CHICAGO (AFP) — For nearly two years, foie gras fans in Hogtown slipped into "duckeasies" to indulge in a banned delight.
That all changed Wednesday when Chicago's city council repealed a prohibition on the sale of the fatty duck and goose liver dish.
"It's fabulous!" said chef Didier Durand. "Break out the champagne!"
Durand has been a vocal opponent of the ban on the French delicacy and, like a handful of other renegade restaurateurs, got around the ordinance by serving it for free.
"Yes, I was a duckeasy," he admitted furtively, nervous about potential problems with a pending liquor license.
The word is a play on Chicago's famed 'speakeasies,' which secretly sold spirits during the 1920-1933 Prohibition era when alcohol sales were banned in the United States.
"We also had a club called Turtle Soup where people were handing (us) turtle business cards and that meant they wanted foie gras," Didier told AFP.
The French delicacy, which is made by force-feeding ducks and geese so their livers become enlarged, has been the focus of an intense international campaign against animal cruelty.
Force-feeding birds has been banned in 15 countries, including Germany, Italy, Israel and Britain, according to animal rights activists Farm Sanctuary which runs the nofoiegras.org website.
But Chicago -- which garnered the nickname Hogtown because of its once sprawling slaughter houses -- was the only governmental body in the world to impose a ban on the actual sale of foie gras.
Chicago's ban followed a bill introduced in California in 2004 that bans the sale and production of foie gras by 2012.
While the ban was passed by a vote of 48-to-1 after animal rights activists won over a city council committee, few fines were imposed on the defiant restaurants which continued to serve a dish that has been granted cultural heritage status by the French parliament.
The ban became a cause celebre among those who opposed government intervention in culinary decisions. One hot dog joint even named a wiener after the alderman who sponsored the bill and topped it with foie gras. It was among the few fined.
Mayor Richard Daley has repeatedly called the ban "silly" and said it made Chicago "the laughingstock of the nation" but was, until now, unable to convince council members to repeal the ban.
The Illinois Restaurant Association also failed to have the ban overturned in court.
The repeal passed Wednesday over the shouted objections of the ordinance's original sponsor by a vote of 37 to six after a council member forced it out of committee.
Alderman Joe Moore said he objected to the fact that the repeal was passed without debate and said he continues to support the ban despite the ridicule.
"It's a form of abject cruelty," he told AFP. "I felt and I still feel it is important to speak out against such forms of cruelty. Chicago's ordinance did just that. Unfortunately it was a step back for civilization."
Animal rights activists were equally dismayed.
"To reverse a compassionate and admirable decision under pressure from political bullies and special interests shows a cowardly brand of cynicism unlike any we have seen in our efforts to give voice to the most vulnerable beings in our society - animals raised for food," said Julie Janovsky, director of campaigns for animal rights group Farm Sanctuary.
The ban will be stricken from the municipal code on June 10, city officials said.