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Dug's Dive

Edited by Stephen R. Powell

Doug's Dive was a drinking establishment that brings renewed meaning to the word dive. This place was literally below grade (located on Commercial Street just below the street level along the towpath of the Erie Canal). Dug's patrons would in effect have to take a 'dive down to the towpath level to enter Dug's, thus giving birth to the well known stereotype of a 'dive being a bad or seedy bar. Dug's was said to be a place infested with vermin and was known to have been frequented by some very tough characters. The proprietor was one William Douglas, former slave turned bar owner was well known in the district. The year was 1874, the place, Buffalo's infamous 'Infected District. It should be noted that this account was written a long time ago, and some of the language may not be seen as 'politically correct by today's standards but that is how history sometimes is.

The following account is an excerpt taken from the Buffalo Express Saturday Morning August 29,1874:

Dug's Dive

...Now for Dug's Dive," said the guide, after we had "done" Canal Street. He led the way around to Commercial Street and paused at the edge of the canal bridge. Then cautioning us to "look out" he began to disappear in the darkness below. Looking down we could dimly discern a narrow stairway descending to the tow-path, and without any more ado, we grasped hold of the low railing and began to feel our way down very cautiously. The staircase was steep and the boards wet and slippery, so that the descent was not one of the easiest undertakings in world, but finally it was accomplished in safety and we landed on terra ferma to our relief. Stumbling along for twelve or fourteen feet, with the guide in advance we came to an open doorway, out of which issued the sound of laughter, and passing down four or five steps below the level of the tow path, we stood in "Dug's Dive,"- the "black hole" of Buffalo. The room was small, close and ill smelling, and so low that the guide, who is a rather tall man, was compelled to incline his head uncomfortably in order to stand upright. The ceiling, evidently, was once white, but a long association with the dusky denizens of the place had persuaded it to change its color, so that it would be in perfect in keeping with theirs. In one corner was a bar and an array of bottles, old cigar boxes, cracked glasses and other odds and ends on the shelves behind it. On one side was a long bench and some chairs, and near the door a small square table. Five or six doors half opened led into a region of darkness beyond whose outlines and characteristics, although we tried hard, we could not discern. There were six or seven persons in the room when we entered. An

EXTREMELY BLACK INDIVIDUAL,

with a whole cargo of bad whiskey aboard, stood leaning against the bar in close converse with a buxom damsel who perused in side and was evidently the dispenser of the solid and liquid compounds Over in the corner were three or four more gentlemen of color, who were making merry at some boy's expense, and every now and then working their faces into a series of prodigious grins frightful to behold. What was the object of laughter we were unable to ascertain, but fancy it was some witty remark or sage saying of a shaded lady with a very bold bearing, who sat in the midst of the group of males and scrutinized the party of visitors with very contemptuous expressions. At the table there was a party of four persons deep in

THE MYSTERIES OF "SEVEN UP"

Three of them were Negroes, but the fourth was a white man, an ancient reprobate, thin and bony, with skin like a piece of parchment-in fact a regular mummy, with a little life infused into him, a short pipe stuck in his mouth, and pair of spectacles placed on his nose. The wicked old villain never deigned to notice us, but went on with his game as cool as an iceberg. At the head of the table sat the proprietor of the establishment. "Dug," to whom we were introduced in due form. The old fellow received us gracefully, and politely inquired if the "gemen would have some cigars or drinks." His polite offer was declined with thanks. "Dug" is a character in his way...

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A drawing of Dugs Dive from America's Crossroads, Buffalo's Canal Street/ Dante Place the Making of a City.

More Images on Dugs

As we saw in the last issue the harshly worded description of Dugs Dive (a bar located alongside the Towpath of the Erie Canal) painted a picture of a dimly lit, dark, dank place, infested with vermin, dirt, and unsavory characters. We pick up where the reporter is describing the scene inside Dug's. Please keep in mind that this article was written over 120 years ago, and the language used in here may be offensive. For reasons of historical accuracy it has been reprinted exactly as it appeared in the Buffalo Express of Saturday Morning August 29,1874:

...Fancy if you can, a bulky old darky, so fat and unwieldy that when he moves around the floor he rolls and waddles along like a schooner in a heavy gale; cheeks loose and long, with a sort of wavy blanc-mange motion to them when the owner turns his head; two little eyes peeping out from between folds of flesh half-closed over them; a big head surmounted with a greasy straw hat;

A MOUTH LARGE AND FLABBY,

and looks awkward and ungainly; encase this figure in seven pairs of pantaloons and a proportionate number of shirts, coats and waistcoats, and you have some idea of the appearance of "Dug," the august proprietor of the dive, a man about whom there is such an air of comfort, content and jolly good nature, who seems to flourish and grow so fat, happy and hearty in the midst of all this filth and squalor, that you can scarcely help feeling a liking for him. We wished to open a conversation with the old fellow, but after he proffered us the hospitalities of his mansion he became absorbed in his game of cards that he could not spare the time to talk. "' Dug, 'how long have you lived here? asked one of the reporters. "Dunno gemen, thirty of forty years, I guess-lead dat dar trump."

"How old are you?"

"Can't tell; 'spects I'm close on a hundred- dat's my trick."

Noticing that the game had reached a critical stage, and the attention of the fat card player might be distracted, no further attempts were made to question him. The statement of the old fellow that he resided in this vicinity for thirty or forty years is the actual truth, as the guide informed us. One time his establishment was closed up, and he was driven away by the police authorities. So long, however, had he lived among the slums, so familiarized and happy was he with his swinish lot, that he nearly went crazy when he was hustled out. He pleaded and pleaded, and almost went on his knees to beg leave to return to his old haunts and business. "Oh, gemmen," he would declare, "I like de water so well, and lived by it so long that I can't stay away from it." Finally he obtained permission to open his hotel again, and is now spending his old age in rest and peace, as proud and content as a titled lord. To his credit be it said, "Dug" keeps a very orderly house, and the police never have much trouble with it. His patrons are the Negro boatmen among whom he is very popular. The bedrooms, of which we were unsuccessful in obtaining a glimpse, are said to be worse than pigpens, and if "Dug" would occasionally flood his premises with that canal water for which he has such a liking, the nightly rest and profane ebullitions of his guest would be wondrously improved. Never since they days of Bishop Hatto was there such an array of rats and vermin. Behind the door of the "dive" were two benches, which we failed to notice on entering.

A COUPLE OF STALWART NEGROES

were stretched out at full length upon them, snoring lustily. A pile of old boots, pots, pans and tattered clothing were heaped promiscuously under the very noses of the sleepers. Near the bar a half-opened door discovered a large, bare looking room inside. Around the walls benches were places, and on these couches the regular and transient boarders recline and sleep off their drunken stupors. Sometimes when the house is full to overflowing these benches are dedicated to the legitimate uses of morpheus, and the unlucky guests who register their names last have to take them and endeavor to sleep the sleep of the just untrammeled by bed-clothes and any other effeminate inventions of modern civilization. In this room the cooking of the establishment is done, as was evidenced by a demoralized looking stove set in the center. The art de cuisine is at its lowest stage of development at "Dug's," but what the victuals lack in variety and cleanliness they make up in quantity and solidly. Pastries and like dainties are completely ignored and never included in the bill of fare. But as long as there is plenty of corn beef, pickled pig's feet and ham, this slight omission is not noticed by any of the hungry deck hands, who can masticate anything...

So goes another chapter in Buffalo's history. Dug's may or may not have been the place that created the stereotype of the typical 'dive, but it sure was one. This article and many others like it are featured in the book by Michael N. Vogel, Ed Patton, and Paul Redding titled: America's Crossroads, Buffalo's Canal Street/ Dante Place the Making of a City. New York: Western New York Heritage Institute, Canisius College, 1993 which paints an exceptionally vivid picture of Buffalo's old waterfront district...

All material©1997-2001 by Stephen R. Powell all rights reserved

 

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