Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 47 / 23 November 2017
 

New Orleans

BARtab

'Bon Temps' in the southern party town


Verdant planters on a French Quarter balcony in New Orleans. photo: BARtab
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New Orleans is without compare as a travel destination for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and even straight people. The city combines world class bawdiness, drinking, exquisite fine and casual dining, art, a music scene featuring jazz, blues and gospel, rock and soul, and Mardi Gras, North America's most celebrated street festival.

For tourists (if not for many former residents), has more than recovered from the 2005 devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Many historic parts of the city and districts with the most concentrated LGBT life suffered little to no flood damage and today are more vibrant than before Katrina.

If you want to see Katrina damage, and you should, you may have to travel to specific neighborhoods to find it. As with almost every other aspect of culture or history, "There's a tour for that."

 

When to Go

Any time is a good time to visit New Orleans, but LGBT tourism is heaviest for three holidays: Mardi Gras, Southern Decadence, and Halloween.

To purists, Mardi Gras is one day, always a Tuesday. The date changes each year, but is always between February 3 to March 9. Mardi Gras 2016 will be Feb. 9. The two weekends prior are part of what New Orleanians call Carnival and are very active precursors to the main event. (Traditionally, the holiday comes to a screeching halt at midnight, and anyone out in costume or wearing beads on Wednesday is subject to gentle scorn from the locals.) For a fun history of the history of Gay Mardis Gras, visit www.gaymardigras.com/history.htm

Every gay club in is very busy during Carnival, and special events, parties, costume contests, and street parades abound. Celebrating Carnival involves costumes. While visitors are welcomed to just watch, to truly participate and be treated like a local by the locals, bring one (or a few) great costumes: the more risqué the better.

Southern Decadence, the city's huge gay festival of debauchery, is Labor Day weekend, starting from the week's Wednesday. The bacchanal known for lots of drinking, pants-dropping for beads, sex parties, and an extra serving of gogo guys in the bars, has tamed down in some ways. But a naughty time can still be had. this year's Southern Decadence is Sept. 2-5. www.southerndecadence.net

For more formal –and clothed­– queer fun, the annual Gay Easter Parade takes place March 27, 2016. Some 30,000 spectators enjoyed the parade this year. The related fundraisers feature dapper dykes and festive formal wear, plus hundreds of decorated bonnets worn by folks of any gender, and raises fund for a local food bank. www.gayeasterparade.com

Queens on the balcony at Southern Decadence. photo: New Orleans Tourism

Halloween in New Orleans (last week of October, of course) is possibly one of the most colorful of holidays, with thousands of people in mostly masked costumes. From huge fundraisers to private parties, a good spooky time can be had just about anywhere.

This year, it is October 29 to November 1. Halloween events and bar nights often include costumes, and Halloween weekend is the time for the city's most popular circuit parties. www.halloweenneworleans.com

Superheroes at a recent New Orleans Halloween. photo: courtesy Ambush

Cruising the Crescent

Historic was built at a pronounced crescent along the east bank of the Mississippi River, and a popular local nickname is Crescent City. Because major streets follow the crescent shape of the city, North, South, East and West directions are not helpful and not used. Major orientating points are the river, the lake (Lake Pontchatrain), and Canal Street.

"Uptown" or "above Canal" means upriver from Canal Street and includes the Garden District, the Central Business District, Audubon Park and Zoo, and the stately St. Charles Avenue.

"Towards the river," "river side," "towards the lake" and "lake side" are constantly used in directions. "Above" means up river and "below" means downriver.

 

Serving shots at Good Friends Bar. photo: BARtab

French Quarter

The majority of LGBT nightlife is in the French Quarter, below St. Louis Street, and the epicenter is the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann, the location of four large popular nightclubs.

If you're not familiar with the unusual law allowing public drinking, just ask for a 'go cup' at your local bar, and you can sip your cocktail between visits.

And good news for health-conscious bar-hoppers; the city finally passed an ordinance against indoor smoking, particularly in bars and nightclubs.

So, which bars might a visitor prefer? Bars are a main feature of nightlife in New Orleans, of course.

For drag shows, visit Big Daddy's for the Zoo Revue on Saturday nights (2513 Royal St.)

For those who prefer their gogo guys with easy access, The Corner Pocket (940 St. Louis St. www.CornerPocket.net) has a longstanding tradition of showcasing lithe young men shaking their (usually trade) bonbons. Stop by on a weekend night for a cavalcade of coyness at the strip contest.

For more interactive cruising, The Phoenix (941 Elysian Fields) offers a cruisy downstairs and upstairs sex stalls for some direct interaction. It should be noted that not only is the upstairs very dark. It's also up a narrow winding flight of stairs.

For more bar listings, visit www.gayneworleans.com/bars.htm

Gogo guys at The Corner Pocket. Photo: courtesy Corner Pocket

The Bourbon Pub and Parade is the more college dance club/video bar, Oz is the more cruisy dance club. The much newer Napoleon's Itch has a cool, crisp feel, while Lucky Pierre's is the city's newest and largest drag venue.

Many, many other gay bars and eateries are located in "the loop," generally within two to four blocks of that corner. Visit www.neworleansfruitloop.com

The entire Quarter is 13 blocks along the river by six blocks going towards the lake, and is walkable and considered reasonably safe. It includes several of the city's deservedly most famous restaurants (Arnaud's, Galatoire's and Antoine's), newer standouts (GW Fins), and good casual dining (Coop's Place, Clover Grill, Port'O Call).

With its density of gay night life, restaurants, shopping, and historic and romantic points of interest, many visitors book a room in the Quarter and never leave it. (www.frenchquarter.com) Not a terrible plan, though there is much more of New Orleans and surrounding areas worth seeing.

 

The Phoenix Bar

Marigny

The Marigny is just below the Quarter along the river, with gay life/nightlife spread throughout. Frenchman St. is steps away from the Quarter and home to Faubourg Marigny Books, the oldest gay-owned bookstore in the South. Stop in and say hello to Otis, the owner and source of much information, and buy something.

Frenchmen Street is particular popular with locals for its music venues as well as Aldopho's, a local favorite restaurant serving New Orleans-Italian food. A few blocks further, Elysian Fields Ave. (where the fictional Stanley Kowalski lived), boasts The Phoenix, a large 2-floor leather/cruise/backroom bar and leather/sex shop.

Across the Street is Mag's 940, a popular club with locals. Around the corner, on either side of St. Claude Ave., are a number of more recent venues that host dance clubs, drag events and burlesque shows (some especially popular with the 21-35 crowd).

The LGBT-identified AllWays Lounge and Kajun's Pub are on the river side of St. Claude Ave. and the more mixed Siberia and Saturn bar are outside the Marigny on the formerly no-go lake side of St. Claude Ave.

 

Bywater

The Bywater is the large neighborhood below the Marigny near the river and has many, many LGBT residents. The Country Club, on Louisa Street, was formerly a favorite for its clothing-optional large pool and garden/hottub/bar area. Swimwear is now required and the pool crowd far more straight than in years past. It now boasts a restaurant and much-admired brunch menu. 634 Louisa St. (504) 945-0742. www.thecountryclubneworleans.com

Bywater dining and nightlife options have substantially expanded since Katrina, with Bacchanal, Elizabeth's, Maurepaux, and Bywater Barbeque among the favorite options.

 

St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. photo: BARtab

Restin'

To start with the most royal accommodations in the center of town, the Hotel Monteleone is among the most elegant places for a stay. Prices range from $300-$500 a night; a bit steep for some budgets, but there is a pool, elegant conference rooms, and relatively soundproof windows, if you're facing the bar side of a street.

Hotels and guest houses popular with gay folk and near –but not too near– bar districts include Burgundy Bed & Breakfast at 2513 Burgundy St. www.theburgundy.com

Another stylish hotel, with modern accommodations and old style charm, is the Chateau Lemoyne (301 Dauphine St. www.hi-chateau.com). With enough distance from the partying crowds, you can get a good night's sleep, and enjoy the pool.

The gay-owned Antebellum Guesthouse provides authentic décor and surroundings, a luxurious pool and gardens, and a sumptuous -style breakfast. (1333 Esplanade Ave. www.antebellumguesthouse.com)

The Courtyard Hotel, a beautiful 19th-century converted home, also includes a pool (these pools come in handy in the hot and steamy summer months) and is just three blocks from Bourbon Street at 1101 N. Rampart Street.

Simpler accommodations in different areas can be found on www.tripping.com or other Air B&B services. Most of the cheaper apartment rentals may not look like much, but if they're in a quiet neighborhood, it'll be a blessing to escape the late night partying crowds in the Quarter or the Marigny's club district.

While summer months are quite hot and humid, most indoor spaces in are air-conditioned (sometimes too much), and hotels do offer cheaper rates in the summer and in between the bigger party seasons.

 

Servin' up po boys in the Quarter. photo: BARtab

Eatin'

Be prepared to break any and all diets when you visit New Orleans. The food is just too tempting, and an integral part of the various cultures.

Food is so diverse in New Orleans, it's impossible to list all the best places.

For gay-owned restaurants, check out Petunia's Restaurant for Cajun and Creole dining, crepes, cocktails and a sassy attitude. 817 St. Louis St.

For an informal lunch, brunch, a po' boy and a few laughs 24/7, munch away at Quartermaster, "the Nellie Deli" at 1100 Bourbon St. It's open all day and night, and is sort of the Orphan Andy's of New Orleans.

Another favorite for lunch and brunch is The Ruby Slipper. With four locations, we dined at the airy Marigny location, the former site of a bank. www.therubyslippercafe.net

 

Iconic glassware at Studio Inferno in the Warehouse arts District. photo: BARtab

Book of Love

If you're not familiar with New Orleans' rich literary associations, you've got a wide variety of potential in-flight reading selections.

Of course John Kennedy O'Toole's classic (and only) novel A Confederacy of Dunces is required reading for its unique characters.

For gay-themed reading, Tennessee Williams ranks among the most known. While you can't actually visit the settings of his classic stage play A Streetcar Named Desire, you can stroll the French Quarter for similar scenes of romantic balconies, and stop by the historic one-time residence of the famous playwright.

Anne Rice's Vampire LeStat novels include historic scenes in, as do the thrillers penned by her gay son, Christopher Rice.

For contemporary murder mysteries, gay author and New Orleans resident Greg Herren's numerous books are set in locales all over the city, and get a real sense of the intrigue of New Orleans. Read his essay on www.criminalelement.com about TV shows "getting New Orleans right."

Should you want to hang out with authors in New Orleans, the annual Tennessee Williams Festival has merged with the LGBT Saints and Sinners Conference, this year held in March. Check next year's schedule at www.sasfest.org

For local readings, the intimate Fauberg Marigny Bookstore (aka Fab Books) is full of new and used LGBT books and magazines. www.fabonfrenchmen.com

You can probably pick up a copy of Ambush magazine (www.AmbushMag.com), the local LGBT weekly that will feature the latest events and listings.

For more about gay New Orleans, visit www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans/lgbt/

 

Marie Levau's grave at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. photo: BARtab

Scary spice

Speaking of mysteries, the city is also known for its often spooky relationship with death. From above-ground graves to Voodoo folklore, New Orleans is certainly known for its wild days-long Halloween celebrations. From classic horror films to the recent American Horror Story: Coven, the bayou region has been a creatively creepy setting for numerous forms of cinematic entertainment.

Because of that whole 'below sea level' thing, historic graves were placed above ground, and are now tourist attractions. Most prominent among them is the grave of Marie Laveau, an alleged Voodoo priestess. Believers scrawl a name or request on her tomb in the hopes of getting their wishes granted.

To keep the evil spirits at bay (or attract a few; whatever floats your boat), more than half a dozen occult shops should entice your curiosity in magic and a realistic perspective.

Hex in Jackson Square sells occult items ranging from charms to games, sculptures and jewelry, love potions and coffin nails, plus a lot of sweet-smelling candles for every occasion. With owners and management who are gay, lesbian and queer, they've also got a shop in Salem, Massachusetts, so you know these folks know their Wicca. 1219 Decatur Street. www.hexwitch.com

They also sponsor the annual Hex Fest, a two-day festival of celebration, ritual, and crafts relating to magic, Voodoo and the hidden arts. The most recent Hex Fest was August 21-23. www.hexfest.com

 

Classic Nawlins-style food at the French Market. photo: BARtab

City & Shopping

For a quick run of souvenirs for yourself or friends and family back home, you can't beat The French Market. Nibble on a Gator burger –yes, it's real alligator meat– along with a fruit smoothie while you choose from colorful T-shirts, art work, jewelry and cute sculptures, all with a local flavor, although not all locally made. The lengthy market place runs along the riverfront, and is near Jackson Square and the main church, St. Louis Cathedral, which matches the city's own history dating back to the King of France, and reflecting the area's strong Catholic faith.

For art souvenirs that are more unusual than tourist trinkets, visit the Warehouse Arts District, the sort of SoHo of creativity. Galleries are opening each month between abandoned lots, and a bike rental is advisable for touring this and other areas.

For our disabled friends, many buildings are historic, and that means elegant yet inaccessible stairs. While modern facilities include ramps and elevators, streetcars and small businesses don't. Still, most of the city is level, and while many sidewalks are uneven, again, updated areas and parks are in better condition.

 

Rollin' on the River

Adventure awaits outside the city, from plantation tours to gator boat cruises. Commercial tours are a very popular option for visitors and the better ones can provide a great introduction to specific aspects of the city and surrounding locales. There are plantation tours, swamp tours, vampire tours, voodoo tours, Katrina tours, antique shopping tours, among many other.

Explore options at www.neworleans.com/tours or at your favorite travel site.






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