blind pig / blind tiger
These are American slang terms for an illegal drinking establishment. Blind tiger is most commonly found in the South. Its synonym, blind pig, is more common in California, the Northwest, and the Northern Tier states.
The terms apparently arose from a practice designed to circumvent laws that prohibited the sale of alcohol by the drink or licensing fees associated with such sales. Proprietors of drinking establishments would advertise animal curiosities and give customers who paid to see the animals a “complimentary” drink. Often, there were no actual animals to be displayed and the name was a thin facade that law enforcement officials winked at.
Blind tiger is first cited in May 1857, in the magazine Spirit of the Times:
I sees a kinder pigeon-hole cut in the side of a house, and over the hole, in big writin’, “Blind Tiger, ten cents a sight.”...That “blind tiger” was an arrangement to evade the law, which won’t let ‘em sell licker there, except by the gallon.1
Blind pig appears a bit later. From Edgar W. “Bill” Nye’s 1886 Remarks:
If you want pure water you get it at the spring near the foot of the fall, and if you want it flavored, with something that will leave a blazed road the whole length of your alimentary canal, you go to the “blind pig,” a few rods away from the falls.2
And Minnesota passed a law against blind pigs in 1887:
Whoever shall attempt to evade or violate any of the laws of this state...by means of the artifice or contrivance known as the “Blind Pig” or “Hole in the Wall”...shall...be punished.3
Edgar W. Nye, Remarks (Chicago: F.T. Neely, 1886), 483.
Dictionary of American Regional English, edited by Frederic G. Cassidy (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1985), 283-84.
Copyright 1997-2016, by David Wilton