Green’s Dictionary of Slang

shebeen n.

also sebeen, shab, shebean, sheeban, shubeen, skibeen
[Irish síbín, illicit whisky; orig. Irish use, also in Irish immigrant communities in UK/US, ext. to S.Afr. townships and UK W.I. community]

1. an unlicensed drinking place, an illegal, late-night drinking club.

[Ire] ‘De Kilmainham Minit’ in Luke Caffrey’s Gost 7: Wid de Stiff to a Sebeen we hied.
[UK]‘St Patrick was a Gentleman’ in Universal Songster I 10/2: His mother kept a sheeban shop, in the town of Inniskillen.
[UK] ‘Darby the Swift’ in Bentley’s Misc. July 71: We damp’d the grief a trifle at the shebeen with a drop of the rale stone turf.
[Ire]S. Lover Handy Andy 222: I want your honour to see the account of the money your honour gave me, I spint at the shebeen upon ’lecthors that couldn’t be accommodated at Mrs. Fay’s.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 17 Oct. 2/2: [headline] James Gannon, The Shebeen-House Keeper.
[US]N.Y. Clipper 2 July n.p.: There’s shebeen shops without stint.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 15 July 2/5: I overhauled that thafe of the world at Hickey’s skibeen.
[UK]‘Shadow’ Midnight Scenes 24: Our notice is arrested by a ‘few drouthy chields’ hanging around the door of a shebeen in a dirty close.
[Aus]Bell’s Life in Sydney 25 Feb. 3/1: That amiable being was solacing herself with a ‘dhudeen’ and ‘a tasto o’ the craythur,’ procured from a neighbouring ‘shebeen’.
[UK]Leeds Times 12 Dec. 6/5: There’s a shebeen near here, where they sell the whisky on the quiet.
[UK]Hotten Sl. Dict. 226: Shebeen, a unlicensed place where spirituous liquors are illegally sold.
London Figaro 14 Dec. n.p.: Three extensive captures of shebeeners were made in Glasgow on Sunday. One hundred and twenty persons were found in the dens... Why are shebeens and shebeeners so numerous in the North? [F&H].
[UK]Sportsman (London) 5 Feb. 4/1: Shebeens are only to bo found in the lowest and most degraded localities of the Scottish towns [...] Shebeens are not required in aristocratic quarters—a man who has a wine-cellar does not frequent a shebeen.
H. Jay My Connaught Cousins I 22: There is a little shebeen close by where we will take a rest.
[UK]F.W. Carew Autobiog. of a Gipsey 433: Doolan [...] was in the habit of spending his evenings at a small shebeen called the Four-Leaved Shamrock.
[Aus]Sun. Times (Perth) 17 Apr. 1/1: After being passed out of other pubberies they can always continue the hiccough at the wink-at-anything shebeen.
[UK]Harrington & LeBrunn [perf. Michael Nolan] ‘“Come In”, Said Widdy Malone’ 🎵 And I gave a loud rap with a bit of a cane / At the door of her little she-been.
[Ire]J.M. Synge Playboy of the Western World Act I: It’d be a crazy pot-boy’d lodge him in the shebeen where he works by day.
[Can]R. Service ‘Missis Moriarty’s Boys’ in Rhymes of a Red Cross Man 169: Came in from McGonigle’s ould shebeen, came in from drinkin’ his pay.
[Ire]Joyce Ulysses 301: Blind to the world up in a shebeen in Bride street after closing time, fornicating with two shawls and a bully on guard, drinking porter out of teacups.
[UK](con. 1920s) McArthur & Long No Mean City 31: He took her into a ‘shebeen,’ a ‘hoose’ where whiskies and beer were obtainable at any hour.
[Ire](con. 1850–60s) G.A. Little Malachi Horan Remembers 37: A tantiutherum was a public-house and it wanting a licence. Oh, I know well that in other parts of the country they are called shebeens.
[SA]A. Fugard Nongogo (1993) 57: Queeny’s shebeen in one of the townships around Johannesburg.
[UK]L. Longmore Dispossessed 180: Thousands of gallons of barberton were poured away, but not one shebeen was permanently closed down.
[UK]B. McGhee Cut and Run (1963) 54: I mentioned my need of a drink to my companions and advocated going along to Maggie Murphy’s ‘cane’, an all-night shebeen.
[SA]M. Shezi Shanti in Kavanagh S. Afr. People’s Plays (1981) 74: After liquor again? Search this house. This must be a shebeen. I don’t remember seeing a Bantu visiting a Coolie.
[UK]Sun. Times Mag. 12 Oct. 22: Hulme, the alternative modern ghetto, where the ‘shebeens’ have a different address each night.
[SA]J. Sikakane Window on Soweto 27: Police liquor raids are as alive as ever before because of the ‘shebeens.’ Shebeens are the homes where the Sowetonians can go buy liquor ‘on tick’ and drink ‘after hours’.
[SA]P.C. Venter Soweto 130: Forty per cent of national beer consumption is sold through shebeens […].
[SA](con. 1950s) G. Moloi My Life 115: They were on their way to Nomali Mshengu’s shebeen [...] The order there would be six quarts of beer, half a jack of Mellow Wood.
[SA]A. Dangor Z Town Trilogy 150: The shebeen was full now.
[SA]P. Hotz Muzukuru 31: I [...] head down to the hotel or the shab for a few beers. [Ibid.] 54: I drifted from bar to bar, and shab to shab, dopping and stopping.
[Ire](con. 1870s) K.C. Kearns Dublin Tenement Life 52: The population of Dublin at that time was 337,000 and there were [...] 209 unlicensed drinking houses known as ‘shebeens’.
[UK]S. Jacobs Enemy Within 34: We will do it ourselves with our struggle in the factories, trains, shebeens and churches.
[UK]Observer Mag. 30 May 23: The shebeen — an illegal drinking den where the impoverished black masses in the ‘new’ South Africa drink away their troubles.
[UK](con. 1981) A. Wheatle East of Acre Lane 122: Dey used to play in dat shubeen on Landor Road.
[Scot]L. McIlvanney All the Colours 320: It was in one of these shebeens that Maitland heard a voice from home.
[SA]IOL News (Western Cape) 31 May 🌐 Two friends were beaten to death near a shebeen.
[US]T. Robinson ‘Angelo Death’ in Dirty Words [ebook] [He] parks in front of an Irish shebeen.
[UK]K. Sampson Killing Pool 146: It’s ladies, clubs, blues, shebeens, all night long, night into day.

2. attrib. use of sense 1.

[Scot]Dundee, Perth & Cupar Advertiser 18 Nov. 3/7: On Saturday another Shebeen Court was held [...] Ann Morrson [...] was charged with selling spirits without a license.
[Scot]Dundee Courier 13 Apr. 4/7: Sunday Drinking in Dundee. A Roaring Shebeen Trade.
[UK]Guardian 24 May 6/1: The ‘shebeen’ scandal in Cardiff.
Times Record (Troy, NY) 1 Oct. 14/4: Shebeen Suzy [...] runs a drinking den (shebeen) in a shantytown (Negro quarter).
[SA]L.F. Freed Crime in S. Afr. 76: The native shebeen-runners have to change their place of operation.
[SA]D. Muller Whitey 32: Like all shebeen-keepers, she was necessarily tough and unbending.
[SA]A. Fugard Tsotsi 35: The shebeen boys. The bad eggs.
[SA]P. Slabolepszy Sat. Night at the Palace (1985) 69: He’s a bloody pusher. A dagga mert. Shebeen creeper!
[SA]Mail & Guardian (Johannesburg) 8 Dec. 🌐 There was an intensive effort [...] to assist those shebeen owners who had not already acquired a liquor license.

In derivatives

shebeener (n.)

1. a seller of illicit alcohol.

[UK]Guardian 24 Dec. 4/2: The police authorities determined to make a beginning on one of the most notorious of these ‘druggist shebeeners’.
[UK]Western Mail (Wales) 29 Nov. 4/4: Mary Conway, an inveterate shebeener was at Cardiff Police-court yesterday fined £10.
Eve. Teleg. (London) 21 Oct. 5/2: She is a notorious shebeener [...] and has suffered two long terms of imprisonment for shebeening.
[UK]Western Mail (Wales) 5 Jan. 7/8: Ellen O’Brien, a shebeener, who had weathered 34 years with only two convictions, was charged with selling beer without a license.
[US]Democrat & Chron. (Rochester, NY) 21 July 21/2: [T]he evidence which was to send the shebeener to Cape Town.
[US]Hood River Glacier (OR) 16 Mar. 2/1: The ga,me between bootleggers and shebeners and the officers of the law goes on unending.
Courier-Jrnl (Louisville, KY) 8 Oct. 58/2: The more typical share-holder was a ‘shebeener’ — the owner of an illegal bar.

2. a person who frequents an unlicensed drinking place.

London Figaro 14 Dec. n.p.: Three extensive captures of shebeeners were made in Glasgow on Sunday. One hundred and twenty persons were found in the dens... Why are shebeens and shebeeners so numerous in the North? [F&H].
[UK]Western Mail (Wales) 24 June 3/8: Such is the shebeener when tippling in his favourite sly haunts.
[UK]Guardian 24 May 6/1: The shebeeners had [...] prepared themselves to resist the enrace of the constables.
(con. S. Afr.) Eve. Sentinel (Santa cruz, CA) 18 Aug. 1/4: The rigorous suppression in force has extinguished the shebeener and the illicit vendor of ‘puza’.
[Ire]L. Doyle Ballygullion 186: ‘What’s this, sargint?’ ‘Just a gang av shebeeners, your Worship.’.
[UK]Guardian 23 Oct. 2/2: Students have started to take action against liquor drinkers and shebeen patrons [...] The reaction of the large numbers of shebeeners could lead to renewed violence.
[SA]IOL News (Western Cape) 13 Apr. 🌐 A colourful shebeener in Athol Fugard’s ‘Nongogo’.

In compounds

shebeen house (n.) (also shebean house)

an unlicensed drinking place.

[UK]M. Edgeworth Castle Rackrent (1832) 79: They were all well enough pleased when his honour got up to drink with them, and sent for more spirits from a shebean-house.
[Ire]Lady Morgan Florence Macarthy 105: The humble inn-keeper [...] had recently fitted up a couple of bed-rooms in what had lately been a mere Shebean house.
[Ire]W. Carleton Traits and Stories of Irish Peasantry I 315: It was determined that Peter, as he understood poteen, should open a shebeen-house.
[Aus]G.C. Mundy Our Antipodes I 144: Every mile or two has some establishment [...] ranging between the hotel and the shebeen house.
shebeen queen (n.) (also shebeen king)

the owner of an unlicensed drinking establishment (cf. queen n. (1f)).

Morn. Call (Allentown, PA) 11 Oct. 22/2: Johannesburg [...] Native municipal beer halls were instituted to check the activities of ‘hebeen Queens’ — native women who run illicit liquor halls.
[US]Miami News (FL) 6 Dec. 13/8: In the slums of johannesburg [...] the Shebeen Queen is a power. In a secret hideout she brews the favorite African drink ‘skokian’.
[SA]H. Bloom Transvaal Episode 157: It’s time we dealt with the shebeen queens, the prostitutes [...] the undesirable female elements.
[SA]Casey ‘Kid’ Motsisi ‘Kid Newspapers’ Casey and Co. (1978) 27: The potato boycott is affecting the shebeen queens, seeing as some of the concoctions they brew call for potato jackets boiled with horse lungs.
[UK]L. Longmore Dispossessed 180: [...] Very rarely is there enough evidence to arrest the shebeen ‘queen’.
[SA]Casey ‘Kid’ Motsisi ‘Mita’ Casey and Co. (1978) 73: Ma Tladi, one of the yard’s shebeen queens.
[SA]Wilson & Mafeje Langa 25: There are no ‘shebeen queens’ in Langa with the prestige of those found in some Johannesburg townships.
[SA]E. Cole House of Bondage 124: There are rich Africans: [...] opium smugglers, shebeen kings (illicit liquor), thieves and racketeers.
[UK]P. Driscoll Wilby Conspiracy (1991) 31: The old shebeen queen made a soft clicking noise in her throat.
[SA]P.C. Venter Soweto 130: 132: The shebeen queen, if it is a first offence, faces the court’s ultimatum: two hundred rands or two hundred days.
[SA]J. Sikakane Window on Soweto 14: Shebeen queens had labourers referred to as ‘izimbamgodi’ meaning ‘the hole-diggers’ by the Shantytownians [...] because they dug holes where the shebeen queens hid liquor.
[UK]E. Joubert Poppie 209: I know this man, I see him walking up and down, he’s a mailer. For whom does he mail? He carries drink to the shebeen queens.
[SA]R. Malan My Traitor’s Heart (1991) 150: The shebeen queen picked out different men in the lineup.
[US](con. Johannesburg) Baltimore Sun (MD) 15 May 2/4: Modiadji does not enjoy the label ‘Shebeen Queen’ pinned on her by the press.
shebeen shop (n.)

an unlicensed drinking place.

[UK]C. Dibdin Yngr Song Smith 85: It was Murphy Delaney, so funny and frisky, / Popp’d in a sheebeen shop to get his skin full.
[UK]Western Mail (Wales) 24 June 3/8: Shebeen-shops are enclosed places where spirituous liquors are sold at forbidden hours.