How Whites Smoke Opium in Chinatown

San Francisco Call/August 4, 1895

Haunts of “Hop Heads” in the Mongolian Quarter


Blind Annie’s “Joint” on Jackson Street Frequented by Girls and Men


The Veil Slightly Drawn From Some of the Worst Resorts In San Francisco.



Notwithstanding a keen public sentiment in this City against the abuse of the opium traffic, in spite of stringent state and municipal laws forbidding and restricting the use of the drug, there are about 3000 “fiends” or “hop heads” in San Francisco; the number is constantly on the increase; there are over 300 “joints,” dens, rooms and lodging-houses, inside and outside of Chinatown, where the “habit” may be indulged with impunity, and perhaps a score of places where “dope” is sold illicitly.

These statements are made advisedly and only after considerable investigation. A great deal has been written about the opium “fiends” of San Francisco, but the subject has hitherto been usually handled from its darkly picturesque side. The generalities have, in the aggregate and in their conclusions, been true enough, but specific information has been lacking.

It is difficult to overdraw the black miseries of the lives of the opium “fiends,” or to understate the moral and physical dangers to the community of this horrible traffic in the drug. But in the present instance The Call’s purpose is to state facts concerning the odious traffic rather than conclusions or moral abstractions on its influence. The facts have been difficult to secure, because no assistance was sought or obtained from the Police Department. A bare recital of how the facts were finally obtained would be interesting, not to say spicy, reading for the public at large and for several individuals in particular. But this is not to be a spicy story, and is interesting only inasmuch as a sober statement of somber and sorrowful facts may be.

And the facts are given for the good they may do; for the lessons they may bear to those whose duty it is to enforce the laws against the illegal trade in opium and the maintenance of opium joints and dens. Not all the facts are given, nor even the worst of them. The whole case is not stated; could not be stated in anything less than a book of many pages. Only that which is ft for popular reading is published. There is much more to be seen and learned by one who would follow the dark tale to its dregs; but to see them and know them one must, for the time being, become himself a part of this worst and lowest phase of the slums of San Francisco.



 As in the case of many other evils it can scarcely be urged by the authorities that the laws and ordinances against the opium traffic are not stringent enough or that their wording is uncertain. Section 307 of the Penal Code of California, in effect since March, 1881, is very plain spoken, as follows: Every person who opens or “maintains, to be resorted to by other persons, any place where opium, or any of its preparations, is sold or given away, to be smoked at such place, and any person who at such place sells or gives away any opium, or its said preparations, to be there smoked or otherwise used, and every person who visits or resorts to any such place for the purpose of smoking opium, or its said preparations, is guilty of a misdemeanor, and upon conviction thereof shall be punished by a fine not exceeding five hundred dollars or Imprisonment in the County Jail not exceeding six months, or by both such fine and imprisonment.” In pursuance with the provisions of the State law and to further restrict the opium evil that was introduced and is chiefly carried on in San Francisco by the Chinese the Board of Supervisors in 1890 amended order 1587 by section 61, which reads as follows: “No person shall, in the City and County of San Francisco, keep or maintain, or become an inmate of, or visit, or shall in any way contribute to the support of, any place, house or room where opium is smoked, or where persons assemble for the purpose of smoking opium, or inhaling the fumes of opium. Any person violating any of the provisions of this section shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor and on conviction thereof be punished by a fine not less than $250 nor more than $1000, or by imprisonment not less than three months or more than six months, or by both such five and imprisonment.”

There are still other ordinances and laws restricting the opium traffic. Order 2085, passed in 1889, prohibits any person whatever from selling or giving or exchanging opium in any form except upon the presentation by the purchaser of a bona-fide physician’s prescription of the same date upon which the purchase is made. They are all broken constantly and in many quarters of the City, but the State law and the municipal order forbidding the keeping or frequenting of houses or rooms where opium may be smoked are those most frequently and flagrantly violated.



The following list of the places where the so-called “hop heads” or opium “fiends” rendezvous to satisfy or palliate their depraved craving for the “habit,” and where the uninitiated, if he or she be properly vouched for or chaperoned, may learn to use the drug, is by no means complete. It is correct, however, and proves the “joints” to be sufficiently numerous to show that the policemen in these districts are not as vigilant as they should be—and this is stating it mildly.

The “joints” where the Chinese may and do soke opium are alost innumerable, far too numerous, in fact, and much too open and well known or easily discoverable to need designation at this time. they are, of course, illegal, since the law makes no distinction in race and color. But the resorts in Chinatown where whites may and do smoke opium—that is another matter, the matter under consideration here.

The following is a list of the “joints” in Chinatown frequented by whites who go there to smoke opium:

BLIND ANNIE’S CELLAR, entrance through the passageway between 718 and 720 Jackson street. Resort for white girls. Supposed to be under the protection of the police.

AH KING’S JOINT, entrance by a narrow and steep flight of stairs at 620 Jackson street. The most notorious resort for whites in Chinatown.

HOP JAY, in the rear of 730 Jackson street. Known as the “Palace Hotel” of Chinatown. Second floor. Also a “joint” in same building on the third floor.

39 WAVERLEY PLACE, entrance south of the barber-shop. In third story attic.

116 WAVERLEY PLACE, double yellow doors, entrance to the north. Second story, rear.

SANG JO HE, entrance between 921 and 923 Dupont street. Second story, rear.

17 WASHINGTON ALLEY (known as Fish alley), a passageway that leads through to Dupont street. There are several “joints” here.

DUNCOMBE ALLEY, a narrow causeway that runs from Jackson to Pacific street. There are no numbers, but in the middle of the alley, on the west side, is an entrance that leads to a room frequented by whites.

812 CLAY STREET, second story in the rear.

AH SING, 834-1/2 Washington street, entrance through a tobacco-store. Third story front. White girls and men.

CHURCH ALLEY, about the center of the block, entrance through deserted gambling-rooms to two joints on west side.

809 STOCKTON STREET, between Sacramento and Clay. Big brick building containing several resorts run by a Chinese. Opposite the consulate.

1009 STOCKTON STREET, third floor.

1005 STOCKTON STREET, first floor.

1023 STOCKTON STREET, the old Mc-Kenzie building, first and second floors. Notorious. White women and children found there at all hours.

AH KING, 720 Jackson street, rear.

835 JACKSON, run by a Chinese doctor.

7-1/2 WAVERLY PLACE, in basement.

AH SUEY, first floor, 834 Clay street.

AH SING, Second floor, 834 Clay street.



Starting in on the task to expose something of the extent of the illicit opium traffic in San Francisco, with the injunction to procure facts instead of general material, was a most difficult thing for one who knew little or nothing of the ways and the haunts of the victims of the “habit,” known in the vernacular as “hop heads” or “fiends.”

Certain Chinatown guides were tried first. These led the way to Blind Annie’s famous “joint”—but always at a time when no white girls or men were smoking there—and to many of the Chinese opium “joints” already enumerated. But always only Chinese would be found smoking. The guides took good care that no white people should be shown in the act of “hitting the pipe.”

When asked to be taken where the whites smoked opium the guides declared there were no such places; that the law was very strict, and the police kept such close watch that neither inside nor outside of the Chinese quarter could there be found places where white men and women inhaled the drug.

A lawyer’s assistant, who knows every corner and alley in Chinatown and the tenderloin districts nearby, was next appealed to for the desired information. He frankly admitted that the white “joints” were numerous and the “hop heads” almost without number—but—

His “but” was that he found these people very useful at election time, and therefore he must not endanger their friendship and allegiance by betraying their haunts. Other methods were tried— many others. “Hop heads” were followed, sometimes paid for leading the way to their rendezvous. This was a slow and unsatisfactory process. Sometimes two or three “fiends” would lead all to the same building. By three different persons the way was shown to the lodging-house at 633 California street. Two of the informants were women, who went there to smoke in a fiend’s room.

And many of the “fiends” that were followed refused to betray their haunts and comrades. Many of them are well dressed and are not to be tempted by any moderate sum of money. These are the men who live off the earnings of fallen women. Some of them have diamonds in their shirt fronts. They are known on the streets as “dude fiends.” That they are victims of the seductive and degrading drug one can easily see. All are thin, pale and glassy-eyed. These are three unfailing signs borne by every man or woman who has a regular “habit.”

At last, through the kindly offices of a popular and well-known south of Market street lawmaker, who knew a man who knew another man who, for a sufficient consideration, would undertake to show two Eastern tourists something of life among the opium-smokers in San Francisco, acquaintances were established that led to the knowledge, only a portion of which is now published.

It is a fact that the opium dens of this City are not easy of access, but it is also true that they are carried on under the very eyes of the policemen in certain quarters of the City. On two different occasions policemen were seen to enter these resorts and remain there for some time.

Yet however difficult it is for a stranger to open the doors of an opium joint, and however difficult it may or may not be for the policemen on the respective beats to discover their whereabouts, a great many young men and women from respectable homes find it all too easy to force an entrance. Almost anyone can gain evidence of the truth of this assertion by noting that the houses named are frequented by young people in all stages of the “habit.” Some are learning, for one must smoke many times before the system becomes thoroughly inoculated and indulgence is not followed by nausea. Some smoke once a day, some twice and some three times a day. But once even a “mild habit” is formed there is no longer any hope for the victim. Once a “fiend” always a “fiend,” is a commonplace expression among the “hop heads.”



One of the most valuable acquaintances formed through the medium of the “well known and popular lawmaker” was that of a young man who has what he calls a “twenty-cent habit.” This means that he smokes 20 cents’ worth of opium a day, or one li gee. The latter designation describes to Asiatic ears a Chinese nutshell about the size of a beechnut, filled with first-class opium. The li gee is sold in many places in Chinatown. You can watch the “fiends” coming north on Dupont street every night for their li gees. If you follow them you can easily guess where they buy.

This young man with the “twenty-cent habit”— tall, stoop-shouldered, painfully thin and glassy-eyed— was invaluable in Chinatown.

“Do you know that Blind Annie’s cellar is a resort for white girls?” was the first information he gave.

Everybody who visits Chinatown has seen Blind Annie and her cats, yet only the initiate know about the white girls frequenting her dingy cellar. To reach it you enter the first dark alley that leads north off Jackson street, above Kearny. When you reach the end of the alley you come upon a court yard and a foul smell. The courtyard has balconies all around it and for three stories above the street. You go down a few steps and then turn to the left to reach Blind Annie.

You cannot push open her door with impunity, for it is usually locked. The guide always knocks and sometimes does not gain admission.

It was midnight when The Call man and the young man with the “twenty-cent habit” knocked on Annie’s door.

“You stand to one side,” said the guide to the other. Then the guide parleyed a while with Annie and assured her that his friends (Eastern tourists) were all right. Just what passed between the two a Caucasian uneducated in the Chinese tongue will never know, but it was sufficient to gain an admittance for all three.

There were four other white people in Annie’s place. Two were women — evil looking women, though still young. All four were smoking and Annie was fondling her cats.

Blind Annie’s room has a superficial area of perhaps 120 square feet. When the door is shut, as it must be when she has white smokers, there is not a particle of ventilation unless it is from the cracks around the door. The atmosphere was stifling with the fumes of the drug that came from the four pipes and it were scarcely safe for one unused to inhaling the smoke to remain in the room many minutes.

The room is foul and dirty. Blind Annie sits in the corner on a mat that is greasy and elevated from the floor about two feet. If she tried to stand straight in her bunk her head would bang against the upper bunk before she was half straightened out—and Annie is a small creature. On the opposite side of the room there are similar tiers of bunks. Each bunk has two square Chinese mats and on every mat is a “dope” layout—a tray, a nut-oil lamp, a small box of the brown and sticky drug, a vessel for ashes, a needle with which to cook and manipulate the stuff and the bamboo pipe.

Blind Annie’s fee is graded according to the “habit” of the smoker. For two bits a very big “habit” can be satisfied for the time being—an indulgence of from thirty to thirty-five small pills. And this is the kind of “habit” those who frequent Annie’s joint usually suffer from. It is a “big habit” in the vernacular of the “fiends.” One must have courted the vice assiduously or have been smoking many years to have cultivated such a “habit.”

“I never smoke more than twenty pills at a time,” said one of the young women who was induced to show the visitors how to smoke. “That isn’t enough to put me under the influence, but it braces me up after a hard day, and that’s all I care about.

“Oh, it would soon grow if I’d let it, but I’m not going to be a ‘fiend.’ I’ve hit the pipe these five years now and am not a ‘fiend’ yet. You don’t catch this girl getting to be a ‘hophead.’”

This appears to be a popular hallucination with the victims of the opium habit—everyone knows the other is a fiend, but thinks himself or herself only a dilettanti in the vice. But the glassy eyes and shrunken frame tell their own story.

Carrie was the name of the girl who volunteered the information about herself. She kept on rolling the pills and puffing the smoke. “This is the twelfth,” she said, as she laid back on the box that served for a pillow, and drew in the seductive fumes of the brown, sizzling little pill. Presently, when the twentieth pill had been burned to ashes, Carrie’s head sank back on the box and her eyes were heavy.

“Guess I’ve taken a bit too much this time,” she said. “I’ll sleep it off a bit before I go.”

“She’s good till morning,” said the guide. “She has the desired effect now, sure. She always talks that way about taking a little too much, but she never quits till the sleep comes on.”

Carrie was the first of the patrons of Annie that night to receive the “desired effect”— as the simon-pure Chinatown guide always calls it. The others were in various stages of indulgence. Annie stroked the kittens beside her and crooned. When the customary nickels were dropped on the tray in front of her by the visitors she said “Tanks” quite plainly.

“Didn’t the gentlemen want to smoke?” she asked the guide in her native tongue. They did not.

Ah Sing’s joint, on the top floor of 834 Washington street, was the next place visited that night. The entrance is through a small tobacco-store kept by Chinese. When you reach the landing at the head of the first flight you find a narrow court yard with balconies at each story. You turn to the right and go up still another flight of dark stairs. Then a little to the left, and the first door you come to is Ah Sing’s. His room is a trifle larger than Annie’s, and there are only two big bunks in it, one on each side. He has an assistant of his own race, and the two of them wait on their customers assiduously. There were three of the latter stretched out on the bunks, and one of these had already secured the “desired effect.”

“He’s only been smoking about a month, and a half dozen pills sets him off,” explained the guide, who recognized the slumbere.

Ah Sing was careful to lock the door after his visitor had been admitted. He was surprised when he found they did not want to smoke, but he accepted the two 25 cent pieces tendered him with becoming Mongolian meekness and thankfulness.

The other Chinese joints visited were about the same. The layout is the same. There is always a hop tray of “dope” in front of the reclining smoker; the nut-oil lamp (the dong) for cooking; the hank or needle with which the ah pin yin (opium) is manipulated, and the big jin ten, or bamboo pipe.

In one night six places in Chinatown were visited, and at every place white men and women were found smoking. Another night four joints were entered by the white tourists, and in all of them whites were smoking and the visitors were offered the privilege of “hitting the pipe” for the small fee of 15 cents.

Though it was not easy for a novice to find these places it seems strange that the trained policemen and detectives, with every resource at their command, cannot discover their whereabouts. Indeed, it is said that the police do know the location of these and many other dens. It is said, too, that the police wink—but, then, this is a narration of fact, not of hearsay.

These are the facts regarding Chinatown. If the police have been in ignorance of these dens, as Chief Crowley has declared himself to be, at least they need be no longer in ignorance.