The Rosebud Bar, the spot for Ragtime


The Rosebud Bar
Date: 
Wed, 1900-05-16

The Rosebud Bar’s opening in St. Louis, MO, in 1900 is celebrated on this date. It was one of the original venues for Ragtime music.

It was billed as the "Headquarters for Colored Professionals and Sports," and located at 2220-2222 Market Street, in the heart of St. Louis's "Chestnut Valley," an early 20th century red-light district. Black Businessman and musician Tom Turpin opened the Rosebud, and for six years it was “the spot” for classic ragtime. The Rosebud was actually a sprawling entertainment complex, taking up much of a city block. There were two barrooms, a large room for gambling, and a hotel upstairs.

A wine room in the back was centered on the raised piano from which Turpin often played. One room was designated "The Hunting and Shooting Club," for those who liked outdoor, as well as indoor, sports. As a sort of annex to the Rosebud, in an alley about a block away, Turpin transformed a small shack into something called the Hurrah Sporting Club. The Hurrah membership had a piano, but no bar. All sorts of enjoyments were to be had in Chestnut Valley, and the Valley's center was the Rosebud Bar. Tom Turpin, being a good businessman, knew the value of advertising. The "Palladium," the top Black newspaper in St. Louis during this period, often carried ads for the Rosebud, extolling its "first-class cafe," its poolroom, its private dining areas.

Turpin also used special events to get feature stories in the newspaper. The annual Rosebud Ball, the house-label Applegate's Old Rosebud Whiskey, and the 1904 holiday party with the "electric Christmas tree" and presents for everyone who attended, all were newsworthy and good for business. But the feature attraction to the Rosebud was its piano music. No other place in the district could boast such an array of players. Turpin himself played there regularly, he was something of a hero to the dozens of Black rag players who plied their trade all over the Midwest. The Rosebud drew them like a magnet. It became their hangout, their workplace, and clearinghouse for jobs in St. Louis as well as those all over eastern and central Missouri.

For the first ten years of the ragtime era, this establishment nurtured and showcased most of the first-generation geniuses, as well as the lesser players and writers, of this new American music. For virtually all of them, their years in St. Louis would be their most productive, and, with the Rosebud as their stage, they defined the form and style of classic ragtime. The ragtime that flowered in and around the Rosebud set the standard. It was simply the best being created anywhere. The Rosebud closed in 1906, only two years after the height of ragtime at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in 1904.

Many of the formidable players had left St. Louis for Chicago and New York but ragtime's history points to St. Louis, and most specifically, the Rosebud Bar, as the center of ragtime.

Reference:
The Black Book
By Middleton Harris with assistance from:
Morris Levitt, Roger Furman and Ernest Smith
Copyright 1974, Random House, New York
ISBN 0-394-48388-X