To the casual observer, the quaint, narrow, little alley that lies in the heart of the city is no more than any other of the numerous divisions of streets in which New Orleans delights. But to the idle wanderer, or he whose mission down its four squares of much trodden stones, it an aimless one--whose eyes unforced to bend to the ground in thought of sordid ways and means, can peer at will into its quaint corners. Exchange Alley presents all the phases of a Latinized portion of America, a bit of Europe, perhaps, the restless, chafing; anarchistic Europe of to-day, in the midst of the quieter democratic institution of our republic.
It is Bohemia, pure and simple, Bohemia, in all its stages, from the beer saloon and the cheap book-store, to the cheaper cook shop and uncertain lodging house. There the great American institution,
On the busiest thoroughfares in the city, just in the busiest part, between two of the most crowded and conservative of cross-streets, lies this alley of Latinism. One night almost pass it hurriedly, avoiding the crowds that cluster at this section of the streets, but upon turning into a narrow section, stone-paved, the place is entered, appearing to end one square distant, seeming to bar itself from the larger buildings by an aimless sort of iron affair, part railing, part posts. There is a conservative book-store at the entrance on one side, and an even more harmless clothing
There are more little cuddies of places, dye-shops, tailors, and nondescript corners that seem to have no possible mission on earth and are sadly conscious of their aimlessness. Then the railing is reached, and the alley instead of ending has merely given itself an angular twist to the right, and extends three squares further, to a great, pale green dome, and stately entrance.
The calmly-thinking, quietly-laboring, cool and conservative world is for the nonce left behind. With the first step-
Two-story houses all along; the first floor divided into cuddies, here a paper store, displaying ten-cent novels of detective stories with impossible cuts, illustrating impossible situations of the plot; dye-shops, jewellers, tailors, tin-smiths, cook-shops, intelligence offices--many of these, and some newspaper offices. On the second floor, balconies, dingy, iron-railed, with sickly box-plants, and decrepid garments airing and being turned and tended by dishevelled, slipshod women. Lodging-houses these,
Plenty of saloons--great, gorgeous, gaudy places, with pianos and swift footed waiters, tables and cards, and men, men. The famous Three Brothers' Saloon occupies a position about midway the alley, and at its doors, the acme, the culminating point, the superlative degree of unquietude and discontent is reached. It is the headquarters of nearly all the great labor organizations in the city. Behind its doors, swinging as easily between the street and the liquor-fumed halls as the soul swings between right and wrong, the disturbed minds of the working-men become clouded, heated, and worthily
Outside on the pavements with hundreds of like-excited men, with angry discussions and bitter recitals of complaints, the seeds of discord sown some time since, perhaps, sprout afresh, blossom and bear fruits. Is there a strike? Then special minions of the law are detailed to this place, for violence and hatred of employers, insurrection and socialism find here ready followers. Impromptu mass meetings are common, and law-breaking schemes find their cradle beneath its glittering lights. It is always thronged within and without, a veritable nursery of riot and disorder.
And oh, Bohemia, pipes, indolence and beer! The atmosphere is impregnated with it, the dust sifts it into your clothes and hair, the sunlight filters it through your brain, the stray snatches of music now and then beat it rhythmically into your mind. There are some who work, yes, and a few places outside of the saloons that seem to be animated with a business motive. There are even some who push their way briskly through the aimless bodies of men--but then there must be an occasional
It is so unlike the ordinary world, this bit of Bohemia, that one feels a personal grievance when the marble entrance and great, green dome become positive, solid, architectural facts, standing in all the grim solemnity of the main entrance of the Hotel Royal on St. Louis Street, ending, with a sudden return to aristocracy, this stamping ground for anarchy.