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
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!