New Orleans is Stronger than ever with LGBTQ Resilience & Pride

I’ve always had a love affair with New Orleans since my brother moved there in 1997. Visiting at least once a year since then, I’ve experienced a great many festivals, holidays, Jazz Fests, Halloweens, New Years, Mardi Gras, restaurant weeks, and just so many other great experiences and celebrations, it feels like a second home. The pandemic kept me away for about three years, but this past June, I had a healthy, vibrant, but yet somber return to the Crescent City, New Orleans.

UpStairs Lounge

One of the main reasons I returned this past June to the Big Easy was for a not so easy celebration. When Pulse Orlando Massacre occurred on June 12, 2016, it was horrific and a horrible event to cover. Because of my love and knowledge of New Orleans, I remembered the UpStairs Lounge Fire and shared it with our Instinct readers – Orlando Horror Reminds Us of The Haunting Tragedy Of The Upstairs Lounge, New Orleans

I had learned about the horrific New Orleans event before I passed by the exact location during one of my walks through the quarter. Having the wrong building in my head for the first few years, I stumbled upon the sacred spot thanks to a memorial plaque that was installed in 2003 at 604 Iberville Street, New Orleans, LA.


This year was the 50th Anniversary of the UpStairs Lounge Fire – the largest mass killing of queer people in 20th century America. Pulse unfortunately set a new number of LGBTQ+ deaths in this nation in the 21st century in 2016 with 49 killed and 53 injured.

The UpStairs Lounge Fire occurred on June 24, 1973 at the UpStairs Lounge, a popular gay bar in the French Quarter. Ultimately, 32 people lost their lives, and 14 were seriously injured. Following the incident, media coverage was sparse (especially after reporters learned the fire happened at a gay bar) and the mayor of New Orleans offered no public statement. Most victims were denied religious funerals or even burials, and the tragedy remained largely underreported and uninvestigated until the 1990s. 

Now, 50 years later, the city of New Orleans has taken steps to honor the victims of the fire and their family members. In June 2022, the New Orleans City Council formally apologized to the victims of the UpStairs Lounge fire and their loved ones and in August 2022, renewed the search for the remains of four victims who were never found. Council Vice President JP Morrell said, “the city we are today is not the city we were then.”

For the 50th anniversary of the fire, the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana teamed up with the Historic Collection of New Orleans and other city organizations to host a weekend-long ceremony honoring the victims and remembering their legacy. The commemorative weekend for the 50th anniversary of the UpStairs Lounge tragedy included a panel discussions from queer historians, journalists, families and loved ones of victims and survivors, keynote speeches from city officials and more. There was also a Jazz Funeral Parade throughout the French Quarter ending up at the former UpStairs Lounge location.


There is no doubt that the incident was a tragedy and most likely gay on gay crime, but the bigger tragedy was how the city, religious figureheads, the community, and family members responded so disrespectfully and negatively to the loss of lives. It was an honor to experience the weekend, to see how a city and its people have changed over the years for the better and to acknowledge our history and our progress. 

The Gayness

Examining the 1973 coverage of the UpStairs Lounge, you’ll see that New Orleans was a different city than it is now. Attitudes and acceptance of the LGBTQ Community is quite different and much better in the 2000s. Pride in New Orleans is a wonderful event, Southern Decadence (Labor Day weekend) is a hot sweaty fun mess, Mardi Gras of course is uber gay, Halloween is beyond gay, and the Easter Parade is probably even gayer than the Pride Parade.  

The city doesn’t have a true gayborhood neighborhood as the French Quarter itself and the artistic Marigny area seem very accepting. But if you had to point to a certain area of the French Quarter, start off at the intersection of Bourbon and St Ann. In the surrounding blocks, you’ll find bars like Oz, Parade, Café Lefite in Exile, Good Friends, The Golden Lantern, The Silver Fox (former Rawhide), and a little further away, The Phoenix. 

It was great to see that the city is flourishing and that the gay nightlife is still going strong. Yes, New Orleans is a political blue ½ dot in the red boot-shaped state of New Orleans. The democratic governor’s pro-LGBTQ+ vetoes are getting overturned by the republican’ts and you sometimes have to read the room of the very touristy New Orleans before you speak up about politics.


But there’s one place you definitely don’t have to check your politics at the door, or should I say at the gangway, is on a fricken  bottomless mimosa drag brunch riverboat cruise extravaganza.

Drag Brunch River Cruise

Drag Brunch River Cruise – Reviver Events are back!!! We cruise once a month with an additional Southern Decadence weekend cruise in September. Join us for a unique and decadent drag brunch experience. Cruise the Mississippi River and indulge in a delicious brunch buffet (included) while being entertained by New Orleans own drag queens. 

I truly had a great time. Yes, there were about 3 or 5 bachelorette parties, but honestly, this large and well organized space was a good place for them. They/we were all having fun. A mix of straight women, bridal parties, and gay men made up the sailors that day. The drag was entertaining, active, and beautiful. Mixing it up with performances, audience participation, and some chit chat, the pace of the brunch was great. The food was great and was needed to help soak up all of those bottomless mimosas (the staff was beyond wonderful in keeping us happy and “hydrated”).


After departing the Creole Queen riverboat, we started walking back to our hotel, The Virgin New Orleans, but stopped off at the Kimpton where there was yet another drag show in its Peacock Room, just blocks from the river. We of course had to have a couple of drinks there and enjoy the show. Drag was all over the city. Both Oz and Parade bars had their own drag shows, too. I caught one of them and then talked to the performers of the other. It’s great to see drag so alive and well in a southern state.

We also did take in a gay ghost tour. Walking with the Gay Ghosts of Nola hosted by Marcus was fun, met some great people, learned some more tidbits of past and present gay history of the city.

You Gotta Try This


You cannot go to New Orleans without trying something new, and for me, that usually means new restaurants, which most of the time are not “new” as they are usually older than I am.

BrennansFor nearly seven decades, Brennan’s has charmed the palates and hearts of patrons with its splendid ambiance, impeccable service, and authentic Creole cuisine. Masterful dishes like Bananas Foster and Eggs Hussarde are Brennan’s originals, imitated across the globe.

So the place where Bananas Foster and brunch were invented showed us a wonderful dining adventure. The elegance, the care given by the staff, the quality and variety of the food and flavors, the whole experience seemed like a whole day event that was over too soon.

Other places I would recommend follow. All except Brennans and N7 are walkable from The Virgin New Orleans, where I stayed during my NOLA visit. I was very impressed with all of them and would be very content to revisit each one. 


Pluck Wine Bar – very small, intimate, fresh and new with some elevated standard dishes and wine offerings that are cozy on the wallet or a great splurge.

Bar Marilou – Another great spot to just unwind in and enjoy a simple and elegant drinking experience. There’s food present in their website’s gallery, but I’m not sure they are serving at this time.

District All Day Delicious – Come in for their donuts, stay for the food and beverages. The space was vibrant as it seems this whole neighborhood is fresh and inviting. I had the fried chicken sandwich which I will go back and get again.

Brewery Saint X – It was recommended that I try this place out for a beer or three. Walking there and in the same building, passed by the Devil Moon BBQ and was like darn, if only I could have both. Well Saint X serves Devil Moon BBQ! It was a great day.


Juan’s Flying Burrito – You had to pass by this spot every time you took an Uber back to the hotel. I checked it out once for some guac and chips to tide me over before going out to dinner and then once again for one of their Big Bowls (with steak, it was so tasty). I sat at the bar both times and would say yes, check this place out.

N7A little outside the quarter and Marigny, you will be very please with an eclectic dining experience at N7  

Where to Stay

We decided to unpack our bags at the Virgin Hotels New Orleans. A new addition to the Central Business District, the location is great.  As you can see, it’s right in the middle of many dining options (the ones mentioned above), walking distance to the Superdome and even the French Quarter. In the NOLA heat, you may not want to walk anywhere so Ubers to The Quarter, the river, every Uber I took all week was under $10 and arrived at the hotel in literally less than 2 minutes, no kidding!

The rooms were quite an experience. Your space had a central internal hallway to your actual bedroom. The hallway was your closet, the vanity/sink, and had 2 doors off to the water closet and the shower. I loved the red accents that were on brand, drawer space was ample, and I do not think I had a room where the curtains were so successful in blocking out every pixel of light that tried to get in. 


The lobby/lounge area was comfortable and needed as I had a very late flight back home. The roof top deck and pool was also a great alternative for me to stay on property and have a wonderful experience besides in my room.

If you have not been to New Orleans yet, treat yourself. You can try to align your trip with some other function or festival (there’s always something going on) or just go and explore what is always there all the time. It’s a city that offers some great new things as well as solid standards that will keep you coming back any chance you get. New Orleans is a no brainer good time for anyone, but it is a great time for LGBTQ tourists as the queer options are plentiful, out in the open, and fun.  For more information, check out

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