The Gay and Lesbian Guide to New Orleans: Pride in Calling it Home
Colorful and flamboyant, New Orleans is a city that has never been populated by Puritans. New Orleans doesn’t deny the importance of enjoying life or the necessity of the freedom to let yourself be who you truly are. The balmy sub-tropical weather, wonderful traditions, and charming architecture conspire to create an ambience that wouldn’t let you hold yourself back if you tried. Even straight people don’t hesitate to paint their houses pink. Throughout the year, locals love to dress in costume, throw balls, or put on parades no matter how flimsy the excuse. And during Mardi Gras, which falls in February or early March, anything can happen.
So, it’s no wonder that New Orleans has long been a haven of tolerance for homosexuals in the South, and New Orleans’ Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender (LGBT) community is visible and thriving. Southern Decadence, which started out as an intimate going-away party for a friend in the early 1970s, now draws hundreds of thousands of LGBT revelers each Labor Day Weekend. Any time of the year, gay nightlife is exciting in New Orleans. But while fantastic bars and raucous parties might garner the most attention, the LGBT culture in New Orleans is as rich and distinctive as you’d find in any city in the world.
The French Quarter at the heart of New Orleans is also the heart of gay nightlife. Café Lafitte in Exile is purportedly the oldest gay bar in North America, and nearby, crowds spill out of two cavernous dance clubs—Oz and the Bourbon Pub Parade—which face each other at the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann Streets. Several other gay clubs and bars fan out from this epicenter, creating a nexus of activity where everything is in immediate walking distance. Gay neighborhood bars also abound in the Bohemian areas known as the Marigny and Bywater.
Along with nightlife, New Orleans is equally famous for its dining, and the city has plenty of gay-owned and gay-friendly restaurants. For one within steps of the nightlife epicenter, the Clover Grill serves up great diner food from a fun, vivacious wait staff. Other restaurants serving everything from Creole cuisine to pizza are located in the Quarter and throughout the city.
Shopping in New Orleans offers both sass and class. Queens will find fabulous wigs at Fifi Mahony’s, goths should stop by Gargoyles, and many other funky, outré boutiques are tucked away in the old streets of the French Quarter and all along Magazine Street. in the part of the city known as Uptown. A luxury mall, The Shops at Canal Place, is home to international style with the likes of SAKS Fifth Avenue, Kenneth Cole, Williams-Sonoma, and Brooks Brothers. Meanwhile, sumptuous antiques stores and cutting-edge art galleries in the French Quarter, in the Arts District, and Uptown cater to collectors and home decorators alike.
An assortment of vibrant public service organizations looks after the needs of New Orleans’ LGBT population, and many of them host fund-raising events that are integrated into the city’s culture. The NO/AIDS Task Force hosts its sponsored NO/AIDS Walk each year as well as Dining For Life, where participating restaurants donate a percentage a night’s proceeds. The Project Lazarus House, a hospice for patients with HIV/AIDS, puts on a blow-out Halloween party, a highlight of the LGBT community’s celebration of the holiday.
In addition, theatrical productions and drag shows abound in the Crescent City. Gay poets and writers find their voices in New Orleans. Tennessee Williams set A Streetcar Named Desire in an apartment on Elysian Fields Avenue in the Marigny, but the lesbians and gays in New Orleans don’t need to depend on the kindness of strangers. They’d rather depend on each other.