The title probably refers not to the famous Moorish palace in Spain but to one of the several theatres and music-halls named The Alhambra, in imitation of the exotic nature of the original. London and Edinburgh, for example, had Alhambra Theatres, decorated in a quasi-oriental style; London's Alhambra 'specialized in beautiful ballets', but it was notorious as a meeting place for prostitutes and their clients. New York had its Alhambra Theatre at 124-125 West Twenty-seventh Street. The later was investigated by the conservative Society for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency in the early 1880's, as part of a campaign to clean up the numerous variety houses and concert saloons of the city which ran the gamut from the legitimate to the decidedly seedy and sometimes criminal. The Alhambra, remarks Brooks McNamara in his book The New York Concert Saloon: the Devil's Own Nights (2002, Cambridge Univ. Press), featured "unremarkable attractions" which the Society's monitor recorded as:
Overture played by the orchestra. Sentimental Ballad sung by a female attired in fancy costume, chorus by the other members of the company- orchestral accompaniment.Comic Song by a male performer, who was blackened to represent a negro, and dressed in grotesque costume-while singing he accompanied himself on the 'bones'-orchestral accompaniment also sentimental song by another minstrel named Wood-orchestral accompaniment, chorus in which the others joined-comic song by another minstrel who accompanied himself on the tambourine,orchestral accompaniment also-said minstrel was blackened to represent a negro and was dressed in grotesque costume. Song by a female who was dressed in fancy costume, orchestral accompaniment. Duet by a male and female. (p. 39)
Alhambra Theater, London, c. 1880
Music publisher Edward B. Marks, in his book They All Sang (1934) describes New York's 1890's Alhambra from memory:
Needing a drink by this time, I darted into Theiss's Alhambra Music Hall across the street. The Alhambra definitely stood outside the pale of respectability which Blank's straddled. It was a long room, and the entertainment, aside from a large and competent orchestra, consisted entirely of feminine conversation. It usually proved expensive. Wine was the featured beverage, beer drinkers being made to feel rather non grata. The dim lights and the Vienna waltzes induced a mood of romance to which New Yorkers, familiar with the faces of the ladies working the spot, were inured, but which had great effect upon the visitors from out of town. As a consequence, Theiss's was an especially good plug. It meant a lot to have our numbers carried out to the sticks in the subconciousness of a tipsy country cousin. The train of association whereby "Annie Rooney" eventually appeared on the piano in a small town banker's house would have shocked many a fine community.
"The Alhambra" also appears in Ryan's Mammoth Collection's (published in Boston by Elias Howe & Co.) direct succesor, Cole's 1000 Fiddle Tunes (Chicago, 1940), issued from the same plates.