This is a phrase used to describe a mullet. The question is, did it exist before it was used to describe that hairstyle?

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    I always assumed the phrase was an allusion to Prohibition-era speakeasies, which presented the appearance of a normal place of business in the part of the building facing the street, but maintained one or more secret rooms in the back for liquor, gaming, or other illicit activities. Presumably the mullet acquired this description because the front part of the haircut was (in its original era of occurrence) deemed conservatively short while the back part was freakily (in the countercultural sense) long. – Sven Yargs Mar 12 '17 at 1:13
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    One of the earliest Google Books matches for the (approximate) phrase is Vince Staten, Do Bald Men Get Half-Price Haircuts? (2001), which observes that an alternative name for the Mullet is "the Whorehouse (business in the front, party in the back)." This suggests another possible source of the original expression. – Sven Yargs Mar 12 '17 at 1:27
  • Molly houses and gay clubs had a back room where the party happened, but whether that expression was in use to refer to them, I don't know. Consider the line from Walk on the Wild Side by Lou Reed: "in the back room, she was everybody's darlin'..." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molly_house – Yvonne Aburrow Mar 17 '17 at 15:55
  • Noting the German term for this is vokuhila. – tedder42 Apr 24 '17 at 16:57

Sir Thomas Lipton from Google Books tells of the young Lipton sleeping in the back room of his shop. First in Britain, then America, shops had back rooms. These rooms could be used for a variety of things. I have known of many activities that went on in back rooms of shops.

The idea of "business up front, party in the back, must be very old. Pubs certainly might have had normal business up front with other sorts of "activities" in the back. This story: The Bowery Boys has an 1837 painting of events in the back room of a tavern.
A unique source for "business up front, party in the back" will probably never be found, but the idea must be very old. Maybe as old as buildings themselves.

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