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 Travel Article Travel Article Archive  
February 2010 Email this to a friend

New Orleans

By Mark Sullivan

Corner Pocket, New Orleans

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NOTE: This is an archive article. For an updated and expanded New Orleans article click DailyXtraTravel

Talk about the city that doesn't sleep. Wander past the bars along Bourbon Street on your way to breakfast and you'll notice that the doors are flung wide open. More often than not, you'll see customers eager to belly up to the bar.
Yes, most of the bars in the fabled French Quarter never close, meaning the party runs very late (or starts very early, depending on your perspective). You're free to take your cocktail with you as you wander the streets, as long as it's in a plastic container.
In New Orleans, attitudes about sex are just as laid-back. Along Bourbon Street, the pedestrian-only thoroughfare running through the heart of the French Quarter, you'll see scantily clad employees literally pulling customers into the straight strip clubs. For gay guys, there are a couple of saunas that can (and sometimes do) accommodate scores of clients.
Gays and straights share Bourbon Street, although gays gravitate toward the northern end, past St Peter Street. Another gay hangout, just outside the French Quarter, is the Marigny, a laid-back neighborhood with a bohemian vibe.

Getting here
Most travelers fly into Louis Armstrong International Airport, 11 miles from the French Quarter. If your hotel doesn't offer a courtesy shuttle, there are plenty of taxis waiting. Some people come to the city by Amtrak train, which arrives in the Central Business District. From there it's a short taxi ride to the French Quarter.

Getting around
What's the best way to see the city? Your own two feet, of course. The French Quarter, just 14 blocks from end to end, is easily walkable. You can also stroll over to the Marigny without breaking a sweat. Other parts of downtown are easily reached via taxi or streetcar. A rental car is just a bother, as meter maids are vigilant here.

Neighborhoods
French Quarter. Known simply as "The Quarter" to locals, the French Quarter is the heart and soul of New Orleans. If you're a first-time visitor, it's likely that you'll spend most of your time in the streets bordered by the Rampart, Esplanade, Canal and the Mississippi River. The architecture is a mix of Spanish, French and Creole styles. The ubiquitous cast-iron balconies were added to many buildings after 1850, when a baroness included them on her row house near Jackson Square. The French Quarter is where you'll find most of the city's gay businesses.
Marigny. Just northeast of the French Quarter, the Marigny is known for its quaint Creole cottages, most of which date to the 19th century. Although it has its share of bars, it lacks the spring-break atmosphere of Bourbon Street. There are plenty of gay businesses, especially along Frenchman Street and Elysian Fields.
Garden District. Although it isn't a gay neighborhood, the Garden District, south of the French Quarter, attracts lots of gay sightseers because of its graceful old mansions.

in focus
Riding in style through New Orleans
Tennessee Williams didn't get it exactly right: The streetcar's name wasn't Desire. That name actually belonged to one of the 16 streetcar lines that once traversed New Orleans. But the playwright was savvy enough to know that A Streetcar Line Named Desire wasn't a very good title.
The Desire Street Line, which ran through what was at the time a rather seedy neighborhood, has been long since replaced by a bus route. But the three lines that still run give a feel for what it would have been like to ride through the city at the beginning of the last century.
"Look at me, I'm Blanche DuBois!" shouted one gay man as he posed for a photo on the steps of a St Charles Street streetcar. The other passengers, who that day happened to be mostly gay men, laughed along.
The Riverfront Line is strictly for tourists. Not a historic route, it was inaugurated in 1988. The two-mile route runs along the Mississippi River, skirting the backs of French Quarter buildings most of the way. The streetcars themselves are fairly convincing replicas, with a few modern conveniences like wheelchair ramps.
Replicas also run on the Canal Street Line, one of the historic routes. It takes you along more than five miles of original tracks on Canal Street, on the southern edge of the French Quarter. Although the thoroughfare isn't much to look at, the streetcars whisk you past impressive sights. Many people take a ride to see the city's oldest cemeteries, lined with massive mausoleums because the high water table makes digging graves impossible.
For the quintessential streetcar experience, take the St Charles Line. The world's oldest continually operating streetcar line, it began service in 1835. The 13-mile route is gorgeous, taking you down tree-lined St. Charles Street past dozens of antebellum mansions. These streetcars are the real deal, most of them dating back to the 1920s. The mahogany seats and brass fittings make for an elegant ride. You'll probably run into other gay travelers if you board where St Charles Street meets Canal Street on the edge of the French Quarter.
Streetcar fare is $1.25, payable onboard.

Event planner
February
Gay Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras takes place on February 16, but the all-gay version lasts longer. (Isn't it always the case?) The main event is the coronation of the King Cake Queen.
French Quarter
February 16-23, 2010
GayMardiGras.com

September
Southern Decadence
Started in 1972, Southern Decadence has evolved into a four-day-long celebration drawing crowds of close to 100,000. It features an around-the-clock street party, loads of dance parties and a parade that wanders through the streets of the French Quarter (often shocking the straight tourists).
French Quarter
September 1-6, 2010
SouthernDecadence.net

Top experiences
Cruising Bourbon Street. Even if you don't like drinking cocktails from three-foot-tall plastic cups, you have to see the strange things people are willing to do for a string of Mardi Gras beads.

Getting decadent. The gay version of Mardi Gras is called Southern Decadence, a drunken and debauched weekend celebration held each year in September.

Looking for Blanche DuBois. The streetcar used for the film version of A Streetcar Named Desire is #922, still operating on the St Charles Street Line. Hop aboard on the corner of Canal Street.

Sampling local delicacies. Sure, the gumbo and jambalaya are tasty. But don't leave without a bite of a beignet, the donutlike pastry covered with mounds of powdered sugar.

Hitting the shops. Nobody heads to New Orleans to shop, but the French Quarter has plenty of great boutiques selling everything from gooey praline candy to reasonably priced antiques.

Accommodations

Tourism is New Orleans's biggest industry, so innumerable hotels plus bed and breakfasts of all sorts thrive. Lodgings during Mardi Gras season or around Southern Decadence time are at a premium. Without advance reservations, finding a bed in town will be a tall order. Getting online isn't usually a problem, as many hotels have in-room wifi. If not, the centrally located Bourbon Pub provides this service for customers, 24 hours a day.

Bon Maison Guest House (835 Bourbon St) in a historic town house and slave quarters has centrally located digs with all the creature comforts and a pleasant courtyard.

French Quarter Suites (1119 North Rampart), a gay-owned/operated hotel, has one-room to six-room suites, townhouses, kitchens, pool, balconies, and good value with "a suite for the price of a room."

In the lower Garden District, close to the convention center, Green House Inn (1212 Magazine St) offers a quiet gay retreat from the all-night partying.

Lions Inn (2517 Chartres St), is a charming 140-year-old Edwardian B&B for men, five blocks from the Quarter. Their sunroom, garden and Jacuzzi are great spots to gather and socialize.

In the Faubourg Marigny, Olde Towne Inn (1001 Marigny St) has reasonably priced rooms and suites, secured parking, continental breakfast and a tropical courtyard.

Intimate, stylish hotel Prince Conti Hotel (830 Conti St), just steps from Bourbon Street, has 24-hour concierge, bell service, and internet access. Their Bombay Club Restaurant and Martini Bistro employ the gender-bender of local renown, Clorox.

Click HERE for more New Orleans hotel and guesthouse listings.

Bars & clubs, center

Gay life, though not confined to it, centers in the French Quarter or the Vieux Carre. Popular with tourists, this charming neighborhood is gayest off the beaten path of Bourbon St. Most establishments in the Quarter are within walking distance of each other so barhopping is a breeze. You can carry drinks into the street, but only in plastic cups, not in glass or cans. Most bars never close, all but one are 21-plus only. Those 18 and over can enter Bourbon Pub / Parade, as well as the two bathhouses.
The Martigny is a neighboring district. Get there from the Quarter by going up Chartres, and get back on Royal.

700 Club (700 Burgundy), a locals' favorite at the corner of St Peter, offers a casual video lounge, excellent drinks and good conversation, from noon to whenever. Opened by a longtime local bartender they've earned the loyalty they inspire.

Allways Lounge (2240 St Claude Ave, Marigny) at Marigny Theatre, is pure New Orleans, with an eclectic mix of live music from the likes of Blackbird Raum, video curiosities, and performances ranging from one (wo)man readings to belly dancing. On February 2nd 2010 they hosted the Radical Faeries Annual Saint Brigid Ball: Clowns Only Luau (rainbows and polka dots suggested).

Another watering hole Big Daddy's (2513 Royal, Martigny) neighborhood bar has live entertainment on alternate Fridays and hosts the Zoo Revue with Southern Decadence Grand Marshal XXXI Rusty LaRoux, two Saturdays each month.

Open 24/7 for 34 years, the Bourbon Pub & Parade (801 Bourbon St) video bar with internet access, popular happy hours, drink specials, plus burlesque, cabaret, comedy shows and contests of all kinds. At the Thursday midnight Student Body Contest winners get cash prizes. During Mardi Gras this is ground zero. Upstairs, Parade disco throbs, especially for their Sunday Tea Dances from 5 to 10pm, with free draft beer.

Cafe Lafitte in Exile (901 Bourbon St), around since 1952, open always, this balcony bar has a 25-plus crowd, pool table, game machines, plasma-screen videos and daily happy hours. During Carnival days this gay corner gets very entertaining as guys display themselves in exchange for beads flung from the balconies.

Corner Pocket (940 St. Louis) brings a bit of Quebec's sexually liberated Montreal to the French Quarter, with dancers atop the bar after 9pm all week, and popular Friday New Meat contests for cash prizes. Pot Luck Burlesque shows liven things up one Monday per month.

An old plantation house, the Country Club (634 Louisa, left from Chartres, east of the Quarter) is a huge 1890 Italianate clubhouse with indoor and outdoor bars, a year-round heated, clothing-optional pool and hot tub, massage, spa services and movies as well as videos on their 12 foot screen. Chef Coy LeBeau's menu items range from sandwiches and pizza to full dinners, plus brunch.

Cutter's (706 Franklin Ave) a neighborhood bar known for bears, big buffets, sports event specials, live talent shows and monthly art exhibits.

Another neighborhood bar, Double Play (439 Dauphine) "where locals drink" has impressive complimentary buffets for special days and a bouyant mix of all kinds of folk most every night.

The Friendly Bar (2301 Chartres), a popular neighborhood bar in the Marigny, has pool games, specials and live entertainment every other Friday.

Good Friends (740 Dauphine) has swell happy hours and festive Sunday piano sing-alongs. Home to Mardi Gras' Barkus Krewe, they're famous for "Separator" a milk-based libation.

John Paul's Bar (940 Elysian Fields Ave, Marigny) is men's turf, daily from noon, attracting Mardi Gras Krewe royalty and guest from the neighboring B&B for their weekend shows.

Napoleon's Itch (734 Bourbon St) provides an upscale and smoke-free lounge environment.

Oz (800 Bourbon St) show and dance club is Mardi Gras Central during the big events when beads get tossed to the show-offs below the balcony. It's fun here all year with hot crowds, weekend strippers, and periodic guest-star appearances.

A short walk from the French Quarter, the leather and fetish bar Phoenix (941 Elysian Fields Ave), home to the Lords of Leather and New Orleans Bears, never closes. On two levels with a back courtyard they have plenty of room here. Upstairs the Eagle is a touch-and-feel cruise bar.

Rawhide 2010 (740 Burgundy), rated among the top 10 US leather bars, has dark interiors smoldering with earthy passions and intoxicating air. Pool games, video poker and frequent events bring in both the locals and tourists.

Roundup (819 Louis) country & western bar is for a lively mix of "bad boy" and drag locals who like their drinks night and day.

Rubyfruit Jungle (1135 Decatur St) is a dance club primarily for women, with comedy and drag shows and special parties where all are welcome.

Starlight by the Park (834 N Rampart) is a friendly little show bar with performances every Friday night, and at other times during the weekends when they stay open 24 hours. On Sundays from 5pm it's pasta night.

Tubby's Golden Lantern (1239 Royal) is a drinkers' bar where the Southern Decadence Parade begins each Sunday before Labor Day. They updated things recently with videos on flat screens, and gambling machines for a touch of Vegas. Servers Donnie Jay, and Will are local legends.

Bars & clubs, outlying

Billy's (2600 Gause Blvd W, Hwy 190; Slidell) brings a rollicking crowd of straight, gay, bisexual, or transgendered patrons to dance, play pool, or catch the shows at this northside locals' club.

Club Fusions (2004 AP Tureaud Av), a hip hop urban dance club with a mostly male crowd, has Monday night Fusion Fantasies drag shows too.

Club Tribute (3202 N Arnoult Rd, Metairie) dance club is the area's biggest nightspot for lesbians, open Wednesday through Saturdays.

Four Seasons (3229 N Causeway, Metairie) is a popular locals' bar with beautiful patio bar where live entertainment shows and barbecues take place.

Restaurants

New Orleans is a grand gastronomic opera that will leave your taste buds singing a full-throated aria. Bennachin Restaurant (1212 Royal) has a sampling of tastes that link West African with Creole traditions, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Black-eyed pea fritters, fish fried pies, yam fufu, plaintain delights, coconut rice, ginger chicken; as spicey (or not) as you like it, meat or no meat.

For distinctive local coffee laced with chicory to wash down your beignets (French donuts) there's been nowhere better than Cafe du Monde (1039 Decatur) since their original coffee stand opened in 1862. Open every day but Christmas.

In Bywater district, the mid-priced restaurant Country Club (634 Louisa) has crawfish dirty rice cakes, bacon-wrapped rabbit terrines, flatbread pizzas and other local treats. Part of the laid-back gay bar and pool complex.

A simple, but elegant back street locale to meet a date or kick back with a newspaper, the Croissant d'Or (617 Ursuline) has delicious fruit, almond, or chocolat croissants, beignets, quiches and coffee Parisian style.

La Peniche (1940 Dauphine) is a popular Yat (local) 24-hour option serving breakfast, seafood, fried chicken, steak, po-boys and Creole favorites at reasonable prices.

The Louisiana Pizza Kitchen (95 French Market Place) offers Italian favorites of pizza, pasta, calzones, appetizers and wraps; also bottled beers of many nations and micro-breweries, flavored teas, and various cream sodas.

Moon Wok (800 Dauphine) has Chinese and Vietnamese takeout or dine-in options, good prices and "big assed" drinks.

Mona Lisa Cafe (1212 Royal) is known for big portions of homemade pizza, pasta, sandwiches, salads and a decent wine list. Also with beer and byob.

A block from the Quarter, Praline Connection (542 Frenchman) serves "no-nonsense cajun-creole soul cuisine" by spiffy waiters in bowler hats. Their New Orleans pralines are made fresh daily, old fashioned style, spoon dipped by hand.

Eateries with around-the-clock service and delivery include:
Clover Grill (900 Bourbon St) a '50s style diner to satisfy cravings for burgers, waffles, or omelets in a camp milieu, and breakfast specials 5-11am; and
Quarter Master (1100 Bourbon St), more than just a neigborhood convenience store, the "Nelly Deli" has daily lunch and dinner specials, burgers and po-boys.

Click HERE for more New Orleans restaurant and cafe listings.

Saunas & playgrounds

New Orleans has top-notch full-service facilities from the two largest US bathhouse chains providing exercise, relaxation and sex to men 24 hours a day.

Club New Orleans (515 Toulouse St), in the French Quarter, has five levels, with improved front and rear access between floors including their sundeck above the Mississippi, and the renovated "romper room" on the second floor.

Flex New Orleans (700 Baronne St), near the Superdome, has four totally remodeled floors, with lockers overlooking wet areas to preview the action, and Sunday BBQs on their sundeck 2-5pm.

Shopping

Alternatives (909 Bourbon St) caters to "alternative" lifestyles with sex supplies, cards, jewelry (including Mardi Gras beads), voodoo dolls, and locally hand-crafted gifts.

Faubourg Marigny Art & Books (600 Frenchman St) sells fine art and books. Emerging artists often showcase their work at the store.

Hit Parade (741 Bourbon St) has YMLA and other club-wear brands, plus gay pride items, CDs, cards and magazines.

Second Skin Leather and Metal Company (521 Saint Philip) sells fine leather, latex, and erotica. Fans of piercing will enjoy getting perforated here.

Tours

Roberts Batson's Gay Heritage Tour touches on "the horrors, the hilarity, the homophobes, and the heroes" with a French Quarter stroll that brings gay New Orleans history to life. Tickets at 504-945-6789 or at Alternatives (909 Bourbon).

A stroll through the French Market, America's oldest city marketplace, provides abundant flea market, arts and crafts and other shopping opportunities, plus restaurants and music events along the Mississippi.

Take Mississippi River or harbor cruises on the Paddlewheeler Creole Queen.

For info about airboat swamp tours into the Cajun wilderness see Jean Lafitte Swamp Tour.


From the airport

If you are alone, take the Airport Shuttle for $13 one way. Look for the info desks within the airport. Destinations include the key downtown zones, including the French Quarter. At the end of your trip, have your hotel contact them a day ahead with your flight departure time and they'll tell you what time to be ready for pickup.

If there are two or three in your party, take a taxi from the airport. Cost is around $30 to downtown hotels. With three or more people, the driver will charge a flat fee per person, plus a gas surcharge.


Getting around

This is a city made for walking.

But if you want to venture, use public transit. The streetcars are both fun and useful. We recommend a VisiTour pass allowing you unlimited rides on streetcars and buses -- and just $12 for three days. Your hotel will know the nearest vendor.

And treat yourself to a free ride on the Canal Street ferry, which takes you across the Mississippi River from the foot of Canal. Great views of downtown.


Resources & information

For details about events, plus a general guide to shops, restaurants, and sights in the oldest of New Orleans neighborhoods, see Frenchquarter.com.


Gay media

Local publications include Ambush, "the Gulf South's entertainment/news tabloid for adults." Their colorful webpage has sound effects, narrated tours, live event info and a calendar. Also see GayNewOrleans.com.


Theater & museums

Le Petit Th�atre du Vieux Carr� (616 Saint Peter; has stage productions of interest, mostly comedie and musicals.

At NewOrleansMuseums.com there are listings for over thirty area museums, including the Old Ursuline Convent (1100 Chartres), the last surviving French colonial building in the USA.

The New Orleans Voodoo Museum (724 Dumaine) is dedicated to the history, religion and art of Voodoo.


Mardi Gras Krewes

Organizations known as Krewes make costumes, build the floats, and their membership fees pay for parade participation. Each of several gay Krewes holds an elaborate ball during the season. Though technically not open to the general public, these events may sometimes be accessible if you're in the know. Try wrangling an invitation though the Lesbian and Gay Community Center (2114 Decatur St).


Charity fundraiser

FNBMG (Friday Night Before Mardi Gras) a charity of 10 years, raises funds for HIV and AIDS-related support organizations with dancing, entertainment, open bar and gourmet buffets. Visit their website for event schedules.


Stay safe

Amidst the wanton pleasures of this city, don't let down your guard. A few simple precautions go a long way to safeguard both valuables and personal safety as you let down your hair.

Author Profile:  Mark Sullivan

Mark Sullivan is the managing editor of Guide magazine. He can be contacted at marks@guidemag.com.

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