Wash's Restaurant

Wash’s has assumed several different names over the years: at its Kentucky Avenue location it was known as Wash’s; on Arctic Avenue it was called Wash’s and Sons Seafood Restaurant; and at its present location in Pleasantville goes by the name Wash’s Inn or Wash’s Café. Despite the changes in location and name, the restaurant has always been maintained by the same family, and is one of the oldest black-owned businesses in the Greater Atlantic City area.

In 1925, newly married Clifton and Alma Washington left Virginia and arrived in Atlantic City. They settled in the Northside, survived the Great Depression, and gave birth to seven children. After the Great Depression subsided, Clifton decided to become a business owner. Together, in 1937, he and Alma opened Wash’s at 35 N. Kentucky Avenue.
Though Wash’s Kentucky Avenue location was small – it only had 6 tables – it quickly became a Kentucky Avenue institution. Celebrities performing on Kentucky Avenue patronized Wash’s; Clifton would stay open late to accommodate them. Redd Foxx, Nipsey Russell, Moms Mabley, and Count Basie all ate there. Alma prepared the majority of the food at Wash’s, and her sausage sandwiches and breakfast foods were well revered. 

In the 1950s, rents on Kentucky Avenue were rising and the business was outgrowing its small space. Clifton moved the restaurant to 1702 Arctic Avenue and changed its name to Wash and Son’s Seafood Restaurant. The new restaurant, with its picture front windows and seashell décor, could sit 100+ customers. By the mid-1960s, many black businesses in Atlantic City were disappearing, and by the early 1970s Wash’s closed its doors in Atlantic City. Wash’s was reborn in the early 1970s at 128 N. New Road in Pleasantville, New Jersey. It was renovated in the 1990s and was put up for sale in 2010. It is currently still owned and operated by the Washington family.

Resources in the Atlantic City Free Public Library Atlantic City Heritage Collections:

Turiya S.A. Raheem.  Growing Up in the Other Atlantic City Wash’s and the Northside. Xlibris Corporation, 2009. 

Richlyn F. Goddard. Three Months to Hurry and Nine Months to Worry: resort life for African Americans in Atlantic City, NJ 1850-1940. Ph.D. dissertation. Washington, DC: Howard University, 2001.

Local History Biography File: Turiya S.A. Raheem

Local History Subject File: Restaurants

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Grace's Little Belmont

Across the street from Club Harlem, at 37 N. Kentucky Avenue, was Grace’s Little Belmont. It was owned by Hernan Daniels and his wife, Grace, from the mid-1930s through the 1970s. Prior to marrying Hernan, Grace owned and operated Grace’s Beauty and Barber Shop at 43 Kentucky Avenue. She and Hernan married during World War II and moved into the apartment above the barber shop. Grace Daniels was known to be an effective business woman, running the club in addition to her barbershop and beauty salon.  

 Grace’s Little Belmont had a symbiotic relationship with Club Harlem – patrons criss-crossed Kentucky Avenue, swapping bar stools at Club Harlem for those at Grace’s Little Belmont and vice versa. In addition to sharing patrons, the two clubs often shared performers. Wild Bill Davis, who frequently played Club Harlem, was a featured performer at Grace’s in the summertime. His band, the Wild Bill Davis Swing Organ Quartet, recorded two live albums at Grace’s, one in 1966 and another in 1967.

Though it was smaller than Club Harlem, Grace’s boasted a great atmosphere and performers. Inside the club a horseshoe-shaped bar was tended by Elvera “Baby” Sanchez.  Sanchez is famously known as the mother of Sammy Davis Jr. She died in the year 2000 at the age of 95. While Club Harlem was famous for its breakfast shows, Grace’s Little Belmont was known for its matinee performances. Seeking respite from the sun, beachgoers would abandon the sand for a few hours to have a drink and listen to music. Workers finishing their night shifts at the 500 Club and Paradise Club would often walk to Grace’s after work to see the afternoon shows.

Like the other clubs and stores that lined Kentucky Avenue, Grace’s Little Belmont was not immune to the economic decline that Atlantic City suffered in the late 1960s through the 1970s. Grace’s suffered a similar fate as Club Harlem, Wonder Gardens, and Paradise Club and its doors were shuttered.

Resources in the Atlantic City Free Public Library Atlantic City Heritage Collections:

Local History Subject File – Nightclubs - Grace’s Little Belmont

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Club Harlem

32 North Kentucky was the center of night life in Atlantic City. It was the home of Club Harlem, a bar and performance space that was a showcase for African American talent in the city for more than 50 years.  In 1935, Leroy “Pop” Williams and Cliff Williams purchased Fitzgerald’s Auditorium, a dance hall. The father-son duo transformed the hall, re-opening it as Club Harlem – its name referring to the vibrant black community in New York City. 

Club Harlem could sit 900 customers. Its front bar alone sat nearly 100, and the space boasted two bandstands on which alternating acts would perform for an always packed house. The summer months were the most exciting season at Club Harlem. During the summer, music began on Saturdays at 10 pm and wouldn’t stop until 6 am on Monday morning. Four shows played on Saturday and Sunday nights: 10 pm, 12 am, 2:30 am, and the famous 6 am breakfast show. Oftentimes, headlining acts from Steel Pier or the 500 Club would finish their sets and head over to Club Harlem to play impromptu gigs. Frank Sinatra, Milton Berle, Duke Ellington, and Lenny Bruce all played unscheduled performances at Club Harlem.

The acts at Club Harlem were hard to beat. Larry Steele’s Smart Affairs, Sepia Revue, and Beige Beauties featured “fabulous Club Harlem girls” performing dance numbers and show girl routines.  Headlining acts included famous performers such as: Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Aretha Franklin, Lou Rawls, Cab Calloway, Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown, Sam Cooke, Sarah Vaughan, Ray Charles, the Temptations, Gladys Knight and the Pips, the Stylistics, and Ella Fitzgerald.

1972 proved to be a difficult year for Club Harlem.  Owner Leroy Williams died at the age of 75. Early Easter Sunday morning, a shootout occurred between warring Philadelphia gangs leaving 5 dead and the club in a state of disarray. It truly never recovered. The club shuttered its doors in the late 1980s and the building stood vacant for several years.

On December 11, 1992, a Northeaster storm damaged the already dilapidated building, hastening its ultimate demolition by its property managers. By the end of December 1992, the Club Harlem was no more.

Resources in the Atlantic City Free Public Library Atlantic City Heritage Collections:

Nelson Johnson. The Northside: African Americans and the Creation of Atlantic City. Medford, New Jersey: Plexus, 2010.

Local History Subject File: Nightclubs – Club Harlem

H039 Club Harlem Photograph Collection

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Chris Columbo

Joseph Christopher Morris Columbo, born June 17, 1902, was better known by his stage name: Chris Columbo. Chris Columbo was raised in Atlantic City and attended the Indiana Avenue School and Atlantic City High School. While enrolled in Atlantic City High, Chris began his journey as a famous jazz drummer. It was here that he learned to play drums under the tutelage of Tommy Gill and an Atlantic City High School teacher named Mr. McKnight.

Columbo was a quick study and began to play in gigs around Atlantic City’s Northside, particularly at Truckson’s Hollywood Grill. In 1921, he had his first professional break when he played with Fletcher Henderson on Steel Pier. Columbo was asked to play at the Paradise Club in Atlantic City and sometime thereafter moved to New York City to further pursue his career. In New York City, Columbo played at the Cotton Club, the Apollo Theater, and the Savoy. At a time when segregation was the norm, Chris Columbo was part of the only African American band – Louis Jordan and the Tympani Five – to headline at the Paramount Theater.

In the 1930s, Leroy “Pop” Williams, the owner of Club Harlem, brought Columbo back to Atlantic City. At Club Harlem, Columbo lead the house band, Christopher Columbo and his Swing Crew. Columbo worked 34 straight summers at Club Harlem, playing until the club shut its doors.  Over the course of his career he worked with jazz legends such as: Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Louie Armstrong, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, and Charlie Parker amongst others. 

In the later years of his career, Columbo had his own radio show on WFPG. He was the station’s first African American DJ. Columbo also served as the vice president of Local 661-708, the musician’s union. He performed at the Showboat Casino with the Showboat Dixieland Band until he suffered a stroke in 1993.

Columbo died at the age of 100 in July of 2002

Resources in the Atlantic City Free Public Library Atlantic City Heritage Collections:

Nelson Johnson. The Northside: African Americans and the Creation of Atlantic City. Medford, NJ: Plexus, 2010.

Local History Biography File: Chris Columbo

Local History Subject File: Club Harlem

H039 Club Harlem Photograph Collection

H040 ACFPL Living History Project - Chris Columbo Oral History

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Alma Fay Horn

Known to her friends as “A-Fay,” Alma Fay Horn was a fixture of the Kentucky Avenue nightclub scene. Kentucky Avenue nightclub culture was about seeing and being seen, and there was no better way to be seen than to be photographed by Alma Fay Horn.

Alma Fay Horn was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 9, 1924. In Philadelphia, Alma became a well regarded nightlife photographer. At a time when it was uncommon for a woman – let alone an African American woman – to be a small business owner, she maintained her own photography studio. Alma must have seen great opportunity in the Kentucky Avenue scene; at some point during the Kentucky Avenue heyday, she resolved to move to Atlantic City.

Upon arriving in Atlantic City, Alma established herself as the Club Harlem photographer. She captured some of Club Harlem’s most famous performers including the Billy Williams Quintet, the George Hudson Band, Butterbeans and Susie, and Louis Armstrong. Though some of her photographs are posed, Alma’s artistic style hinged largely upon capturing candid moments – musicians and dancers performing, friends laughing at the Club Harlem bar. 

After the popularity of the Club Harlem waned, and Kentucky Avenue’s reign as Atlantic City’s hotspot ended, Alma Fay Horn rededicated her life to technology and golf. She worked with the FAA Technical Center and other government agencies as a computer programmer, and she held the position of President of the Freeway Golf Course in Sicklerville, New Jersey. 

Alma Fay Horn died in Atlantic City on September 25, 2004.

Resources in the Atlantic City Free Public Library Atlantic City Heritage Collections:

H008 Alma Fay Horn Photograph Collection

Local History Biography File: Alma Fay Horn

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