Collins Corner

Collins Corner was a club of, by, and for the black community, operated by one of the most legendary and complicated figures in Peoria’s black underworld.

Bris Collins came to Peoria’s North Washington area around the same time as the Pryors and became a lifelong friend to the family. Over the years he had many legitimate and illegitimate businesses in town: he ran clubs, a motel and a barbeque joint at the same time that he had his hand in narcotics, gambling, and counterfeit operations. His less legal enterprises landed him in prison at times, but he remained a fixture in the underground entrepreneurial set of black Peoria.

Collins Corner itself—the club that was the successor to the bars that Collins had earlier operated on the 400 block of North Washington Street—featured a mix of jazz combos and R&B bands, and was known to be a rowdy place, with barroom brawls that, according to house pianist Jimmy Binkley, were cinematic in scope. Designed as a watering hole for Peoria’s black community, it was less open to white patrons than Harold’s Club: whites who strolled into the club were likely to be meet a discouraging look.

It’s unclear how long Collins Corner lived as a club. Though it opened around early 1962, it was shuttered about a year later, due to some reported financial improprieties: Richard Pryor took the closing of the club as a spur to hit the road as a comedian. But it seems to have revived itself and remained at North Washington through the mid-1960s at least.

“Through the big front window I could see a dark atmosphere. A bar and a few tables. When I opened the door, familiar smells of smoke, old liquor and piss met us. Pete and I walked straight through the loud talking and high-volume jazz from the jukebox, heading toward the back to gamble.”

— Trumpeter Clark Terry, on arriving at Bris Collins's Granada Club in 1942