Green’s Dictionary of Slang

Barbary Coast n.

[16C proper name Barbary Coast, the countries of the northern coast of Africa; as a sl. term the phr. has applied spec. to the San Francisco waterfront before the 1906 earthquake, Water Street, New York City, and part of Elizabeth Street, Sydney (from Campbell Street to Devonshire Street) during WWII; also Monkwearmouth area of Sunderland DSUE cites late 17C–early 19C Little Barbary, Wapping, home of the Ratcliff Highway, once London’s tough port area]

the ‘red-light’ area of a city, esp. as frequented by sailors on leave.

[UK]Vanity Fair (N.Y.) 7 July 13: [ref. to Philadelphia] Sprinkled and ventilated discovery along Third-street all the way down Barbary Coast.
[US]S.F. Call n.p.: The Barbary Coast! That mysterious region so much talked of; so seldom visited! Of which so much is heard, but little seen! That sink of moral pollution, whose reefs are strewn with human wrecks, and into whose vortex is constantly drifting barks of moral life, while swiftly down the whirlpool of death go the sinking hulks of the murdered and the suicide.
[UK]Shields Dly Gaz. 21 Nov. 4/3: The ‘Barbary Coast’. At the County Court [...] Plaintiff sought to make the defendant liable on account of vermin being found in the house.
[US]J.H. Beadle Undeveloped West 300: [I] go out for an evening to look at the ‘Barbary Coast.’ This consists of some twenty squares along Dupont and adjoining streets, from Stockton to Post and Sacramento, inhabited exclusively by low foreigners, petty thieves, Chinese and prostitutes.
[US]Overland Monthly (CA) II:61 Jan. 53: The conservative homes of North Beach, and even the unsavoury precincts of Barbary Coast.
[US]Overland Monthly (CA) 19:112 Apr. 337: Past Telegraph Hill and the Barbary Coast, growing populous now with ships and wharves.
[UK]Sunderland Dly Echo 2 June 3/5: A ‘Barbary Coast’ Row. At the Borough Police Court [...] a man named John Connor was charged with assaulting Margaret Creighton in Hodgson’s-buildings [...] After striking her he ‘hoyed’ witness from top to the bottom of the stairs.
[US]C.L. Cullen Tales of the Ex-Tanks 230: I struck the Barbary Coast of ’Frisco.
[UK]Birmingham Gaz. 28 Sept. 4/7: San Francisco [...] became the scene of wild and unbridled nightly orgies. It was given the distinctive title of ‘The Barbary Coast’.
[US]C.H. Darling Jargon Book 4: Barbary Coast—A district in San Francisco, Calif.
Jefferis & Nichols Safe Counsel or Practical Eugenics 200: The tango, the Texas Tommy, Walking the Dog [...] and all their out-growths, had their origin in the palaces of lust on the Barbary Coast of San Francisco.
J.E. O’Donnell ‘Overcoat Bennie’ in Mss. from the Federal Writers’ Project [Internet] ‘Spud’ was the boss of the Barbary Coast red light district, too.
H.B. Darrach Jr. ‘Sticktown Nocturne’ in Baltimore Sun (MD) 12 Aug. A-1/1: [of Baltimore] We hit out for the Barbary Coast.
K. Peiss Cheap Amusements 114: Tough dancing had its origin in the houses of prostitution on San Francisco’s Barbary Coast.
[US]I.L. Allen City in Sl. (1995) 68: The theatrical dancers Irene and Vernon Castle translated, muted and popularised black and Barbary Coast (San Francisco) dancing styles for the white middle-classes.
[US](con. late 19C) C. Jeffords Shady Ladies of the Old West [Internet] She seldom found it necessary to double as a prostitute, though on San Francisco’s Barbary Coast she frequently did anyway.