Editor’s Note: My friend David Schaub sent me this revealing experience about a nightclub in Pampa, Texas called The Peppermint Lounge. David’s real life experience at the Peppermint Lounge in Pampa will take those who lived in Pampa during that era on a trip down memory lane. The rest of you will find it a fun article that accurately reveals a legendary place in small town America in 1968.
The Peppermint Lounge
by David Schaub
Pampa, Texas 1968
In the late 1960’s when I was living there, Pampa had a population which consisted of primarily whites with barely a thousand or so blacks. As it had always been up to that time, virtually all of the blacks lived in an area called the Flats. As was then typical in most of the South and Texas, it was located “across the tracks”. Segregated schools had only been abolished a couple of years before and the Flats had lost its binding feature—the schools. One of the most famous places to many people who knew Pampa was the Peppermint Lounge, a black nightclub located in the Flats.
The Peppermint Lounge had a bad reputation. There were always notes of fights with the police being called in the Police Beat in the newspaper. There had been a couple of shootings and stabbings there. I had heard stories about this place for several years from the black guys I played baseball and football with but to myself and most of my friends, it was a place which I would never set foot. It was way too dangerous to even think about. Well, one of the problems of being young is that you are bullet-proof or at least you think you are. I was just bored enough to want to find out what the Peppermint Lounge was all about.
An Idle Mind and Curiosity
I had always had a very good rapport with the black guys with whom I played little league/babe ruth league baseball and high school football. We kidded around a lot with our black buddies and some of us got a real education about how some of the guys lived in the Flats. Things like sex, prostitution, liquor laws, gambling, and the general view of how life is lived was a lot different for most of them. We also found out that some, if not all, of our buddies went to the Peppermint on a regular basis.
The rules were different there. I was very curious. The second semester of my senior year in high school, I was effectively worthless. I had enough credits to graduate, I had been accepted to Tech already, I was just going through the motions. Thus, I didn’t study, did little homework, sports were over for me, and I was only going to 3 classes. The rest of the day, I worked at the Chevy car dealership parts department.
One of the guys I kidded around with at work was a black fellow I will call Swede (not his real name). He was single, probably about 30 years old and drove a cool car. Swede was always good for a laugh and my working partner, Bennie, and I knew where he would hide when he wanted to “rest”. We would find him and hide with him sometimes and talk about all kinds of stuff.
I found out that he went to the Peppermint Lounge on a regular basis. The stories he told us were amazing! One day I was chatting with him about the Peppermint and he asked me if I would like to go with him. He said no one would bother me and I would probably know a bunch of folks there. I told him I would go if my running buddy, Lanny, would go and I would get back to him. No chance I was going there by myself.
I excited. That night I tracked Lanny down on the drag. Lanny had not grown up in Pampa. He was already out of high school and was a really cool dude. He was only about a year older than me. He was living with his cousins to let a situation cool off in Arkansas. Lanny had the coolest car — a brand new ‘68 Mustang fastback with a 351 Cleveland engine. It looked good and ran like a bat out of hell! We had been running around together for almost a year and gotten into only minor trouble.
When I explained to him what Swede had offered to do, he said sure let’s go! The weekend was only a couple of days away so I told Swede that we would be at his house at 9pm on Saturday. Swede told me how to find his house. I wanted to go later in the evening so that it was dark to help “hide” us from prying eyes.
On Saturday, Lanny and I met up and I jumped in his car. I directed him over to the Flats and to Swede’s house. We pulled up in front of his house. It was dark but Swede’s car was in the driveway. We went up to the door and it was open, with only a screen door to keep the mosquitoes out. I knocked on the screen door and nothing! I knew he had to be there. His car is there. I banged louder and this time I heard a muffled noise that sounded like, “Come on in.”
Swede Cops Out
We entered the mostly dark house and in the bedroom off the kitchen was Swede sprawled across the bed. He was dead drunk. I helped him sit up on the edge of the bed and he said he had been drinking since that morning. I asked him if he remembered he was going to take us down to the Peppermint Lounge. He said yeah, but he could not go because he was too sick. However he had set it up with the bartender and it would be OK. He told us to Just go on down there and we would see our buddies there. Lanny and I went back to the car to figure out what to do.
When we got outside, we found a young kid standing next to the car admiring it. When he turned around, I recognized the brother of one of my black friends. He said he loved the car and wondered if he could have a ride in it. I looked at Lanny and then I turned to him and told him that Swede was going to take us to the Peppermint but was not in any shape. He said, no problem, I will show you where it is. He said his brother was there and it would be ok if we went in. I turned to Lanny and asked him what he thought. “Let’s do it!” So off we went. Our new guide directed us to a street with a lot of houses.
Shootings were common at the Peppermint Lounge. This photo came from the front page of the November 29, 1965 edition of The Pampa Daily News.
Making an Impression
He was asking how fast the car was and telling us how neat it was. Then he said, Will this car peal out?”
“You better believe it will”, Lanny responded.
“Well, would you mind going down to that white house and peal out in front of it?”, our young friend asked.
“What for?”, Lanny asked.
“Well, there is a little chick that lives there I want to impress,” he says.
Lanny about fell out of the car laughing. “Are you kidding me? Man, to impress a girl, I would be happy to do that.”
We drive down to the white house and stopped. Our little friend leans over to the window next to me and yells at the girl standing on the porch, “Hey, watch this! OK, hit it, man.”
Lanny lays into it and there are two black stripes and a cloud of smoke when we finally looked back. “Holy Cow, this thing is really something!” our little buddy yells, “This thing will really run!”.
“OK, dude, your all set with your new squeeze, so lets go to the Peppermint,” I told him.
Here We Go
He guides us down and around until we come to a long street with very little on it except this building set back off of the street to our right. There are cars parked everywhere. We drive by and see 5 or 6 dudes standing around outside. I don’t see anyone I know. We go past the club and turn around in the street. Lanny sees that there is a vacant lot across the street and the curb is pretty well beat off. He pulls in and parallels a pickup sitting near the street. We look at each other and I say, “Well, here we go.”
Our little buddy jumps out and is gone into the night. As we walk by the pickup, I look in the bed and there is a dude laying there either passed out or dead. Either way, he did not move. Lanny and I cross the street and head for the door. None of the guys outside say anything to us but look us over really good. I did not know what to expect when we went through that door. This could be the largest mistake of my life or not, but I knew we would soon find out. I lead going in. The music is loud. It is really dark and smoke is everywhere. I cant see anything. I hear someone yelling “Hey, man. Come over here!”
It is my buddy, Wayne. His brother was our guide. We go over to this table full of guys and I suddenly discover that it is most of my friends and a few more. Besides Wayne, there is Frank, Stanley, and Bobby. He introduces two slightly older guys and we pull up a couple of chairs. There are empties all over the table so they are obviously not just sitting there. Our butts barely hit the bottom of the chair when the largest man I have ever seen in my life comes over and says he wants to see our licenses! Holy cow, we are about to get bounced out of here.
Wayne yells to me—“Give him your license, man”. Lanny and I pull out our licenses and hand them up what seems like 20 feet to his hands. He stands there a second and looks at them, looks at us, and then says, “What will you guys have?”
I must have had my mouth hanging wide open because all I can say is, “ Ah, Ah, Ah!”
Lanny says, “Bring us two Buds and one for each of our buddies!” He disappears. We start talking to the guys and tell them about Swede and the kid. The guys know about Swede being out of commission. Wayne says they had a bet that we would not show up.
My eyes are beginning to adjust to the dark room. The walls are covered with neon beer signs. There is maybe 30 tables in the room and a fair size dance floor filled with people. Along the walls are some chairs with young ladies in them. They all seem to be looking at us. It is loud.
Wayne tells us that the bartender only wanted to see our license so he would know how old we are in case of trouble. He needs to know who to throw out the side door in case the cops come! Well, that makes me feel better!! Geez. About that time, the beer shows up and we all get served. I suck down about half and I noticed Lanny did too. I introduce him around to everyone. He doesn’t know any of the guys but when I tell them he owns the red and black Mustang, they all know him!
At this point, we were doing good. I was beginning to get used to this place. Then Wayne said, “Hey man, you want to dance?”
Before I could say anything, this girl appeared and sits down in the empty chair next to me. She had to be about my age or maybe a little younger but I had no idea who she was. I don’t remember seeing her at school, but here she is. I don’t know who I am going to offend if I say no, or what kind of stuff I am going to get into if I say yes. Yes looked like the easiest thing to do, so off we went to the dance floor. I have no clue what song is being played, but it was fast and hot and we danced like crazy. We made it thru the first song and stayed on the dance floor. The next song fires up and we begin dancing again.
The Peppermint Lounge in Pampa was named after the original Peppermint Lounge that opened in 1958 in Manhattan, New York. As the Twist craze hit in 1960-1961, celebrities swarmed into the Peppermint Lounge: Jackie Kennedy, Audrey Hepburn, Truman Capote, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Liberace, Noel Coward, Frank Sinatra, Norman Mailer, Annette Funicello, even the elusive Greta Garbo, to dance to the house band Joey Dee and the Starliters. Jackie Kennedy was such an enthusiast that she arranged for a temporary ‘Peppermint Lounge’ in the White House.
But before this song gets too far, I noticed what looked like a whirling mass of legs, arms and bodies in the middle of the dance floor! At first, I can not quite figure out what is going on. Holy cow, those two dudes are fighting. People start giving them room. It was also getting serious because I thought I saw a knife in one of their hands. This is not good and I headed back to the table and everyone, including my buddies, are beginning to charge toward the door. Someone said the cops are on their way and we got to get out of here. I knew there was one black cop that patrolled the Flats so there had to be one very close by.
Lanny and I hit the door at about the same time. We got about five steps past the door and I looked up the street and sure enough, there was a car coming with red lights a-blazing! We would probably run right in front of it if we continued. I grabbed Lanny’s arm and we made a sharp right turn into the vacant lot next door with weeds at least as tall as our shoulders. We got in the weeds and crouched down and made it to a large tree in the middle of the lot. Between the weeds and the tree, we could not be seen out there (plus it was dark)! The car stopped and one black cop ran into the Peppermint. We are watching intently as a second car pulls up, this time with two white cops. In what seemed like 30 minutes but probably was closer to 5, out come all three cops with two handcuffed guys in tow and put them in the cars. They milled around for a few minutes and then drive away. We decide to wait a few minutes to be sure they are good and gone. About the time we are about to leave, a couple comes out of the club and they are obviously not happy with each other. He has a hold of her right arm above the elbow and is half dragging her towards the car. She is a long, tall person in a very shapely dress and high heals. He is a handsome man in a very nice tan stripe suit. Lanny and I hold our position to see what is going to happen. They are heading for a car right in front of us and only about 30 yards away. We see and hear everything as it unfolds.
One Tough Woman
“Don’t you ever do that shit again around me!”, she exclaims in a very self righteous voice that only black women can do as he shoves her toward the passenger door. He shoots back, “Don’t you talk to me that way, woman. I will talk to anybody I want to, any time I want to, without asking your permission!” She rips open the car door and wheels around, standing in the opened door, with one arm over the top of the door, and screams at him just three feet away: “I will say any damn thing I want to, any time I want to!” With that he draws back and hits her right between the breasts, really hard. So hard in fact it sounded like the thump of a bat hitting a softball. She is knocked backwards and the open door catches her or else she would probably have been on her back on the ground. With her left arm still over the top of the door to hold herself up, her knees buckled and I thought she was going down. But she kind of bent over with her knees still bent and came up like a coiled spring unwinding with an upper cut that hit him as square on the chin as you could hit someone! I mean he was tagged. We saw the bottom of his shoes as he flew backwards and hit the ground flat on his back. Lanny and I simultaneously said, “Shiiittt!” We were standing there with our mouths agape. He slowly gathers himself up, rolls over onto his knees and manages to get upright. She is still hanging there with her arm across the door. “Git in the damn car, woman, and let’s go! I am tired of messing with you.” She slowly turns around and gets in the car. He grabs the door and slams it shut. He walks around the car mumbling something we could not hear, gets in and tears out of the lot and onto the street. We are standing there with our mouths open. I turned to Lanny and said, “Buddy, that is the toughest woman I have ever seen in my life! The shot he gave her would have killed me!” “Yeah, and then she had the strength to hit him with a punch that literally knocked him off his feet! Wow, what a pair! Hey, lets get out of here while we still can,” Lanny said.
Time to Scatter
So we ran out of the lot and across the street but as we came to that same pickup that was parked there when we went in, the man in the back raised up and said, “Hey, them cops came out here and asked me which way them white boys went, and I told them I don’t know cause I’ve been passed out here since before they came. I think it might be a good idea for you guys to scatter!” With that Lanny had the doors unlocked and we jumped in. He backed up onto the street and let her rip. There were two black stripes and a cloud of smoke in our path. Too bad there was no little teenage girl standing on the porch who would be impressed!
All that remains of the legendary Peppermint Lounge in Pampa, TX today is a vacant lot, the tree David and Lanny hid behind and perhaps a few ghosts.