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Issue 109 - The Toast of Nassau

Whisky Magazine Issue 109
February 2013


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The Toast of Nassau

Jim Leggett goes in search of the Bahama Queen

Contrary to US propaganda pix of zealous cops smashing booze barrels galore when Prohibition became law, 30 million gallons of high grade whiskey languished in American bonded warehouses, a prize, if anyone could get their hands on it. Allegedly someone did: “Cleo” Lythgoe – Queen of the Bootleggers.

Picture it... 1921, Nassau, The Bahamas.

A stylishly dressed young woman leaves her second-storey office on Market Street and heads for the teeming harbour.

Her eyes span Nassau's transparent blue waters, where steamships from Glasgow and Liverpool lie at anchor, their holds loaded with whisky. She hails the supercargo. Manifests are checked as box after box unloads under her watchful eye.

Native workers heft the “liquid gold” to waiting donkey carts headed for ramshackle warehouses along the palm tree-lined harbour. Dockside pandemonium is best described in a period history. Boys rolled heavy barrels from the docks, dodging wooden-wheeled horse carts burdened with precarious stacks of liquor cases. The motley collection of stables, houses, chandleries, and shanties near the waterfront had been drafted into service as warehouses. It was not long before the steamships and the sailing vessels began arriving all day and all night, leaving mountainous accumulations of off-loaded goods on the rickety pier, hundreds upon countless hundreds of cases from each boat... the Bahamian policemen who tried to keep order on the increasingly unruly waterfront soon had to contend wi...

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