Follow TV Tropes


Opium Den

Go To

She messed around with a bloke named Smokey
She loved him, though he was cokey
He took her down to Chinatown
And showed her how to kick that gong around
— "Minnie the Moocher", Cab Calloway

The door opens into warm darkness. The air is filled with smoke, its bitter-sweet scent undercut by a faint stink of sweat and bile. An attendant scurries toward you, seemingly out of nowhere, bearing a pipe and a pill of opium.

You settle into the lower level of a two-tiered bunk much like a train sleeping compartment. Declining to close the curtain — that is for those already drugged to either stupefaction or hypersensitivity — you cast your eyes about the room as the first breaths of hot vapor connect with your lungs. Around you are men and women of every conceivable race and class, some silent in contemplation of their private fantasies, others talking to or amongst themselves in strange accents and hushed tones. They coexist in a peaceful single-mindedness that would be the envy of church or state.

This is not a luxurious place, not a picture-postcard place in red and gilt. The wooden walls know neither paint nor plaster; the floor is grimy; the air is close. But to the habitué, it is paradise.

The image of the opium den is often romanticized, probably because few such places still exist. The media are more realistic in portraying other places where drug users gather to get high, such as "shooting galleries" (where addicts gather to inject drugs, usually heroin) and crack houses.

Opium use was known as "kicking the gong (around)", thus explaining the use of that phrase in many jazz songs.

Historically associated with Chinese culture, but not all are from that area. Limehouse, in London, was not actually that bad at all (the actual reason for the prevalence of this trope is, to cut a long story short, that in the 1800s the British virtually got everyone in China hooked on opium because the Chinese had a lot of stuff the British wanted to buy, but the British had nearly nothing the Chinese wanted).

Not to be confused with Opus Dei.

See also Friendly Local Chinatown and Yellow Peril.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Lau runs one of these in Black Butler. The audience and Ciel enter it briefly at the beginning of, predictably, the opium arc.
  • Granny Hao, Minnie May's old associate and underworld contact runs one of these off screen in Gunsmith Cats. She also provides all sorts of highly effective Chinese herb remedies as a side business, that rival synthetic drugs in their effectiveness.
  • Night Raid 1931: In "Devil of the Opium Den", Sakurai orders the group to investigate an opium den which is said to be a hideout of spies. However, something goes wrong with Yukina's abilities. As a result, she tries to figure out the events that had happened when she entered the den.

    Comic Books 
  • Peter David's Fallen Angel has an arc where Lee smokes opium in a hookah in Asia Minor's place.
  • In Immortal Iron Fist, Orson Randall suppressed his chi by abusing opium, concealing his existence from those hunting the renegade Iron Fist.
  • In the beginning of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen comic, Alan Quatermain is in an opium den.
    • Towards the end he has to enter another one, and nearly relapses.
  • Where The Mandarin was born, according to the Invincible Iron Man annual.
  • In The Sandman (1989), "Four Septembers and a January" features a belligerent sailor insisting that a Chinese San Fransiscan must know where to find an opium den. The person he's accosting just claims not to speak English.
  • The Blue Lotus in the Tintin book of the same name. This being a more upmarket, well-painted example, frequented by businessmen and diplomats.
  • The least romanticized version possible appears in Y: The Last Man as virtually the entire continent of Australia.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Harvey Keitel's eponymous (and nameless) Bad Lieutenant visits a latter-day heroin den that otherwise fits the trope.
  • Blind Woman's Curse: A Japanese Yakuza boss has one of these where comely topless women smoke pipes, and apparently are used as prostitutes by the boss's mooks.
  • In Brick, the area behind Carrow's Restaurant where Dode and the other stoners hang out is intended to reference this, as evidenced by the Asian-sounding musical cues.
  • D.W. Griffith's tragedy Broken Blossoms takes place in Limehouse. The Chinese hero, a Buddhist missionary, falls on hard times and takes to the pipe.
  • Eddie visits one toward the end of 1935's The Cocaine Fiends.
  • The Doctor Mabuse films feature a few ones. The titular Doctor finds his victims there, among corrupt millionaires and aristocrats.
  • In DodgeBall: A True Underdog Story, the mockumentary on how to play dodgeball claims that the game was invented in Chinese Opium Dens.
  • Lord Henry takes Dorian to one in Dorian Gray.
  • Williams from Enter the Dragon met his end in one of these at the hands of Mr. Han.
  • Both the graphic novel and film versions of Alan Moore's From Hell.
  • In The Good, The Bad, The Weird, Tae-goo ends up in one, though he's really only looking for a room to spend the night.
  • In Inception, the dream-den beneath Yusuf's shop seems intended to evoke this.
  • Indochine: Eliane is a hard-driving plantation owner in Vietnam who likes to unwind by going to an opium den and getting high. She even introduces her younger lover to them (even though he's supposed to be police its traffic). He drags her out of a den at one point.
  • The Letter: The club that Mrs. Hammond lures Leslie to in the 1940 film is pretty clearly an opium den. In the 1929 film it's a little more vague.
  • Another French film set in colonial Vietnam, The Lover, has the title character, a Chinese playboy, seeking solace in an opium den after his family force him to break off his affair with the Girl (an underage French girl) and enter an arranged marriage.
  • In The Mask of Fu Manchu, Nayland manages to figure out that one of these actually hides the secret entrance to Fu Manchu's underground compound. He talks his way into the opium den and then enters the compound.
  • The Mountie: After accidentally killing a child, Grayling became an opium addict. A flashback shows him being roused by the hostess and led out of the den.
  • Once Upon a Time in America begins and ends with the guilt-ridden protagonist Noodles seeking solace in an opium den.
  • Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Silk Stocking opens with Holmes in an opium den.
  • Where the vaudeville troupe is working in The Son of the Sheik when Ahmed returns to rescue Yasmin. Lots of people lounging around smoking.
  • Where Lady Leslane likes to spend time in Spies.
  • In Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Anthony passes by one while traveling through London.
  • In The Terror of the Tongs, the Red Dragon Tong operates a string of opium dens across Hong Kong. Captain Sale visits one of them in the course of his investigation.
  • Thoroughly Modern Millie has one of these that doubles as a prostitution/white slaving ring.
  • There's a scene in an opium den in the action film Tian Di, where the opium is imported by the corrupt military. Even a child is seen smoking on a joint.
  • In Tombstone, Curly Bill comes out of an opium den just before he shoot Marshall White. Later a character picks up an opium pipe in a den that instead turns out to be Wyatt Earp's peacemaker, with Wyatt Earp still attached to it.

  • In Around the World in Eighty Days by Jules Verne, the detective Fix gets Passepartout drunk and stoned in an opium den in Hong Kong in order to separate him from Phileas Fogg.
  • The China Bone where Burnofsky goes in BZRK.
  • Drood: While exploring the bowels of London (in more than one sense), Dickens and Wilkie stumble into two of these. Wilkie spends a fair amount of time in each later on.
  • An illegal opium den is depicted in the comic novel The Fairy Gunmother (original title: La fée carabine) by French author Daniel Pennac. It appears in a flashback set in the 1950's in Paris and is frequented by war veterans and high-ranking government officials
  • Opium dens are depicted in all their squalor in Mercedes Lackey's The Fire Rose, which is set in California during the age of trains.
  • Appears in at least one of the Fu Manchu stories as a front for the Devil Doctor's activities.
  • Rudyard Kipling's short story "The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows" is a fictional memoir of an opium addict.
    "Fung-Tching never told us why he called the place 'The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows.' [...] We used to find that out for ourselves."
  • Gemma Doyle: A particularly low point for Gemma and her father, especially given that the whole thing happens as a result of Gemma trying to use magic to cure her father's laudanum addiction.
  • Charles Dickens' The Mystery of Edwin Drood begins in one.
  • Darius goes to one regularly in The Phantom of Manhattan.
  • The title character in The Picture of Dorian Gray frequents opium dens.
  • Agatha Christie's "The Lost Mine" in Poirots Early Cases features one.
  • In the Sally Lockhart novel The Ruby in the Smoke, Sally goes to an opium den to buy some opium for Matthew.
  • One shows up in the Sherlock Holmes story "The Man with the Twisted Lip". Watson got sent to retrieve another man and finds Holmes there; Holmes must reassure Watson that he's only there undercover as part of an investigation and has not "added opium to the list of my vices".
  • Robert E. Howard 's Rhomerian "weird menace" novel Skull Face starts with protagonist Steven Costigan (a U.S. veteran of WWI) escaping the nightmares of the Argonne trench warfare in an Opium Den in London's Limehouse district.
  • Soul: At one point Lavinia and Aloysius have to infiltrate one in order to retrieve James who has gone on a bender.
  • Jack Black's (not that Jack Black) You Can't Win is a brilliant memoir about his experiences as a train-hopping thief. He becomes addicted to opium and writes extensively about his experiences in these places.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Angel: In "Not Fade Away", Lorne and Lindsey ambush the Sahrvin clan inside what looks to be an opium bar.
  • At the beginning of The Blacklist episode "Cape May", Raymond Reddington is seen emerging from behind the curtain of a smoking berth, presumably trying to smoke out his sorrows following Liz' death.
  • In the second season of The Borgias, Juan Borgia starts to frequent an opium den in Rome on the advice of his physician to cope with a leg wound and an STD. The drugs only seem to heighten his paranoia and mental breakdown.
  • The "dive" that Sister Clarice frequents (and invites Amanda Greystone to) in Caprica is fairly obviously a Fantastic Opium Den.
  • Doctor Who: In "The Talons of Weng-Chiang", Chang retreats to one to smoke opium to dull the pain as he dies after his leg is torn off by a giant rat.
  • In Dracula (2013), members of the Order of the Dragon Ancient Conspiracy go to a 19th-century London opium den, where a pair of Seers sell their services. Whether their liberal use of the product helps them in their scrying or is just a pastime is left unsaid, but Dracula gives them a nasty Poke in the Third Eye for their intrusion either way.
  • Chuck Bass (who else?) takes refuge at one of these when his father dies, on Gossip Girl.
  • Highlander: The Series: A good friend of Duncan Macleod's spent the better part of an Old West Flashback in one of these, trying to deaden the panic he'd felt about his role in the neverending Game. He eventually moved on to other drugs as the decades passed, and was a cocaine addict when Duncan was forced to Mercy Kill him.
  • In the series The Knick a Chinatown opium den is a favorite haunt of Dr. Thackery.
  • One appears in an episode of Magnum, P.I., in the 1980s(!)
  • In Mr. Robot S 01 E 04, Elliot's fever dream has him entering one to get a fix and quell his morphine withdrawal.
  • The Murdoch Mysteries episode "Pipe Dreamzz" initially opens in a rather nice room belonging to a white Orientalist professor, where he and his his students smoke opium. Later it features an opium den in Ontario's Chinatown, where one of the students ends up after the professor realises she's addicted and cuts her off.
  • The Outer Limits (1995): In "Ripper", Dr. Jack York spends most of his evenings getting high on absinthe and opium in an opium den. Since it doubles as a brothel, he often has sex with the prostitutes who work there.
  • Penny Dreadful: Vanessa and Ethan pass through one on the way to their confrontation with the vampires in "Night Work".
  • The Alcoholic anaesthetist John can often be found in one in Quacks.
  • In Serangoon Road, Sam's favorite bar has a back room for smoking opium.
  • The Granada Sherlock Holmes of "The Dying Detective" (though not the original story). Another one appears in both versions of "The Crooked Man."

  • Many a Cab Calloway song takes place in or refers to an Opium Den, in which Minnie the Moocher and Smokey Joe 'kick the gong around'.
  • Men at Work: The last verse of "Down Under" has one of these.
    Lying in a den in Bombay
    With a slack jaw, and not much to say
  • Rush: The travelers in "A Passage to Bangkok" from 2112 visit a few of these.
    Wreathed in smoke in Lebanon
    We burn the midnight oil
    The fragrance of Afghanistan
    Rewards a long night's toil
  • Sax Rohmer's musical monologue "The Pigtail of Li-Fang-Fu" is a tale of small-scale Yellow Peril and supernatural vengeance, taking place among the Addled Addicts who frequent an opium den.

    Print Media 
  • One Charles Addams cartoon depicts one of these in all its usual squalor, with a sign prominently posted on a wall stating its officially regulated occupancy limits.

  • Pip sinks into dissolution and decay in Bleak Expectations and ends up in an opium den, thinking it's a Chinese restaurant. "Would you like some complimentary prawn crack?"

    Tabletop Games 
  • Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay: The city of Marienburg has a drug den called the Golden Lotus. Though opium is never mentioned, everything from the bunks to the spaced-out junkies is lifted straight out of the trope's most archetypal depictions.

  • The Crucifer of Blood: After Ross is murdered, St. Claire takes refuge in an opium den. This is where the killer catches up with him.
  • One is mentioned briefly in the musical Ride the Cyclone during "Noel's Lament" (a parody of the usual Bad Girl Song) as part of the tragic downward spiral of the glamorous, bohemian prostitute of post-war France that Noel wished he could have been (instead of a lonely teenager working at a Taco Bell in a dying mining town in Saskatchewan).
    Noel: So now I sell my love for opium
    In some rat-infested Chinese dive.
    At night I burn myself with cigarettes
    Just to somehow prove I'm still alive!
    Eight months later I catch typhoid flu.
    Cast out, I see the ugly light of day.

    Video Games 
  • 80 Days: Passepartout will encounter these in China. As in the novel, Inspector Fix may lure him to one in Hong Kong, though this is avoidable.
  • The Copper Coronet in Baldur's Gate II features a hidden black lotus den (at least, it does before you clean the place out).
  • In the now lost Playdom interactive game Blackwood and Bell Mysteries, when the group goes to Hong Kong, they have to search for clues in an opium den.
  • Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (NES): The 2001 game's second level takes place in an opium den.
  • The Elder Scrolls has a few similar establishments for the local Fantastic Drug, Skooma:
    • Oblivion: There's a skooma den in Bravil, a down-on-its-luck city with some reputation as a Wretched Hive. Clientele include a few Addled Addicts and the local Count's son, and it's an open (and widely disliked) secret among the locals.
    • Skyrim Dawnguard Expansion has the Redwater Den, which has a dark secret: the house skooma is drugged, and the proprietors haul unconscious victims to a jail cell in the basement to be turned into Vampire Thralls.
  • In Fallen London, "prisoner's honey" is a fantastic version of opium, complete with shady and scandalous honey-dens.
  • The Meat King's Party mission from Hitman: Contracts features an opium den where you can pose as an attendant and serve one of your targets an opium pipe before taking him out.
  • SaGa Frontier: The Wutai-esque town of Kyo has one. Black X runs its drug operations out of it.
  • The Testament of Sherlock Holmes: After finding the body of the man missing a finger, Holmes and Watson look around his ho,e and find eveidence that he was involved in the murder of the bishop. They also find opium paraphernalia. They perform an autopsy and discover that his opium had been laced with the same poison that had been used on the Bishop. They go to the nearby opium den and discover the other men involved in the murder.
  • Wizardry VII has one, and your characters get to participate. If you do, your characters get visited by some kind of Spirit Advisor who gives you a really powerful item.

  • Ctrl R: Their former apartment that their former roommate Rock still lives in, was revealed to have been turned into this.
  • The ruined village of Ulon Dosi in Runners (ruination in this case caused by most of the population being addicted to crush).

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons Halloween episode set in Ripperian London features one as the lair of Monty Burns.
  • In Todd McFarlane's Spawn, Jason Wynn keeps prisoners chained up in the basement of an opium den in something of a personal Black Site prion. When Terry tries to kill Wynn while at the den, Wynn captures him and forces him to smoke the opium.

Do you:
  • Talk to the client in the Deerstalker (Turn to page 23)
  • Attack the cushions with your sword (Turn to page 45)
  • Proposition the attendant (Turn to page 34)