Image courtesy of personal collection of Evan Finch.

In the early 1960’s an up and coming star named Aretha Franklin asked for some R-E-S-P-E-C-T from Indianapolis audiences when she performed at the Pink Poodle, a popular night spot at the time.  Other notable performers to visit the Pink Poodle were John Coltrane and Redd Foxx.

The ownership of the Pink Poodle was something of a mystery.  An October 1960 article from the Indianapolis Recorder reported Indianapolis businessman Isaac “Tuffy” Mitchell owned the Pink Poodle, which he denied.  Instead, Mitchell contended, William S. Zaphairiou owned the tavern fixtures and Mitchell’s wife, Esther, owned the real estate.  However, Mitchell was listed as the owner of the tavern fixtures in public records, and as the owner of the Pink Poodle in a 1965 Indiana Supreme Court case.

Mitchell might have been hesitant to hold himself out as the owner of the Pink Poodle because he had a bit of a criminal record, and, in the early 1960’s, was involved in an illegal gambling operation.  The enterprise landed him in federal prison for tax evasion, and resulted in the indictment of twenty-two Indianapolis Police Department officers on charges of bribery.  The Indiana Supreme Court case in which Mitchell is mentioned involves the conviction of one of those officers.

It’s likely the Pink Poodle closed soon after  the controversies surrounding Mitchell, as it no longer exists; but it was once a very happening place in Indianapolis, ‘back in the day.’

4 responses to “Sunday Adverts: The Pink Poodle”

  1. basil berchekas jr says:

    The least the owners could have done if they wanted to see a place be successful over the “long haul” is to get some actual non-criminal business “types” to actually file the papers and own the club…even if the likes of “Toughy” Mitchell are for some reason providing some “friendly” financing…one’s “spouse” is too close a relationship to pass the “smell test”…

  2. d m shea says:

    Tuffy Mitchell (and his older less flamboyant brother Joe) were undisputed czars of Ind. Ave mid-40’s -50’s and as a police reporter for the Times I came to know another side of him during his long reign .His small stature and intentionally ‘gangster-like” speech belied an incredible mathematical genius. He ran the “numbers” nickel and dime game that netted big bucks–involving “dream books” –if ;you dreamed about a black cat you played that on the next day . If and when a number hit, Tuffy could tell you precisely what previous date that same number “hit” and what it paid. He was a familiar face in the hall outside the muni courts where often the guy sitting on the bench was in the pocket of the defendant facing him. (No names please!) He knew reporters by name, cultivated familiarity and actually early on relished the attention in print—I think I was the reporter who coined “the oft-arrested, never-convicted” tag on his name for many years until finally, he was convicted. I remember talking to him after his conviction, a different and troubled man when he saw how his pseudo-fame hurt his family. But even then, his publicity-awareness changed and he now courted anonymity as he had courted newsprint.

    But, I saw another side of Tuffy–seasonally I ran the most popular holiday charity in town, the Times’; Clothe A Child, where individuals or groups either donated money (and got their names in print) or actually took a child or groups of children out to be totally outfitted. In those days a typical charitable (?) caller might phone to reserve one or more children “to take out for a day of shopping” and the typical requests varied from “a blue-eyed blonde little girl/or boy..” with often too-clear instructions regarding race, “none of those welfare children.” So I was surprised one day to hear the gravelly voice I knew from police court–Tuffy–calling in requesting not one, not l0 but a couple dozen children–all blacks—because those were often the kids made poor by parents playing his numbers game. He hired vehicles to pick the group up, shopped at the top of the market prices and gave his money–but not his name–he gave anonymously.

    But back to Tuffy’s genius–brought here by his brother as a boy, barely speaking English, Tuffy had a limited education but his math skills were legendary. His favorite trick–he shopped again at the top of the market–at a near North Side upscale men’s store–Russ’s–and he would typically stroll through the store picking up ties here, several shirts, a jacket, perhaps a suit–piling them up at the cash register with the challenge “I bet I can add faster than you” and in his head come up with the exact $ total before the cash register could! Later, released from prison, he led a subdued life and disappeared from print. The Pink Poodle may have been his or his family’s last hurrah.

  3. DNABRAMS says:

    If you search through some of the old Indianapolis Recorders, it looks like there may have been another location at 2501 E. Minnesota. It’s listed as a Cocktail Lounge and “Cut Rate” Liquor Store. There are some really cool ads and newspaper articles that mention Tuffy and the Pink Poodle.

  4. Anonymous says:


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