If the fourteen years of Prohibition in the United States were a joke, then New Orleans was the punch line. Federal agents dubbed it one of the wettest cities in the country. When the Feds sent most of their forces to shut down the drinking in New Orleans in 1926, they confiscated more than ten thousand cases of whiskey and champagne. Local bootleggers observed that the amount was so paltry a portion of their stockpile that the price wouldn’t even be affected. When agent Isidore Izzy Einstein came to the city, it took him a mere thirty-five seconds to secure a drink compared to the lengthy fourteen minutes in New York. Of the many reasons it was easy to drink here, ready access to the Caribbean was an important one. Local smugglers had a short trip to the islands, which allowed access to both the rum produced there as well as the bounty of Europe’s booze production. Boats zipped back and forth, hiding in the many inlets, bayous and swamps of the coast. The feds never had a chance. One such vessel was the Black Duck, a speedboat powered by twin Victory aircraft engines, faster than any U.S. Coast Guard craft. Though the boat primarily serviced the East Coast, it represents the many vessels that kept the thirsty nation well watered through The Great Mistake. The Black Duck Bar on the second floor at Dickie Brennan’s Palace Cafe pays homage to the boat and its cargo, offering more than 130 rums for sipping.
As you ascend the beautiful Art Deco stairs, you leave behind the commercial bustle of Canal Street and sit above the fray at the gorgeous marble bar. Murals of famous New Orleans musicians surround you as you face a wall of rums. I am a big fan of using liquor as decoration, and it appears here to great effect. Who needs a menu when you can just scan the room? The Black Duck feels like an iconic New Orleans bar, with its slowly turning ceiling fans and well-togged staff, even though it is bigger than many bars in the French Quarter. It is definitely a place worth remembering if you are travelling in a group. The last time I was there, I sat among two separate bachelor/bachelorette parties. Each had commandeered a section of the bar, though after about an hour the two groups had begun to merge into a single unit.
The cocktails here range from good to outstanding, with Foster the People being one of my favorites. The rum flights are also a good place to start if you like your spirits neat. Fans of tequila will be pleased to see the nice selection offered here. There’s a TV in the corner for those who want it, but it’s unobtrusive and doesn’t take away from this really lovely bar that feels old even though it just opened in 2015. The Black Duck is the beginning of what has become Rum Row. If you want to stay with the spirit, just meander on down to Tiki Tolteca and Latitude 29, ending at Cane & Table all along the edge of the Quarter nearest the river if you are still upright.