Looking Back: A Not So Secret Club

Post-Prohibition private clubs offered Texans more than a drink.

Photo Courtesy of Corpus Christi Public Libraries, La Retama Special Collections & Archives

Sitting down for a drink with a friend or date wasn’t always as easy as just picking a time and place. Prohibition created a network of enterprising residents who produced and sold bootleg liquor. With its repeal came strict liquor laws and taxes, and new business ideas for the bootleggers.

The regulations led to a rise in private clubs, where owners could screen members before accepting their payment to join, thereby avoiding state-level liquor laws and keeping police and others who could expose the business’ activities away.

The Dragon Grill boasted ornate furnishings and décor, with space for dancing near the orchestra stand. The restaurant advertised that it was “Famous for Fine Foods” and flew in steaks and lobster from across the country, along with hiring the best chefs in town. Meals could be enjoyed by members in the first floor’s Zodiac Room. The formal attire worn by guests was appropriate for dancing to the famous orchestras brought in by owner “Doc” Mason, a veteran bootlegger.

Access to the third floor Jalna Room was highly controlled, allowing all signs of gambling to be hidden away at a moment’s notice with trap doors and secret passages. The facility operated for years, offering the finest foods, drinks and gambling without any legal troubles, until a policeman posed as a guest to gain entrance. He threw his badge on the table instead of chips one night in 1953, spelling an end to Doc Mason’s Dragon Grill.