This photo of Arnold’s from 1902 gives clues to part of its unrecorded history. Solid evidence suggests that the building was originally built as a brothel in 1838. In the 1850s it was a “men’s salon” and a boarding house. In the first half of the nineteenth century, prostitution was an entirely female-run business. “Fancy men” often worked for brothels, but they were employees who were paid to go into saloons and places where men congreated and entice them back to the house. They also served as security and handymen, but they worked for the woman of the house. Increased crime and Progressive Era movements to “save” women from lives as prostitutes made the vocation more dangerous. Ladies of leisure came under more frequent threat by both cops and criminals, and this caused “fancy men” to morph into “pimps.”
Crime rose in Cincinnati during the Civil War. Soldiers went months without getting paid, and groups sometimes came into town, got drunk and demanded free services. It is probably not a coincidence that Arnold’s saloon was founded in 1861, the year the war started. The saloon may have simply been converted from the brothel reception area to an entrace space that was more dominated by men in order to provide a layer of protection from rowdy customers.
The 1902 photo tells us several things about the business. The sign out front advertises Hugo Arnold’s saloon and boarding house. There was nothing illegitimate about boarding houses, but it depended on who ran them and how they were run. Many refused to rent to single women because even women who were employed as seamstresses or domestics made such little money that they often turned tricks on the side to make ends meet. Other boarding houses knew this but didn’t care; and others rented primarily to independent prostitutes and made proceeds from tricks part of the rent. We have no idea how Hugo Arnold ran his business, but the left side of the photo is extremely interesting. It shows the “Ladies’ Entrance” side of the bar with one man standing in front of two or three single women. The circumstances of the photo make it pretty clear that these ladies were some of Cincinnati’s fallen doves; and that while Arnold’s may have predominately been a saloon by the early 1900s, hooking was still on the menu.