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New Orleans During Prohibition
New Orleans, a city steeped in history, has a past filled with secrets that often go unacknowledged amidst the buzz of its party culture and lively nightlife. While the country battled restrictions on alcohol consumption and production during the early 20th century, New Orleans remained a beacon of booze, with speakeasies and bootleggers appearing throughout the city. Despite these obstacles, the Big Easy persevered, remaining a hub of entertainment and cultural significance. This era cemented New Orleans’ legacy as a city that always delightfully surprises, offering a rich history that shaped a drinking culture that is still enjoyed to this day.
Rise of Prohibition in New Orleans
With the passage of the 18th Amendment in 1919 and the subsequent implementation of the Volstead Act, Prohibition cast its shadow over New Orleans, but failed to dampen the spirits of its citizens. Instead, clever smuggling methods via Lake Pontchartrain and St. Bernard Parish led to widespread rum-running, and thousands of New Orleanians brewed their own illicit alcohol.
By 1920, an estimated 10,000 residents had already broken the law and joined the rebellion against the nationwide ban. The city became a hub of resistance, with bootleggers, speakeasies, and underground distilleries operating with frequency. Despite the risks, New Orleans persevered in its pursuit of the pleasures of alcohol.
The Speakeasy Scene
Amidst the prohibition era in New Orleans, speakeasies flourished within the unlikeliest of places, including downtown office buildings. Along the bustling downtown streets, an automobile cunningly served drinks at curbsides, while resourceful waiters discreetly peddled beverages from hidden hip flasks in restaurants.
While the multitude of small home brewers largely escaped scrutiny, restaurants, clubs, cabarets, and bars faced frequent targeting. The Hood Act, Louisiana’s enforcement law, obligated local police to assist federal agents, but their support was lackluster at best. Some police officers were even complicit, engaging in moonshining or acting as lookouts for smugglers. By December 1926, New Orleans boasted the highest number of padlocked speakeasies and illicitly selling saloons in the entire nation.
The Whiskey Tree
Nestled deep within the Honey Island Swamp, at the peak of the prohibition era, stood an extraordinary meeting place known as the Whiskey Tree. Secluded and inaccessible by road, this secret spot drew moonshiners who sought refuge from the prying eyes of law enforcement.
Pirogues and round bottom boats stealthily gathered under the sheltering branches of the bald cypress tree; their occupants eager to maintain a step ahead of the authorities. Though prohibition has long since ended, the legend of the Whiskey Tree lives on, as visitors to this hallowed site can still hear the echoes of past moonshiners and the faint whispers of departing boats that once ventured into the darkness.
See More of New Orleans on a Swamp Tour
Discover the hidden secrets of the Crescent City’s enchanting swamplands with our immersive swamp tour in New Orleans. Step back in time as we unveil the intriguing tales of the prohibition era and how the waterways were used to smuggle liquor. Traverse the Honey Island Swamp, where the legendary Whiskey Tree is located, and discover fascinating creatures that call this place home.