How did the Barbary Coast district get it's name? : LUSENET : San Francisco History : One Thread

I've been searching the web for hours, and can't find a single source to tell me how the red light district of San Francisco circa post-gold rush San Francisco acquired the name "Barbary Coast."

Any information you can provide would be greatly appreciated.

Note to the editor -- I did *not* post my full name, as there is only one person in the state who has it(me), and I don't want to give out that kind of personal information over the internet. Sorry.

-- Bruno Tim (, February 19, 2002


I think it comes from the Barbary Coast Hotel and Casino on Las Vegas Boulevard at Flamingo Street in Las Vegas, NV. I'm kidding!

It actually comes from the name of the coast of North Africa (Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt) where Arab pirates attacked Mediterranean ships. The name Barbary is derived from the Berbers which itself comes from Barbarian, although the majority of the Berbers lived simple, rural lifestyles.


P.S. You don't have to tell us you're using a shortened version of your name! Just use a completely FAKE name, if you want. It's ironic that you won't give out your surname which, by itself, is mostly useless, yet you freely gave out your real e-mail address which could be distributed for spamming or virus purposes....

-- Scott Trimble (, February 19, 2002.

When the U S marines sing about "the shores of Tripoli" they are rhapsodizing about the Barbery Coast. North Africa was always an exotic port. American cities, and particuarly San Francisco, that had "brothels, saloons and gambling places" used the euphamism "Barbary Coast" to advertise an exotic/erotic destination.

Good Luck in your research

Kurt Iversen

-- Kurt Iversen (, February 19, 2002.

We always referred to the North Beach section of SF as "Barbary Coast" along with "going down to the International Settlement."

It was an area of strip joints and sleevy bars where years before seamen congregated for shore leave and R&R.

We would sneak into the clubs and watch the shows until thrown out. The "Settlement" got it's name because of all the cheap, densely packed housing for transients and low paid "foreign" workers, mostly Chinese in those early years.

Thye area still has a somewhat sleezy reputation with a number of strip joints still flourishing.

"Carol Doda".....where are you ?

-- RE Ruef (, February 27, 2002.

You have answers already that are as close as you'll ever get. My readings suggest that it was called that because the saloonkeepers, shopkeepers, dance hall and bar girls all treated the sailors on shore leave much like the Barbary pirates e.g. overcharged them, stole from them, beat them up, shangahaied them etc. As far as I can tell the term "Barbary Coast" did not come into being until the late 1860s. Before then it was just called "Pacific Street" which was another name for the same area. Very early on in 1849 the area was called "Sydney Town" after the Australian criminals who lived there.

-- Jerry F. Schimmel (, January 08, 2005.

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