During the early days of Calcutta, Strand Road and the adjacent area were under the water of the River Hoogly and naturally, the sailors from the overseas vessels used to frequent the neighbouring area to relax after the boredom of a long and tedious voyage. Accordingly, the area next to the Tank Square was known as Flag Street, as this thoroughfare was frequently used by the sailors. To entertain the tired and homesick sailors, the area was lined with eating houses, pubs, indigenous liquor shops, gambling houses and houses of ill repute, which include whore houses. As these types of shady and dubious entertainments often become stormy, soon the locality became a rowdy and notorious area, where hassle, hooliganism, stabbing and killings were a regular affair. But the situation did not linger for a long time. As the river slowly receded toward the west and the Kidirpore Docks were opened, commutation of the seamen in the locality decreased automatically and finally almost stopped.
With the passage of time, the situation of the locality changed radically. An east bound road was built from the northeast corner of Tank Square and was named as ‘Avenue to the Eastward’. Eduardo Tiretta, the town planner, who was one of the friends of the legendary womanizer Casanova, built a bazaar (market place) in the vicinity, which still goes by his name. As the white population of the city was centred near the Fort and around the Tank Square area, their entertainment centres also came up in the locality. During those early days of the city, the glittering Chowringhee was not even in a dream, it was a mere hamlet, surrounded by water logged paddy fields and Bamboo groves. But, long before its growth as the grand centre of amusement and entertainment for the European communities in Calcutta, the locality around the Tank Square had been the best attraction for them.
During those early days, the Harmonic Tavern in the Lalbazar area was famous and most popular among the Europeans for its concerts, balls and suppers during the winter days in Calcutta. It was the most gorgeous building in the locality and certainly added to the colour of the area during its days. However, like many other remarkable buildings of the era, the legend of Harmonic Tavern is now lost.
The Palmer House, the magnificent three-storeyed edifice of John Palmer, was the building next to the Harmonic Tavern. John Palmer was the son of William Palmer, who joined the East India Company in 1766 and rose to the position of military secretary to Governor General Warren Hastings. Probably in 1781, he married Bibi Faiz Baksh, a princess of the Delhi royal house, who bore Palmer six children. One of them was John Palmer, who later came to be known as the ‘prince of Calcutta merchants’. He built the palatial Palmer House for his own use, which once dominated the area simply by its majestic presence. Opposite the Palmer House, stands the emporium and the auction rooms of Taylor and Company.
John Palmer was one of the richest merchants of Calcutta in his days. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, he became a pauper, due to his habit of charity. The Palmer House was sold shortly afterwards to the government and was demolished in 1914 for the construction of the present Lalbazar building complex, now the police Headquarter of Calcutta.