a common occurrence in New Orleans at the time, but a more serious brush with the law unfolded a year later. For reasons lost to time, someone torched a bar near Comiskey’s presciently named “The Quiet Spot.” When the fire marshal came to inspect the scene the next morning, he found Jim Comiskey, his father and a few other men poking around the ashes. Both the marshal and policemen called to assist in clearing the men from the building had to flee when the Comiskeys attacked them. Despite the seeming gravity of their offence, both father and son went free with only a $100 fine.

in the immediate post-Prohibition years, good bourbon was difficult to find. By the time World War II began, Old Comiskey had become the region’s best- selling private label whiskey. Did Big Jim use his political influence to place it in the city’s hotels, restaurants and bars? Former Lieutenant Governor Jimmy Fitzmorris once dismissed the ideawith the somewhat shaky defense that if Comiskey used his office to sell booze, he’d be making more money at it. Certainly businesses that sold liquor in his district — which included the commercial Canal Street — were smart to visit the distributorship of James E.

Enjoying Old Comiskey Brand Whiskey

Comiskey Company at 100 Common Street. The reach that Comiskey had with Old Comiskey was impres- sive. A full-page newspaper ad in 1942 boasting that the label was “seen at more bars, enjoyed by more people” was difficult to deny. In addition to scores of corner taverns, thirsty New Orleanians could find it at landmarks like the St. Charles and Monteleone hotels, as well as at familiar places still around today like Uptown’s Domilise’s or the Vojkovich family’s Sixth Ward Crescent City Steaks. Even the notorious mob boss “Silver Dollar Sam” Carollo was a customer. A cherished nugget of local lore centers around the fact that the bygone Schwegmann’s grocery stores featured a bar inside, lending a uniquely New Orleans dimension to the weekly family shopping trip. During the Mardi Gras season of 1961, this meant a special Carnival Special of “Hi-Balls” of Old Comiskey whiskey for only 25 cents. Like Comiskey himself, shoppers wheeling their cart unsteadily through the canned goods at Schwegmann’s with an Old-Fashioned in hand belong to a New Orleans that, for better or worse, is long gone.

Comiskey was in his late 20s when he first became a Third Ward precinct captain in the Regular Democratic Organization, or “RDO.” He possessed every quality they could want. Charismatic to a fault, his tavern provided Comiskey with not only disposable income, but also what the current generation would term a “large social network.” And then there was the boxing: In 1928 he started the Third Ward Court House Athletic Club, first with amateurs and, by 1930, profes- sionals. Boxing was more than a sport back then — it was such a part of the cultural fabric of that era that it channeled the very energy of the body politic. When Comiskey promoted a fight sponsored by Mayor Walmsley and held in the Municipal Auditorium for the benefit of the city’s many jobless residents, it was a spectacle that fused machine politics, the visible welding of alliances, favors granted, and promises made. The end of Prohibition began a new chapter for Comiskey, when the Old Regulars nominated him for tax assessor of the First Municipal District, a job that he would hold from 1934 until his death in 1972. Few political posts came with more power attached. In addition to his ability to fix property assessments, Comiskey had access to a network that could, if it chose to, solve almost any problem. It was also in 1934 that he opened his first “Branch Office” on Broad Street and began holding his famous Wednesday sessions, only a biscuit’s toss from where he once promoted nighttime boxing matches. Exceeding Comiskey’s legacy as a political boss, however, was his role as liquor magnate. When decades later the newspaper airily noted that Comiskey entered the whiskey business “immediately upon the repeal of Prohibition,” it alluded to the poorly kept secret of how savvier restaurateurs and saloonmen profited handsomely in the untaxed, all-cash bootlegging trade. With the encouragement of a Kentuckian named Harry Scott, in 1933 Comiskey legitimated his enterprise by founding L&J Company and he fielded three salesmen to greet the avalanche of demand to come. His most conspicuous legacy, Old Comiskey Brand bourbon whiskey, hit the shelves in 1936, first bottled at the short-lived K. Taylor Distillery outside of Frankfort, Kentucky. Like all domestic whiskey available then, Old Comiskey was a rather green 2-year- old label, a status reflective of the still-rebuilding American distilling apparatus. The drinking public, thirsty for a steady flow of spirits, were not deterred by the probable burn. And it was all relative — a fancier bourbon that appeared next to Old Comiskey in a 1937 Thanksgiving ad for the fabled Solari’s grocery proudly boasted its ripe age of 30 months. By 1939 Old Comiskey had aged to three years, and by late 1940, the growing company celebrated its “fifth birthday” by announcing that Big Jim’s eponymous whisky was now barrel aged for five years. Old Comiskey, in its final form, became a six-year blended bourbon after World War II. One forgets that,




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