133rd St. between 7th Ave. and Lennox Ave. is a quiet block of brownstones and tenement-style housing these days. Flashback 70 or 80 yeas ago, though, and "things were swinging to beat all hell," as Willie "The Lion" Smith put it.
Nights and early mornings were filled with the impatient honking of humpbacked taxis jockeying for position within the clamor of the street's western section, close to 7th Ave. Faces of many hues would emerge to slip under awnings imprinted with names like Covan's and Pod's. Society figures and celebrities-Tallulah Bankhead, Langston Hughes, Mae West-crept into the street's basement-level speakeasies, drawn by the bawdy blues belting of the stout, unapologetically lesbian Gladys Bentley, or ribald vocalist Mary Dixon urging her lover to "Take your time with what you do/Make me cry for more of you." Others were content to sit quietly and marvel at the rolling stride piano playing of Willie "The Lion" Smith, who could make a single, beat-up tuneless upright sound like an orchestra.

The liquor and (in some places) marijuana was plentiful. And in those days of Prohibition, patrons could get giddy on Harlem's famous "top and bottom" cocktail (gin plus wine), secure in knowing the police rarely came around-except for a drink, of course. Downtown whites called the block "Jungle Alley," but few Harlemites during this age of the Renaissance stooped to that kind of language. To them, 133rd St. was simply a place where they could relax, socialize and escape the segregation of white-oriented clubs like Connie's Inn and the Cotton Club that grew like kudzu in other parts of Harlem.