photo courtesy Antoine’s Restaurant
Interior of the Old Absinthe House, 1903
“Illegal bars were called speakeasies. Secret knocks, peepholes in doors and passwords provided entry. Prominent customers were recognized and readily accommodated.” —Kit Wohl
Hiding the Hooch by Kit Wohl M ost New Orleanians captured the essence of the moment during Prohibition and believed that wine and spirits were natural companions of good food and good living. The fact that these were against the law seemed a minor obstacle. Temperance was an alien concept in many local restaurants where liquor flowed freely. It’s no surprise that the citizens threw a parade in protest. New Orleans’ former Mayor Martin Behrman was quoted when Prohibition was enacted for saying “You can make it illegal, but you can’t make it unpopular.” Restaurateurs, knowing that their guests were inclined to tipple, operated largely in a stealthy manner to avoid confiscation of their illegal wet inventory and used the dry law to build fortunes. The proprietors of Commander’s Palace and one of their bartenders were distinguished by the first jail sentences in New Orleans for persons found guilty of selling or possessing liquor in violation of the Volstead Act. The federal agents seized about 100 quarts of liquors of all kinds and 216 bottles of wine. The booze was found behind the bar, in the kitchen and in a room upstairs. They were busted during the heat of summer in 1921 and relieved of the contraband.The two proprietors were subsequently sentenced to thirty days in the House of Detention and $200 fines.The bartender
began to drink openly in speakeasies and other places serving alcohol during this period. The new attitudes caused a permanent change, so that after the repeal of Prohibition, women continued to be welcome at most drinking establishments (it would be 1949 before women stormed the Sazerac, one of the last men-only holdouts). Records indicate that by the end of Prohibition the city boasted more drinking holes and places to lift a glass than had been documented before the Great Experiment. And during the first week of resumed legality, over 900 beer permits were issued in the city. Bathtub Gin WHAT YOU WILL NEED ½ liter grain alcohol like Everclear ½ liter water The peel of one lemon ⅛ cup dried juniper berries HOW TO PREP Place all ingredients in a jar with a cover and keep in a cool, dark place. Shake the mixture each day. After a week, strain out the solids. Want to know more? Check out Spirited: Prohibition in America, based on the book by Daniel Okrent, Last Call: the Rise and Fall of Prohibition, on exhibit now through August 14, 2016 at the West Baton Rouge Museum, and check out Huey Long and the Noble Experiment: Prohibition in Louisiana, on exhibit now through September 4th. For more information, visit www.westbatonrougemuseum.com.
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