Gangs of Old Shanghai: The Canidrome Tower Gang

By Paul French, September 23, 2019

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Following on from New York Times bestseller Midnight in PekingPaul French released City of Devils, a delve into the murky underworld of Old Shanghai. There were plenty of wrong'uns about, and a whole lot of bad blood between them. In this 'Gangs of Old Shanghai' series, French presents us with a who's who of old time organized crime, and quite the rogues gallery it is too.

The Canidrome Tower Gang

Boss: Carlos Garcia
Base: The Canidrome Tower and Racetrack, Rue Lafayette (Fuxing Zhong Lu)

Carlos Garcia was the closest to a cappo di tutti capi (‘boss of all bosses’) the foreign gangs of Shanghai ever had. A total legend.

A soft-spoken Mexican, Garcia ran a casino with roulette wheels called The Wheel back in the 1920s that was busted by the police in 1929. Rumor said British interests behind two dog-racing tracks wanted him gone, and all the gambling money for themselves. Garcia served a two-year stretch in Ward Road Gaol (today’s Tianlanqiao Prison, below, which you can read about here).

Interiors of Tilanqiao Prison

After his release, Garcia made a fortune shipping tequila from his own distillery back in Mexico via Shanghai and into Prohibition-era California. He is said to have been the first person to introduce tequila to Asia.

He then parlayed the profits, and his long-time friendship with the Green Gang’s ‘Big Eared’ Du Yuesheng, into building the Canidrome in Frenchtown (below), where he had a wall of legitimate posh English businessmen and suave French bankers between him and the paperwork – his “strawmen,” as he called them.


Garcia kept a low profile, making a fortune through dog racing, boxing, popular hai-alai games and the Canidrome nightclub (the first margarita and paloma drinks in Shanghai were served at the cabaret, made from his tequila, of course). The Canidrome was so successful it bankrupted the two English-run dog tracks, giving Garcia a sweet revenge.

He was effectively the big boss, and adjudicated disagreements between the city’s foreign gangs in the hope of averting internecine fights – and he was mostly successful. Mexico was neutral until 1942, and rumor has it that Garcia got himself (and most of his money) out of Frenchtown, having invested it all in a small Nevada town then building casinos... Reno.

To read about more Gangs of Old Shanghai, click hereFor more history stories, click here.

[Images courtesy of Paul French]

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