New Orleans is an amazing city, one of love, lust, fun, fame, danger, and resilience. Since my brother moved there in 1997, I have been umpteen times and plan to go many more. It is a city that I don’t think I will ever get tired of and one that always has something new to offer.
As the city prepares itself for Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), February 9th this year, I reflect on my trips to New Orleans, consisting of 3 Mardi Gras, 2 Southern Decadences, a Jazz Fest, many odd weekends, and just recently my December 2015 twelve day trip for Christmas / New Years. The city is amazing year round. What is great about New Orleans is that you can do what you want there. It can be a balls to the wall gayfest, with beads, booze, and boys, or a tourists’s delight with seeing a variety of sights the city has to offer, or it can be one of the most relaxing times you will ever have. I vote for a mix of all of the above.
So here it is! My quick list of what to enjoy in the Big Easy. I’ve given this “short hand style” list to a variety of people from fellow LGBTers to a friend and his 70 year old mother to an in their 50’s couple to guys in their 20’s and so on and they’ve all loved it. There is so much to do and each time I go, I stumble into a place and it becomes a new favorite. So if it is not on this list, don’t be afraid to try it. Walk around, That’s how you find things in New Orleans. Always stay on the busy streets where there is activity and don’t go down any less traveled ones. It’s still a dangerous city like any other city with human inhabitants. So grab a drink and get to walking!
Favorite Streets To Walk Down
Decatur – Royal – Bourbon = Three streets that I like to walk along with no destination in mind. They run parallel to each other through the French Quarter so they will never meet. Ideally, maybe do one a day, take your time, and enjoy.
Decatur – This street is more shopping both upscale and tourist shops, simple bars, good restaurants, and souvenirs. I would do Decatur from Canal to the Mint. It’s a street that is really great the whole length. They will often have free concerts in the large parking lots right near the steamboat Natchez. Usher was there most recently.
Royal – This is my favorite street. It’s more architectural with a variety of antique shops and art galleries. I am not sure how far I would go on Royal, from Canal to St Phillip maybe, but the Bennachin restaurant and The Golden Lantern are further than that (see below).
Bourbon – Bars, booze, boobs, boys – The Cat’s Meow (karaoke bar and fun!) and Lucky’s hot dog vendors come to mind when I think of this street. I would walk from Canal to St Phillip. On the way go into Pat O’Brien’s, there’s an entrance on Bourobon as well as St Peter Street. Beautiful water fountains on fire and world famous hurricane drinks you can keep the glasses for a fee. There’s also a dueling piano bar at the St Peter St entrance. The bar is a tourist trap, but one that is actually worth it.
Honorable mention street. Julia Street south of O’Keefe – It’s outside the Quarter, but there are some nice small art galleries to pop in and out of.
The Gay Part of Bourbon and Gay Bars of The Quarter –
Toward St Phillip, Bourbon Street gets gay WATCH OUT! At St Ann is Oz and Bourbon Pub & Parade. If you take a left an go one block north, Good Friends is there. It’s a nice two story bar. One more block north up St Anne’s is Rawhide. Very dark, very unclean, and that’s how the patrons like it. They put a tarp over the pool table for “special events” Take a left on Burgundy (pronounced bur GUN dy) and you will run into the 700 club. Nice local gay bar with a big video screen. One more bock or so up burGUNdy you will get to The Corner Pocket where they usually have male adult entertainment dancing on the bar, usually. They don’t compare to the boys of Stock and Campus in Montreal, but they’ll do. Back on Bourbon going east still, one block from St Anne is DuMaine St. where and you will find Lafitte’s in Exile. Darker bar with some good music and lots of karaoke. If you go up DuMaine three blocks away from the river, you’ll hit N Rampart St Take a left and you will run into GranPre’s, another little gay hole in the wall, but they had the best watermelon mojitos. Back on Bourbon St. and one more block from Lafite’s In Exile and on St Philip and NOT GAY is Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar – oldest bar in New Orleans. Dark, simple, but neat. There is a piano in the back room that is usually spewing live and wonderful music. Down a block on St Philip from there toward the river and left on Royal, 2 ½ more blocks is The Golden Lantern. Very low key gay bar and the bar that started Southern Decadence. My rule of thumb, if they charge a cover, move on. There’s so much more to see and there’s so much more to drink. This last trip, the two big bars were charging a cover so I took my fun elsewhere. My favorite was the low key, fun, and very inviting Golden Lantern. Tell Marsha I said hello.
The French Quarter -, besides the bars.
Port of Call Burger – 838 Esplanade Ave has supposedly the best burger in New Orleans. It’s simple and they don’t serve french fries, just a baked potato, but that is great too. It’s a walk from everything else, packed, and you’ll probably have to wait a little bit, but yum!
Bennachin – 1212 Royal St, It’s a hike from the other places but still in the quarter, African food, something different. Found this when I was with my vegetarian friend. It is not a must, but a good option. Okay, it’s become a must each time.
Old US Mint. – Corner of Decatur and Barracks st, at the end of the quarter. I went on a tour, it was nice. Some good history.
Frenchmen St, just out of the quarter, between the turn of Royal st and Esplanade, behind the mint. This is where the real jazz seems to be, kinda rough neighborhood at times, but old and young hang out here. I call it authentic, not touristy. No specific place to try during the night. The BMC is amazing. Awesome Jazz. Here’s an example.
French Market Place – Near Decatur, Barrack and the mint. Toward the river. kind of a flea market, yard sale area where you can get hats, sunglasses and gator meat. Just fun to browse.
Market Café – Decatur and St Phillip St, a recommendation from my aunt for breakfast, never been myself, but they liked hanging out there.
Café du Monde – Corner of Jackson Square on Decatur. Beignets and coffee. I’m not a fan of coffee, but the beignets (big powdered donut holes) are a must. Morning or late at night, it’s always busy. World Famous!
Muriel’s Restaurant – Corner of Jackson Square, St Ann and Chartres. Supposedly a haunted restaurant. Semi upscale. Check the menu out one time while walking around the Square.
St. Louis Cathedral – Jackson Square, the oldest functioning Cathedral in the United States. Definitely go in and just take a moment, look around, up, down, and reflect.
Jackson Square – my favorite place to look at street art and get my tarot cards read. Walk around and find one that feels right to you, one may not. The art is great and by law has to be original and not duplicated. I would go more in the afternoon when there are more artists around. Park closes at sundown.
Horse and Carriage ride from Jackson Square – My mother’s recommendation, she said each one tells a different story or none at all. I’d want to make sure they’ll talk to you, unless you want a quiet ride.
Café Maspero – corner of Decatur and Toulouse St. cheap hurricanes and great mufaletta (olive paste based sandwich) and a great ham and cheese sandwich. Everyone does French onion and this was great too. Simple, cheap, and good.
Antoine’s Restsaurant – on St Louis between Bourbon and Royal www.antoines.com the oldest restaurant in New Orleans, check out their website. It’s been around since 1840. If you can, walk around and look everywhere, it’s also like a museum. Not sure if they give tours or not or if you need a reservation. I got a tour and it was great.
SoBou Restsaurant – In the W hotel, 310 Chartres St . This will be a stop every time I come to town. I loved trying new things and this place was it. Atmosphere was great, nice date night. Food was a WOW!
Touristy Oyster places – Acme Oyster House and Felix’s , both are just south of bourbon on Iberville and across the street from each other. People will ask if you went to either one of these. I’d say go if you want to, but oysters are everywhere. I don’t eat them.
Audobon Aquarium of the Americas – Canal and the Mississippi River. I have not been. Mom recommendation.
Harrah’s Casino – Canal St and the Mississippi River. was the largest casino in the world in 1991. If you gamble , go for it!
Just West of the French Quarter but still in town—
Domenica – Domenicarestaurant.com – 123 Baronne st, west of Canal St – good food, little pricey, it’s a Besh restaurant. When done or before you eat, you need to do 2 things. Go across the street and go into the church and just look, as well as go to the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel, which is near the bathrooms of the restaurant, too. It’s attached.
The National WWII Museum – out of the Quarter, 945 Magazine ST Great museum. What was unique was the collection of Japanese / US propaganda, but that display has changed from one whole room down to two examples. Still set aside about 5 hours or more to give to this collection. Get there early and wear comfortable shoes.
Confederate Memorial Hall Museum – 929 Camp St , just a block away from the WWII Museum. Small but pretty interesting going in there as a Northernern. It was eye opening.
Cochon Restarant / Cochon Butcher – 930 Tchoupitoulas St. Two different places, one is a restaurant (reservations) and the other is a walk in deli. Both good, another mom’s favorite. Close to my brother’s place so my family likes it. Great ribs. Great everything!
Barcadia – a loud bar with video games in it. Great place to people watch
East of the French Quarter –
Elizabeth’s – 601 Gallier St – a very greasy spoon. It is a short drive out of the quarter. Waitresses are pierced, tattooed, and wearing torn sun dresses. It’s a tragic place but the blood mary’s and the food is definitely basic NOLA. Some times there is a wait. It’s eclectic.
Willie Mae’s Scotch House– Yes, it is the best friend chicken you will ever eat. Check out 2401 St Ann St. and get there early. There will be a line.
TOURS ETC —-
St Charles Avenue Trolley Car. I have yet to do this, but one of these trips I want to ride the trolley car all the way out to Tulane University / Audobon Park and into the garden district. Looks like there is food on and around campus as well as a Café in the park. Who doesn’t want to ride on a trolley?!?
Garden District Tour. My brother and I did a self guided tour of the Garden District and I do not think we could have paid for better. We downloaded an app for $2.99 which gave us a map, audio and pics of what we were looking at. Do it on a nice day and wear some walking shoes.
Gator / swamp tour – The one we went to was http://www.jeanlafitteswamptour.com/ . We did the airboat tour and loved it. We drove out to the swamp tour place, got our tickets there, then drove to the airboat place. I think there was an easier way to do it. It’s an airboat, loud, fast, bumpy, but fun! There are other airboat and swamp and gator tours that may be just as good.
Plantation tours. We went to the Houmas house (http://www.houmashouse.com/ost.htm) and loved it. They did not talk about slavery at all, but more so the history of the house. We drove out ourselves just in case we wanted to hit another plantation on the way back and this was the one that was farthest out. The drive wasn’t bad. Lunch was amazing at the restaurant on the grounds. Highly recommended to eat there, too!!! My mother liked that one as well as Oak Alley Plantation http://www.oakalleyplantation.com/ I think next time I go, I will do that one. There are bus tours that will pick you up in the quarter and bring you to one or two plantations, but we were more free spirited and wanted to do our own thing. This last vacation I did the Whitney Plantation (http://www.whitneyplantation.com/), designed to be completely told from the slave perspective. Very moving, wonderful, but not fully completed. You can definitely go now and learn a great deal, but there are more aspects to be added this Spring and Fall that I would love to see.
Jazz Fest!!!! http://www.nojazzfest.com/ https://youtu.be/6fYzSN1SYiM What a time to be in New Orleans! Gaze at the website above and see what day(s) you might want to go. There are a ton of people that perform at this from every type of music family. There’s a ton of food, multiple stages. You could spend a long time there. It’s mostly outdoors with some seating in some of the venues.
Laissez les bon temps roulez – Let the good times roll!
Whatever you decide to do in New Orleans, be safe, stay on well traveled roads, and make a friend or two or many. The inhabitants of the Crescent City are some of the nicest people out there. If you have any questions, shoot me an email. I’d be more than happy to give you some pointers.