Historian on Repeal Day: ‘New Orleanians kept drinking during Prohibition’

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) - Monday is Repeal Day. Wahoo! What does that even mean? Well, we have to take you back to 1920, when the United States outlawed drinking.

Prohibition lasted from 1920 to 1933, said Drink and Learn Historian Elizabeth Pearce.

No surprise there, really. Police across the country weren’t really enforcing the law, and in New Orleans, you were rarely jailed. In 1926, federal agents said New Orleans was the wettest city in the country, probably because it was easy to smuggle in alcohol.

“All you have to do is get 12 miles off the shore and that’s international waters, and then think about the coast of Louisiana. It’s all these inlets, all of these little bays," said Pearce.

Common fishermen would just get alcohol in the Caribbean and sell it when they got back, but the guys weren’t doing all the work!

“A lot of women were actually able to make beer in their kitchen," said Pearce.

Many stores and restaurants had secret rooms where alcohol was served. The popular restaurant Antoine’s had a speakeasy, and that room is still here today.
So what if you were a gentleman during Prohibition at Antoine’s and you wanted to get a drink? Well you’d go the ladies bathroom of course. No really – you’d walk right through here, and that door there would take you to the mystery room.

“The gentleman would leave the bar with coffee cups of liquor and they’d be tottering around the bar drunk during Prohibition and everyone would ask, 'Where did you get that? And the answer is that it’s a mystery—so the mystery room was just the room – where they mystery came from," said Rick Blount, the owner of Antoine's.

A rise in crime and violence, plus increased deaths due to bad liquor, led to the death of prohibition. On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment was ratified.

"People were unloading the cases of beer like a fire brigade, all the ships along the river blew their horns and the church bells pealed," Pearce said.

So to celebrate the end of Prohibition grab a glass - or a coffee mug - of whiskey for old times sake!