NEW OR­LEANS

Diva (UK) - - Wel­come | Con­tents -

The queen of the Amer­i­can South wel­comes queer women

There’s a spe­cial spirit in New Or­leans. Some might feel that it’s the patina of age – a his­tory that many will say is haunted. Maybe it’s the ex­cess – the li­bid­i­nal free­dom that comes from par­ty­ing 24/ 7. Or per­haps it’s just the sense of ease you get from be­ing in the Big Easy – here’s a part of Amer­ica that seems to have been un­touched by the Pu­ri­tan spirt. It’s a place where you can truly be your­self. It cer­tainly helps if you like a well-mixed cock­tail, jazz, colour, noise and heat and hu­mid­ity that can make a Cres­cent City Pil­sner be­fore noon seem like a fine idea. I’m tempted to say that if you don’t like New Or­leans you might not like travel.

This is a city that is con­stantly re­new­ing it­self and yet some­how man­ages to re­main what it is. Not only did New Or­leans bounce back af­ter the dev­as­ta­tion of Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina in 2005 to be­come a big­ger, bet­ter and brighter ver­sion of it­self; there truly is nowhere else like it in the United States. New Or­leans may be in the con­ser­va­tive South but it has a dis­tinc­tive blend of French, African, and Amer­i­can cul­ture – as well as a strong and vis­i­ble LGBT com­mu­nity.

WHERE THE GIRLS ARE

There are many big LGBT cal­en­dar events but the most fa­mous is ar­guably South­ern Deca­dence and while it’s mostly aimed at the guys, there is also Dyke­dence, which is the main women’s event dur­ing South­ern Deca­dence, and within that is the party Fleurt! All year round there are monthly pop-up night­club events for queer women and all gen­der iden­ti­ties or­gan­ised by Chris­tine and Jenna – the ded­i­cated, in­tel­li­gent, friendly and for­ward-think­ing girls be­hind Gr­rlspot.

The Coun­try Club is a hid­den oa­sis for the By­wa­ter com­mu­nity and has a rich his­tory of serv­ing the lo­cal gay com­mu­nity. From the ex­te­rior it looks like a grand old house but in­side you’ll find a pub-like at­mos­phere and ex­cel­lent food and drink ser­vice of­fer­ing such as bloody marys and Cajun fish tacos; mean­while out back is an in-ground re­sort-style pool where you can frolic all day for a mod­est cover charge, plus or­der snacks from an out-

ONE OF AMER­ICA’S MOST DI­VERSE CITIES TURNS ON THE CHARM FOR QUEER WOMEN

WORDS MER­RYN

JOHNS

It’s one thing af­ter an­other in New Or­leans – why fight it?

door BBQ setup. A great place to meet new queer fe­male friends on a hot day.

Les­bians and queer women can be found any­where in New Or­leans if you look in the right places. I was de­lighted to meet Carla Wil­liams, a les­bian bou­tique- owner and woman of colour who had moved from the North­east to New Or­leans to live her dream of own­ing a store for which she could mean­ing­fully cu­rate African Amer­i­can ar­ti­facts, crafts, fine art, gifts, kitsch and col­lectibles. Her store, Ma­te­rial Life, is well worth a visit and goes by the motto of “Live With What You Love”. Dur­ing my visit, in pride of place – aside from the thought­ful and wel­com­ing pres­ence of Wil­liams her­self – was a beau­ti­ful large-scale wall-hang­ing by the cel­e­brated artist Micka­lene Thomas.

WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK

There’s so much to do and you can walk or Uber to all of it. But fuel up with break­fast at gay- owned Vacherie ( vacherier­estau­rant.com). This charm­ing and re­laxed Cajun cafe in­side the quaint Ho­tel St Marie, which is lo­cated in a street with clas­sic New Or­leans wrought iron fa­cades, has a fam­ily feel and the serv­ings are gen­er­ous and homestyle.

Food in New Or­leans isn’t all fried chicken, cat­fish, char­broiled oys­ters or shrimp po’ boys – al­though they’re all de­li­cious! For some­thing on the lighter side have lunch at Mopho, which presents South­east Asian with a New Or­leans twist. Chef Michael Gu­lotta brings Viet­namese and Louisiana cui­sine to­gether in a way which pairs per­fectly with the ar­ti­sanal Asian­in­spired cock­tails. For a clas­sic lo­cal din­ner, Ar­naud’s is a time-hon­oured tra­di­tion that must be tried ( ar­naud­srestau­rant.com). Just off Bour­bon Street in the heart of the French Quar­ter, Ar­naud’s serves up clas­sic Cre­ole cui­sine with old­school ser­vice in turn of the cen­tury, date-wor­thy din­ing rooms. Be­gin or end din­ner at the French75 bar, where you must try the name­sake cock­tail per­fectly pre­pared by ex­perts. We ended our visit to New Or­leans with a sump­tu­ous brunch at the leg­endary, fe­male- owned Com­man­der’s Palace ( com­man­der­spalace.com). This New Or­leans land­mark, op­er­at­ing since 1893, is a spe­cial and cel­e­bra­tory place and is fa­mous for its fine food and its 25c mar­ti­nis! Ti Martin and Lally Bren­nan have nur­tured the venue to be ac­knowl­edged by the James Beard Foun­da­tion as an out­stand­ing restau­rant, while keep­ing it an en­dur­ing favourite with lo­cals, and the place to let the good times roll!

WHERE TO STAY

We made our home base at the el­e­gant Wind­sor Court Ho­tel, which is walk­ing dis­tance to the French Quar­ter and all the ac­tion and mer­ri­ment of Bour­bon Street. The prop­erty pays homage to Euro­pean roy­alty and you can act out your queenly fan­tasies amidst the charm­ing decor, the prod­uct of a $22 mil­lion ren­o­va­tion – not in­clud­ing the art col­lec­tion val­ued at ap­prox­i­mately $10 mil­lion. The spa and pool are there for your con­ve­nience on level four where you can book a mas­sage and get into va­ca­tion mode. At the high floor Club Level en­joy con­ti­nen­tal break­fast and cock­tails at sun­set. Din­ner at the Grill Room presents beau­ti­ful and tasty dishes such as del­i­cate tuna crude and bouncy grilled Gulf shrimp, but re­mem­ber this is a foodie town so be sure to eat out as well. The Lobby Bar serves a per­fect dirty mar­tini and if you’re lucky you can en­joy the beau­ti­ful Robin Barnes, jazz chanteuse ex­traor­di­naire, who has a res­i­dence at the Wind­sor Court.

If you’re a hip­ster at heart you should head to the Ace Ho­tel, a hotspot for lo­cals and vis­i­tors with its rooftop bar, chic lobby lounge, cof­fee and mu­sic venue. The rooms have the dis­tinc­tive style of an artis­tic ware­house apart­ment of an­other decade, and these suites have the swag­ger and self-con­fi­dence of the city it­self. There are six types of rooms to choose from, but it’s the jaw-drop­ping, loft-style Ace Suite that had us want­ing to stay. Book your­self a date night din­ner at Josephine Estelle, a ro­man­tic New Or­leans style os­te­ria with a star­tlingly good wine list and menu fea­tur­ing innovative dishes dreamt up by James Beard-nom­i­nated chefs. Or sup on lo­cal oys­ters ys­ters first at Sea­wor­thy; then again, why not en­joy an al fresco snack on the roof at Alto. Ace Ho­tel has it all, in­clud­ing en­ter­tain­ment, from swing to hip-hop to mu­sic and art se­ries.

WHAT TO SEE AND DO

Get your bear­ings with an in­trigu­ing gay her­itage walk­ing tour of the French Quar­ter. Glenn Devil­lier is like a walk­ing his­tory book – only much more fun – dish­ing fun facts about the city’s queer past, in­clud­ing the pow­er­ful busi­ness­women of early days and the gay artists who lived here, like Ten­nessee Wil­liams, whose clas­sic Amer­i­can play A Street­car Named De­sire im­mor­talises New Or­leans ( glfdev­il­liers.com).

It may sur­prise you to learn that New Or­leans is nat­u­rally abun­dant, with Lake Pontchar­train and Bayou St John pro­vid­ing a refuge for many birds, fish and an­i­mals. No need to hit the gym; take a kayak tour on the bayou and get to see New Or­leans from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. The friendly folks at Kayak- Iti-yat lead groups out dur­ing the way (weather per­mit­ting) for tours be­tween two and four hours. For less stren­u­ous ex­er­cise take a walk through New Or­leans City Park’s 1,300 acres of beau­ti­ful botan­i­cal gar­dens, walk­ing and jog­ging paths, dot­ted with an­cient and ma­jes­tic oak trees. Lo­cated within City Park is the New Or­leans Mu­seum of Art, and the Besthoff Sculp­ture Gar­den show­cases work by sev­eral of the 20th cen­tury’s master sculp­tors. Stop for café au lait and beignets at Morn­ing Call, a re­fresh­ment kiosk lo­cated in the park that has been serv­ing lo­cals since 1870. If you’ve never tried beignets be­fore, this is a good place to try the chewy and ad­dic­tive pas­try treat – it’s like a dough­nut, only bet­ter.

Day or night, live mu­sic is all around you in New Or­leans; it’s on the streets, in the lob­bies of ho­tels, in pubs and night­clubs, as well as churches. But it’s al­ways at the House of Blues, and this venue is one of the best in the chain. But if burlesque is more your scene make sure to catch Whiskey and Rhine­stones, the reg­u­lar show by Bella Blue, the queer dar­ling of the New Or­leans burlesque scene. Bella works with her part­ner Ajay Strong to pro­duce Lgbtq-friendly spec­ta­cles with a va­ri­ety of per­form­ers from their tal­ented troupe.

Tired yet? It’s one thing af­ter an­other in New Or­leans, and it’s al­ways been that way – so why fight it? As the lo­cals like to say, Lais­sez les bon temps roulez!

Let the good times roll: (clock­wise from top left) Fleurt! girls at South­ern Deca­dence; the Ace Ho­tel; Jenna and Chris­tine from Gr­rlspot; world fa­mous Bour­bon St; Fleurt!

Food at Ace Ho­tel New Or­leans - Sea­wor­thy restau­rant

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