Gay NOLA … The Big Easy, Saints, Voo-Doo, Mardi Gras and Me

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

New Orleans and I have had an interesting relationship for years and it is not always a good one. A feminine (to me) city, she can be very stately and refined with glorious food, white pillared mansions, pale gloved “ladies” and an elegance all her own. Or NOT! No other city in America looks like her, feels like her or tastes like her. Cajun Spiced or as sweet as a warm praline. She can be dark and somewhat scary as is the far end of Bourbon Street at 4 am or bright and cheery with Mississippi River Boats horns, balloons, parasols and small marching bands blaring “When the Saints Come Marching In”. I actually like her in all her moods. Sometimes she is fresh with a cool breeze off the river and other times hot, muggy and suffocating! N’Orlins is a very special place with something for everyone. She is too busy entertaining to worry people’s race, religion or sex life. I have entertained many different kinds of people there and I don’t think anyone has ever had a bad time. Possibly too good of a time since diet is forgotten. I have more than once bailed a guest out of police overnight accommodation. Over the years, I ran into Elizabeth Taylor and man was she short! Kind of chubby too, but what a face! I also met Shirley McLaine in the lobby of my hotel that visit (The Maison DuPuy) and she started me on a passionate, ongoing interest in metaphysics which basically altered my life path. I suppose you could say that New Orleans is where I was “born”. Philly is where I live. But, that’s just me.

New Orleans is also the birthplace of a unique musical culture, the discussion of which could fill volumes. Cooking is an art-form in New Orleans and many of my happiest moments have occurred in this cities fine restaurants. One evening (in town on business) I stumbled into The Bistro at the Maison de Ville for a bite. The Maison de Ville is just awesome! It is the Hotel that Tennessee Williams lived in (cottage #9) when he wrote his New Orleans based masterpiece “A Streetcar Named Desire”. I was feeling very Stanley Kowalski that night and barged into the small crimson colored restaurant only to find I was the only one there. WTF? I had a seat and ordered my customary Famous Grouse. The servers were so friendly and relaxed that we all ended up in the kitchen and the chef started to experiment with us Guinea Pigs. I really don’t recall the end courses as “The Grouse” got me in his grips but the first “experiment” was a variation on seared frois gras and hopefully no one noticed my hard-on. That’s the way Nola can be. Easy, relaxed and full of unexpected treasure. Everything that happens is an occasion to celebrate and make a soiree out of. Taste-bud-orgasms abound!

I don’t believe that a Gayborhood designation is necessary in The Crescent City, but, if it had one, it would be the end (other) of Bourbon Street away from Canal Street. The oldest gay bar in North America is “Club Lafitte in Exile” on that end of Bourbon Street is very hard to miss. The “Bourbon Pub” and “Oz” (right across the street) are in the same area as well as a slew of smaller bars and clubs scattered around the French Quarter throughout the city. In essence, the “Vieux Carre”, the “Quarter” or whatever you want to call it, like New Orleans on the whole is pretty much a happy melting pot of Gay, Straight and several other types of individuals that are difficult to describe. Included in that category are the types of men that I am really attracted to. “Normal”. Some I have met in the bars but most I have met out in the Quarter. Guys get really friendly on Bourbon Street but to be honest that whole screaming “show me your tits” scene is not appealing to me. I have been to Mardi Gras a couple of times and, like New Years Eve it is full of desperate people trying too hard to have a good time. Great times just seem to happen. One can set the stage or get to the right location but the magic develops on its own in its own time in its own way. When you open yourself up to that concept you might be surprised at what can occur. New Orleans does not need New Years or Fat Tuesday to blow you away! But, I digress.

My personal favorite section of New Orleans is the Garden District. Probably home to any gay woman or man not living in the Quarter, the Garden District is a huge antebellum sculpture that people live in. Magnificent Magnolia Trees stand guard and the heady humid air is heavy with the scent of Gardenia and Spanish moss. One of my favorite restaurants in the world is Commanders Palace nestled in the middle. Turquoise and white, a Victorian fantasy and in business since 1880! Every meal is very serious business. Being as interested in staying in shape and staying healthy as the next guy, I am very careful with my fats and calories. I simply surrender here and I very seldom do this. Great cuisine can turn a top into a bottom (so to speak). One sits in elegant historical surroundings and when your carefully crafted platter is carefully placed in front of you, the sight and scent demands surrender. Calories? Fuck-off! (Quick cooking lesson: In NOLA, if something is referred to as “Creole”, that means tomatoes, exotic spices and probably French overtones. It would be from the city proper and where the best would come into Port. “Cajun” is a style of cooking from the country where only salt/pepper and some basic spices were available. Both styles are fabulous!)

As a “weird warning note: There is a dark side to New Orleans but unless you go out of your way to find it, you will have plenty of G and X rated activity to fill your time with. As I suggested in my column about Rio, some “religions” are very real to some people. In some ways New Orleans “Voo Doo” is actually part of the tourist business and Marie Laveau “The Voo Doo Queen” of 1830’s New Orleans grave gets more visitors than Elvis! All I suggest is keep your interest light and simply don’t get involved in anything “unseemly”. New Orleans “Vampires” and there are some, don’t look like Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt!

Accommodations run from quaint and romantic to historic and top-of-the-line-luxurious. I can’t think of one that would not be considered “gay friendly” or would be interested in your sexual preference. Shopping is good but nothing spectacular. A ride up the “Mighty Mississippi” on the Cotton Blossom Paddle Wheeler is pretty corny, but seeing her drift by while you and your “beaux” sit on the riverbank with wine/cheese/bread is pretty special. Dixieland Jazz is not my thing but the best in the world is available all over. Oddly, I find Zydeco more my style and you can seek out small clubs all over the city specializing in this exciting musical movement. You can go from club to club with ease but always remember to get a “go-cup” as walking the streets with a glass or bottle is against the law.

I would not plan to spend more than three nights in New Orleans unless you are planning extensive country/plantation touring. Sticking to your diet is just silly, cocktails are a necessity and not much you can do has not already been done. Just blame it on some old Voo Doo curse. Works every time!

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