carolina Dispensary system went into effect. And, with the new system in place, the state was legally able to monopolize all liquor sales in the South Carolina, and would continue to do so until 1907.
This scam, I mean system was conceived and controlled by South Carolina Governor Benjamin Tillman, a man who must have been a peach, as his nickname was “Pitchfork.” Pitchfork’s scam, I mean idea, was the first of its kind. No state had previously ever tried to control the sale of alcohol to the extent Pitchfork had envisioned.
Pitchfork opened facilities across the entire state, where the alcohol was bottled and dispensed. This operation was soon dubbed as “Ben Tillman’s Baby,” as there was little to no doubt in the minds of the people of South Carolina, that Pitchfork’s scam, I mean endeavor, was not actually meant to help his constituents, but was merely a self-serving initiative predicated upon their backs.
To make matters worse, the state’s sealed alcohol was sold one bottle at the time, and drinking on the premises was strictly prohibited.
The state’s new system for the selling and consumption of alcohol was immediately met with resistance by the public. And, in cities like Charleston, where Tillman received little support, speakeasies, or Blind Tigers begin operating in secret.
Some have even intimated that the moniker Blind Tiger was actually a swipe at Ben “Pitchfork” Tillman. As, Tillman, went blind in one of his eyes at the age of sixteen, and was widely known to be a fan of the Clemson Tigers.
In attempting to control South Carolina’s alcohol industry, Pitchfork Tillman had inadvertently created a black market industry that took ahold of many of the state’s cities, the most prominent example clearly being Charleston.
Dozens, if not hundreds of these Blind Tigers opened for business in Charleston, filled with illegally obtained booze, bootlegged in by the railroad tracks. In an attempt to crackdown on the illicit activity, Pitchfork hired dispensary constables, you know those guys who were hall monitors back in their school days.
On several occasions, Pitchfork’s hall monitors, staked out the South Carolina Railroad in hopes of discovering an incoming shipment of bootlegged booze. However, once they finally saw a shipment of alcohol coming off of a train, they were unable to confiscated the barrels as the railroad was federal and the state had zero authority.
Pitchfork and his hall monitors had a difficult time enforcing the new law, and eliminating all of the Blind Tiger operations that kept popping up. But, there was perhaps no greater headache for Pitchfork than the City of Charleston.
During the reign of Pitchfork Tillman’s law, he continuously sent his constables out to Charleston, where they were tasked to spy on the city’s proprietors and arrest any individual they caught illegally selling alcohol.
One of the first people Pitchfork’s constables arrested was a man by the name of Vincent Chicco. Chicco was alleged to have opened his first Blind Tiger just two weeks after the alcohol dispensary bill became law.
Chicco’s arrest and legal issues were vastly covered by the local media, thus turning Vincent Chicco into a working class hero of sorts.
Even after his tango with the courts, Chicco continued to operate in defiance of the dispensary law. Chicco’s unwillingness to concede to Pitchfork Tillman and his minions, led to him being arrested on three more occasions (in 1901, 1902, and 1903).
Chicco was soon dubbed by the people of Charleston as the King of the Blind Tigers. Many of Chicco’s Blind Tigers were listed in the city directory as grocery stores, cafes, and restaurants. Prior to the dispensary law, he had only owned a saloon.
Despite the constant legal threats, Chicco was not shy about letting it be known he sold wine and liquor at his establishments. He would go on to use his reputation as a maverick, a man willing to stand up to unjust and corrupt laws to launch a political career of his own.
Chicco ran as an alderman for his ward, and was elected. A clear sign that the public was rebuking Pitchfork Tillman, and his dispensary law. Chicco, had clearly earned the respect of the people from Ward 3, and served five consecutive terms.
When considering the state’s dispensary experiment and Charleston disobedience of the law, it’s not surprising one of the city’s bars would pay homage to the era, by choosing the name the Blind Tiger Pub.
While the Blind Tiger Pub is intended to be tongue-in-cheek, with an all around light hearted atmosphere, it has experienced ups and downs over the years.
Housed in a building constructed in 1803, the Blind Tiger was a home away from home since it first opened its doors in the late eighties. From the beginning, the pub was a place where the people of Charleston could take a break from the realities of the lives. From college, from work, from their families. Imagine St. Elmo’s meets Cheers, and there you have it, the Blind Tiger Pub.
It was first announced in the fall of 2015, the Blind Tiger Pub would temporarily close as the new owner, Mike Shuler and his team decided how to proceed, as the building needed repairs.
For a few months, there was uncertainty as to the pub’s future. Was it going to move to another location, or would it close it’s doors for good.
Ultimately, Mike Shuler decided to renovate the space. But, while he and his team were making updates, he made the promise that it would be the “same old Tiger,” but at the same time, “dramatically different."
Shuler went on to say, "I have every confidence in the world that people will appreciate it and flock back. I’m proud of what we’ve done."
The renovated Blind Tiger Pub revealed the “new den” on the 1st of September in 2016. Gone was the mold and cheap beer. But, Shuler, was careful in walking the thin line between the bar’s tradition, and the modern trends of the day.
When you open a business in a building that dates back to the year of 1803, you expect there to be issues with mold, and bad plumbing. However, over the years, those typical issues took a backseat to the odd occurrences that encompassed the pub since it first begin operations.
The paranormal activity that has been experienced at the Blind Tiger Pub is not exactly consider unique in Charleston. Despite, its nickname, the Holy City, Charleston has a less than holy history. A past darkened with scandals, tragedies, and war.
Another bit of unholy history in Charleston’s past, is the city’s connection with alcohol. From the early days of piracy and the rum trade, to its storied heritage of bootlegging and speakeasies (blind tigers).
Charleston’s tradition of keeping things interesting has led to many rumors and ghostly tales. Stories of haunted houses and lost souls doomed to roam the streets of the city till the end of time.
Many of the historical buildings along the paranormally active streets of Charleston are just as equally haunted. In fact, it would be hard to find an establishment in the Holy City did not have at least one campfire story,
Some of the most notable haunted hotspots can be found on Charleston’s Broad Street. A street lined with buildings that allegedly were once respectable. A virtue, that was almost always corrupted, corrupted by loose morals, greed, and alcohol.
Over the years the Blind Tiger Pub has been no stranger to supernatural ongoings, with an abundance of experiences taking place within its walls.
The most frequent source of the pub’s ongoing is believed to be the ghost of a woman. She is usually described as wearing a black dress, with an unfriendly disposition. Some patrons of the Blind Tiger have even had confrontations with this lost soul. Claims of this ghostly antagonist, pulling people's hair are also not uncommon.
As to the identity of the angry ghost in the black dress, no one is quite sure who she may have been whilst alive. Some have theorized that she used to frequent the building when it was a speakeasy during the Roaring Twenties. But, honestly, your guess is as good as any other.
A former manager of the Blind Tiger Pub, reportedly had encounter late one night. The bar had just closed, and the patrons were gone. The former manager was taking part in his duties of straightening things up, when he saw her, the ghost in the black dress.
He couldn’t believe his eyes, he was shocked that he was witnessing a fully formed apparition floating across the barroom floor. He claims that the ghost looked him straight in the eyes, for what felt like an eternity. Shortly thereafter, the ghost vanished into thin air.
Another encounter that happened, occurred just a few years ago. A woman had arrived in Charleston (from Chicago) just the day before she had her experience. She was on vacation with her husband, and they were having a ball.
Interested in the ghost lore of Charleston, the couple had already visited a few “alleged” haunted locations before stopping by at the Blind Tiger Pub.
Speaking about her story, the woman said, “We were only there about a half an hour, my husband paid the tab and walked to the bathroom, I walked over to the 1st step from the 2nd bar inside and was just looking at the t-shirts hanging up on the wall of the 1st bar you walk through when you walk in and all of a sudden my hair got pulled, pretty hard too, it jerked my head back. I'm still freaking out about it. Nobody was near me, so I can't explain it.”
While not everyone has seen or had a physical encounter with the ghost in the black dress, others, have claimed to have heard loud footsteps behind them while at the pub. However, upon turning around, each and every time, there is no one to be found.
Located at 36 – 38 Broad Street in Charleston, South Carolina, The Blind Tiger Pub has been a focal point for the people of Charleston since its beginning. A honor the pub has maintained, even through several changes in ownership.
n the year of 2016, the latest owners of the Blind Tiger revitalized the pub with a mixture of modern amenities and artful restoration. While, the interior of the Blind Tiger has been updated, its historic walls still house the whispering ghosts from years gone by. So, if you stop in for a drink or two, keep a watchful eye.