Green’s Dictionary of Slang

hole in the wall n.

[either f. the holes in the walls of English debtor’s prisons, through which the inmates could obtain supplies and money to alleviate their situation, or f. the small shops and similar establishments found in the broad stone walls of fortified medieval cities. Hole in the wall became a generic term, although the US West had its Hole in the Wall, an outlaw hideaway in the gorges and cliffs that straddle the Wyoming, Colorado and Utah state lines (a sometime refuge for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the real-life Wild Bunch), while 1860s New York City boasted the Hole in the Wall on Water Street, where its proprietor, Gallus Meg (a monstrous Englishwoman), bit the ears off ill-behaved customers and preserved her trophies in a pickle jar displayed behind the bar]

1. a brothel.

[UK] ‘Upon report there should be no more Terms’ in Rump Poems and Songs (1662) i 297: And Purgatory furnisht but with Carrion: / Th’ Abomination of the Hole i’ th’ Wall, (A Bawdy-house).
[UK]Life and Death of Damaris Page 1: [She] was most notably famous for keeping a house of, what shall I call it, for it had divers names [...] a Vaulting-School, the amorous Chace, a Brothel, a Stew, the huck-strings Accademy, the hole in the Wall, &c.

2. (US) an illicit liquor store or bar; see also sense 6.

Iroquois Republican 25 Dec. 2/3: A ‘grocery’ — a ‘doggery’ — a ‘hole-in-the-wall’ — is an ‘odious damned spot’ in any community [DA].
[UK](con. 1920s) McArthur & Long No Mean City 213: Another pub raid – but a smaller affair than the magnificent ‘hole in the wall’ achievement – supplied the booze.
[US]C.S. Montanye ‘Don’t Meddle with Murder’ in Thrilling Detective May 🌐 Billy Austin’s mouserie was a hole-in-the-wall where the Scotch had an accent.

3. a small shop.

[UK]K. Fearing Big Clock (2002) 71: What kind of person would do that, buy a mess like that in some hole-in-the-wall?
[UK]G. Kersh Fowlers End (2001) 7: You go right on, straight ahead, past the hotels for men only, past the second-hand box-mattress shops, and the bituminous hole-in-the-wall where a man and his wife, black as demons, sell coal and coke by the pound.
[UK]J. Meades Empty Wigs (t/s) 629: They were allowed to stop at a hole in a wall where a smiling Chinese woman sold a mess of noodles and an approximation of meat.

4. (US, also hole in the road) a small, insignificant, remote place.

[US]J.W. Carr ‘Words from Northwest Arkansas’ in DN III:ii 141: hole in the road, n. phr. A hamlet. ‘After driving several miles we came to a hole in the road’.
F. Riesenberg Golden Gate 212: For the shipping of lumber, small brigs and brigantines were in wide use at first, craft that could go into the ‘holes in the wall’ along the ragged Pacific Coast [DA].

5. a tiny, cramped apartment.

C.H. Shinn Story of Mine 51: Many lived in ‘dug-outs,’ which they called ‘holes in the wall’ [DA].
R. Hogan [writer] & T. Avery [dir.] Symphony in Slang [cartoon short] I couldn't cut the mustard so the guy gave me the gate so I went back to my little hole in the wall.

6. (US) a bar; see also sense 2.

[[UK]Pierce Egan’s Life in London 4 Sept. 254/2: Mr. John Randall, landlord of the Hole-in the-Wall public-house, Chancery-lane [was] charged with assaulting a young man named Robert Smelly, a waiter in his house].
[[UK]Mirror of Life 8 Dec. 11/1: [M]any a drop of ruin has she had in the house opposite [...] which in those days was the Hole-in-the-Wall, proprietered by that ‘prime Irish Boy,’ Jack Randall].
[US]B.T. Harvey ‘Word-List From The Northwest’ in DN IV:i 27: hole in the wall, n. [...] Also applies to dives under basements.
[US]N. Algren Somebody in Boots 249: Nubby knew every dive, every joint, every hole-in-the-wall from Twenty-Second to Wabush.
[US]G. Fowler Good Night, Sweet Prince 139: Let’s find some hole-in-the-wall that serves liquid dynamite.
[US](con. 1920s) G. Fowler Schnozzola 49: One evening Nolan’s hole-in-the-wall was held up by Jimmy’s old friend Big Joe Tennyson.
[UK]L. Dunne Goodbye to the Hill (1986) 50: I went to the hole in the wall and ordered two pints of Guinness.
[Aus]L. Redhead Cherry Pie [ebook] [T]he Elwood Lounge, a groovy little hole in the wall just around the corner from my one bedroom flat.
[US] M. McBride Frank Sinatra in a Blender [ebook] It was still early enough to catch Happy Hour at a little hole in the wall I knew.

7. a restaurant.

[US]Ocala Eve. Star (FL) 4 Dec. 3/1: Sweet milk, always fresh at the Hole in the Wall.
[US]C. McKay Banjo 281: He saw a policeman coming out of one of the holes-in-the-wall and finger wiping his long mustache as if he had just finished the most appetizing hors-d’oeuvre in the world.
[US](con. 1918) E.W. Springs Rise and Fall of Carol Banks 200: We went to a little hole in the wall over in the Rue Caumartin where they had the finest food in the world.
[US] in W.C. Fields By Himself (1974) 392: Field enters a dumpy restaurant. It is a hole-in-the-wall.
[US]W. Brown Teen-Age Mafia 105: A real hole-in-the-wall. A battered wooden counter [...] a stud in a dirty apron messing around in the rear.

8. an automatic teller machine (ATM), installed in the external wall of a bank or building society branch.

[Ire]G. Coughlan Everyday Eng. and Sl. 🌐 Hole in the wall (n): ATM.