Who needs fiction when you have a rich treasure of true Alabama stories to revisit? For example, did you know that almost a hundred years ago Alabama had an infamous underground nightclub that was lauded from New York to Cuba? Picture yourself going back in time to visit the unique Bangor Cave Club.
Step back in time
It’s Summer of 1937 in Alabama. You are hopeful that the lean years of The Great Depression are finally improving. Maybe you have mixed feelings about the long fight in the state over the gambling issue, and of course you know that most counties are dry as a bone; but an ad running the past few weeks in The Birmingham News has tempted you to consider a local adventure.
Dance in the Most Beautiful Cave in America, the ad beckons. Hear your favorite big band music, performed by the famous recording artist Billy Yates and his 12 Piece Orchestra. Have a magical dining experience created by an expert concierge from Birmingham’s Tutwiler Hotel.
The Adventure Begins
You catch an evening train on the L&N line with a sense of nervous excitement; after all, you are headed to America’s only underground nightclub, right here in Alabama. The train takes you through the beautiful rolling hills to Blount County. Destination, a natural formation of wonder and breathtaking beauty: Bangor Cave.
You pay the conductor ten cents to stop the train at the cave. It’s a relief you wore your party clothes, because this crowd is swanky and they are here to party.
America’s Only Underground Nightclub
The moment you step into the cave, you are captivated by the lighting. From the cloakroom, to the main room with its huge tiled dance floor, to the elevated orchestra pit carved into an enormous boulder, there are thousands of Broadway style electric lights illuminating the cave features; the stalactites and stalagmites sparkle and shimmer in every color of the rainbow. Your eyes are drawn up to take in the stars of the night sky painted on the cave ceiling. The wonderful aromas from the moon shaped neon-lit buffet make your mouth water. Your favorite Benny Goodman song Goody Goody is being played by the band; watching dozens of couples swing dancing puts a smile on your face. Your feet just won’t stay still!
You have a night of entertainment ahead of you; a Broadway comedian and a Vaudeville act will be on the stage soon. Musical acts are lined up to keep the joint jumping until the sun comes up. You saunter up to the bar to order a thirty-five cent Martini, and your jaw drops when you notice a tip jar full of actual thousand-dollar bills. Hopefully this colorful scene will be enough for you tonight, because if you decide to venture further into the club you might get more adventure than you wanted.
The Secret Casino
Because down a long, narrow passageway and behind a padlocked door there is an exclusive area of the cave, guarded by strict bouncers. You will have to show a wallet full of money and pass an interview to go further into the secret caverns holding slot machines, blackjack tables, roulette wheels, and craps games, a full-fledged small casino, highly illegal in this day and time. Tension is high because everyone knows that at any moment the Governor’s men are likely to raid the place.
At the first sign of trouble, the casino boss will cut the electricity, and the croupiers will expertly hide the evidence of gambling, flipping the Mahogany gaming tables over to only show flat dining surfaces.
Spoiler alert: the local sheriff will eventually prevail and all the owners will end up going to jail, with the Bangor Cave Club shuttered forever.
Interestingly, the debate still rages in 2021 about gambling in Alabama; this is obviously not a new issue nor one with an easy answer. Even this week in February 2021, the headlines in the Birmingham News proclaimed that Governor Ivey believes that good can come from a debate on gambling. Whatever they come up with, it probably won’t be housed in a cave.
Not long after the Bangor Cave Club was permanently closed in 1939, a mysterious fire destroyed everything. Many of the natural features of the cave that had survived the construction did not survive the fire. For years afterward Bangor Cave became a remote site only visited by curiosity seekers and vandals. Today the site is privately owned and is not open to the public.
When you need a Realtor
We hope you will go along with us as we bring to you more stories of Everything Alabama, the state where we have always lived and loved. Any time you need help with real estate in Alabama, please keep me in mind. Contact Greg Arcara, (205)566-1426.