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.
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 - about $33 fare. Other options include Jefferson Transit public buses for $2, and Airport Shuttle service for $20. Look for the info desks within the airport. Destinations include all key downtown zones, including the French Quarter.
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.
What's the best way to see the city? Your own two feet, of course. Especially since this is a city made for walking. 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. But if you want to venture a bit farther, we recommend public transit. The streetcars are both fun and useful. A three-day VisiTour pass for $12 will allow unlimited rides on streetcars and buses. Your hotel will know the nearest vendor. See RTA for information. A rental car is probably not worth the bother as navigating the streets and finding parking can be a hassle - and the meter maids are extremely vigilant here!
And be sure to 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.
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.
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. However, A Streetcar Line Named Desire doesn't make for 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, and there are $5 unlimited travel day passes too.
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
Theater & museums
Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carre 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 is dedicated to the history, religion and art of Voodoo.
Amidst the wanton pleasures of this city, don't let down your guard. A few basic, simple precautions go a long way to safeguard both valuables and personal safety as you let down your hair.
Resources & information
Gay media and resources
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 check out the websites GayNewOrleans and New Orleans Fruit Loop.
See Gay Mardi Gras for info on a most outrageous gay and lesbian New Orleans event, second only to the annual Southern Decadence each Labor Day weekend. Gay Halloween is another big day on the calender, in late October.
For locations and website links to businesses listed below, see our New Orleans gay map & listings pages.
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 historic town house and slave quarters, centrally located digs with all creature comforts and a pleasant courtyard.
Burgundy B&B (2513 Burgundy St), Eastlake-style shotgun double, fireplaces, hardwood floors, 12-ft ceilings, 4 guest rooms, private baths, courtyard, spa, porches, dining room.
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."
Green House Inn (1212 Magazine St), in lower Garden District, close to convention center, quieter gay retreat away from the all-night partying.
Also in the Garden district, the Henry Howard House (2041 Prytania St) is gay operated, and gay friendly, with 17 rooms, each with private bath. Private courtyards and balconies, free wi-fi, and complimentary breakfast are also features of this 1850's Mansion guesthouse.
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.
See our map & listings tab for locations, phones and weblinks to the above, plus 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, and most are 21-plus only. Those 18 and over can enter Bourbon Pub / Parade, as well as the two bathhouses.
The Faubourg Marigny is a neighboring district. Get there from the Quarter by going up Chartres, and get back on Royal.
700 Club (700 Burgundy), locals' favorite at corner of St Peter, casual video lounge, excellent drinks and good conversation, noon to whenever. Opened by longtime local bartender they've earned the loyalty they inspire.
Allways Lounge (2240 St Claude Ave, Marigny) at Marigny Theatre, pure New Orleans, eclectic mix of live music the likes of Blackbird Raum, video curiosities; performances range from one (wo)man readings to belly dancing.
Big Daddy's (2513 Royal, Martigny), neighborhood bar, live entertainment on alternate Fridays, 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), Mardi Gras ground zero, video bar, internet access, drink specials, burlesque, cabaret, and contests of all kinds. Thursday midnight Student Body Contest cash prizes. Upstairs Parade disco, Sunday Tea Dances from 5 to 10pm, free draft beer.
Cafe Lafitte in Exile (901 Bourbon St), since 1952, open always, balcony bar, 25-plus crowd, pool table, game machines, plasma-screen videos, daily happy hours. Carnival days gay corner gets entertaining as guys display themselves for beads flung from balconies.
Corner Pocket (940 St. Louis), a bit of Montreal in the French Quarter? Barely dressed dancers atop bar after 9pm nightly, Friday New Meat amateur strip contests for cash prizes. Pot Luck Burlesque shows each month.
Country Club (634 Louisa), huge 1890 Italianate plantation house, east of the Quarter, indoor/outdoor bars, year-round heated, clothing-optional pool, hot tub, massage, spa services; movies and videos on 12 foot screen; sandwiches, pizza, full dinners, brunch.
Cutter's (706 Franklin Ave), neighborhood bar known for bears, big buffets, sports event specials, live talent shows, monthly art exhibits.
Double Play (439 Dauphine) "where locals drink," impressive complimentary buffets on special days, bouyant mix of folk most every night.
The Friendly Bar (2301 Chartres), popular neighborhood bar in the Marigny, pool games, specials, live entertainment alternate Fridays.
Golden Lantern (1239 Royal), drinkers' bar where the Southern Decadence Parade begins each Sunday before Labor Day. Videos on flat screens, gambling machines for touch of Vegas, well-loved bartenders.
Good Friends (740 Dauphine), swell happy hours, festive Sunday piano sing-alongs. Home to Mardi Gras' Barkus Krewe, famous for "Separator" a milk-based libation.
John Paul's Bar (940 Elysian Fields Ave, Marigny), men's turf, daily from noon, Mardi Gras Krewe royalty and guests from neighboring B&B for weekend shows.
Michaels on the Park (834 N Rampart St), neighborhood bar, only patio in the French Quarter, jukebox, pool games, slot machines, drag shows.
Napoleon's Itch (734 Bourbon St), smoke-free upscale lounge, karoake, holiday costume contests, hot male dancers.
Ninth Circle (700 N Rampart St), regular local guys, good times, music, 5am drag shows, open 24-hours on weekend.
Oz (800 Bourbon St) show and dance club, Mardi Gras Central when beads get tossed to show-offs below the balcony. Fun all year with hot crowds, weekend strippers, amateur strip-offs, periodic guest-star appearances.
Phoenix (941 Elysian Fields Ave), short walk from the Quarter, leather /fetish bar, Lords of Leather, New Orleans Bears, never closes. Two levels, back courtyard. Upstairs Eagle is a touch-and-feel cruise bar.
Rawhide 2010 (740 Burgundy), rated among top 10 US leather bars, dark interiors smolder with earthy passions and intoxicating air. Pool games, video poker, frequent events, locals and tourists.
Roundup (819 Louis), country & western bar, lively mix of "bad boys" and drag locals who like their drinks night and day.
Bars & clubs, outlying
Club Fusions (2004 AP Tureaud Av), Mid-City 18+ hip hop urban dance club, mostly male crowd, Monday night Fusion Fantasies drag shows.
Club Tribute (3202 N Arnoult Rd, Metairie) dance club, area's biggest nightspot for lesbians, open Wednesday through Saturdays.
New Orleans is a grand gastronomic opera that will leave your taste buds singing a full-throated aria.
Bennachin Restaurant (1212 Royal), sample 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.
Cafe du Monde (1039 Decatur), original coffee stand, since 1862, distinctive local coffee laced with chicory to wash down beignets (French donuts). Open every day but Christmas.
In Bywater district, Country Club (634 Louisa), mid-priced restaurant, crawfish dirty rice cakes, bacon-wrapped rabbit terrines, flatbread pizzas and other local treats. Part of a laid-back gay bar and pool complex.
Croissant d'Or (617 Ursuline), simple but elegant back street locale to meet a date or kick back with a newspaper, delicious fruit, almond, or chocolat croissants, beignets, quiches, and coffee Parisian style.
La Peniche (1940 Dauphine), 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), Italian favorites, pizza, pasta, calzones, appetizers and wraps; also bottled beers of many nations and micro-breweries, flavored teas, various cream sodas.
Moon Wok (800 Dauphine), Chinese and Vietnamese takeout or dine-in, good prices, "big assed" drinks.
Mona Lisa Cafe (1212 Royal), big portions of homemade pizza, pasta, sandwiches, salads; decent wine list, beer and byob.
A block from the Quarter, Praline Connection (542 Frenchman), "no-nonsense cajun-creole soul cuisine," spiffy waiters in bowler hats. New Orleans pralines made fresh daily, old fashioned style, spoon dipped by hand.
Eateries with around-the-clock service and delivery include:
Clover Grill (900 Bourbon St), '50s-style diner to satisfy cravings for burgers, waffles, or omelets in camp milieu; breakfast specials 5-11am.
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.
See our map and listings tab for locations and links for the above bars and restaurants, and more options.
Saunas & playgrounds
Club New Orleans (515 Toulouse St, French Quarter), on five levels, top-notch full-service steam and sauna facilities from the largest US bathhouse chain; exercise, relaxation and sex for men 24 hours a day. Improved front and rear access between floors, sundeck overlooking the Mississippi River, renovated upstairs "romper room."
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.