Tuesday, February 21, 2017


             From A Night Club Map of Harlem by E. Simms Campbell c. 1932

For Black History Month this year, HB will re-publish some of the archival history posts that are now half a decade old themselves. Many of the Harlem Renaissance figures are noted for their accomplishments by historians but little has been preserved uptown to mark the places they lived in or established during that remarkable decade.

Tillie Fripp was a roadhouse cook in Philly via Florida back in 1926 who quit her job and ended up being a key figure that attracted folks uptown during the Jazz Age. With only $1.98 in her pocket, the young woman was invited to a sleepy block on West 133rd Street between Lenox and 7th Avenue which only had one notable club called The Nest.  Miss Fripp ended up getting a job as a cook for a lesser known speakeasy in exchange for free rent but soon became the main attraction.  With her personal approach with customers along with great platter combinations such as ham and eggs or chicken and waffles, customer soon flocked to 133rd Street in droves late at night.

Even with being the most famous cook in Harlem, Tillie would treat all of her customers equally.  Celebrities who demanded service to their cars waiting out on the block of what became known as Jungle Alley would eventually have to wait on the sidewalk like every other customer.  Soon the talented cook and host made enough money to quit the unremarkable gin house she started in and set up a shop next door at 148 West 133rd Street and called it Tillie's Chicken Shack.

This all in turn helped other successful speakeasies to open up on the block which became a destination because of a humble cook who took a 2 week vacation to Harlem and never looked back.  Soon other branches of Tillie's would open uptown (227 Lenox in 1932 shown at top photo) and today eateries such as the Red Rooster or the forthcoming Streetbird Rotisserie have followed the same path as this remarkable woman.

Check out the full 1932 map of famous Harlem jazz spots in our past post: LINK

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