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9 decadent ways to experience queer New Orleans

Marcus Shacknow, Walking with the Gay Ghosts of New Orleans
Marcus Shacknow, Walking with the Gay Ghosts of New Orleans. Photo by Matthew Wexler for GayCities.

Sometimes, the best vacation is when you need another vacation after getting home. Sure, you could opt for a spa getaway or an all-inclusive cruise if you really need a recharge. But occasionally, a full-throttle weekend in a city packed with restaurants, nightlife, and culture is exactly the kind of jolt we need. Enter New Orleans. 

For over 40 years, gays have descended on New Orleans for Southern Decadence, the Labor Day weekend romp packed with revelry. The Most Haunted City in America also kicks into high gear over Halloween, when locals and travelers take to the streets. And then there’s Mardi Gras, where famous bars Oz and Bourbon Pub Parade overflow with bead-wearing boys and their entourage. 

New Orleans thrives any time of year. If you’re looking for a smart splurge, consider traveling during summer, when the temperatures soar but prices drop. GayCities canvassed the city for our favorite finds — some are New Orleans classics, while others are newer arrivals worth adding to your itinerary. 

Toss your napkin

Cafe Lafitte in Exile napkin toss
Café Lafitte in Exile napkin toss. Film still by Matthew Wexler for GayCities.

The oldest continually operating gay bar in the country, Café Lafitte in Exile is a must-stop on a queer visit to New Orleans. Gay icons Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams frequented the bar during their heyday, and the two-floor venue still thrives, with the balcony offering great people-watching on Bourbon Street. The Sunday night napkin toss around 9 p.m. (Tip: listen for “Love is in the Air”) draws a massive crowd to celebrate the queer community. 

Get spooked

New Orleans cemetery
New Orleans is known as the most haunted city in America. Photo: Shutterstock.

A visit to New Orleans isn’t complete without a haunted look at the past, and there’s nobody better qualified to hit the historic streets than guide Marcus Shacknow. His Walking with the Gay Ghosts of New Orleans includes tall tales and reflections on the city’s tumultuous queer past.

Find a pool, take a dip

The rooftop pool at Virgin Hotels New Orleans
The rooftop pool at Virgin Hotels New Orleans. Photo courtesy of Virgin Hotels.

Louisiana can get super steamy, but there are plenty of New Orleans hotels with pools for a quick dip. Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Hotels opened a NOLA outpost in 2021, featuring a rooftop pool and design-centric public spaces for Insta moments. Expect lots of patterns, colors, and artwork to dazzle the eye. Located in the Warehouse District, the property’s rooms and suites feature custom furnishings, unique layouts, and many with city views.

Cast a spell

The alter at Hex, New Orleans
The alter at Hex, New Orleans. Photo by Matthew Wexler for GayCities.

Discover everything you need to create a potion, build an altar, or explore other forms of magical arts at Hex. This LGBTQ+-friendly retailer stocks everything from potions and spell candles to divination tools like tarot decks and crystal balls — be careful what you wish for! 

Carb load

Bacon and egg sandwich on a biscuit at Willa Jean, New Orleans.
Bacon and egg sandwich on a biscuit at Willa Jean, New Orleans. Photo by Matthew Wexler for GayCities.

With so many fantastic neighborhoods to explore by foot, you’ll want to charge your day with a hearty meal. Head to LGBTQ+-owned Willa Jean for breakfast, where you can indulge in flaky biscuits, pastrami-smoked salmon, fried chicken sandwiches, or a hearty hangover bowl (braised shortribs and eggs over cheesy grits). 

Feel the rhythm

Congo Square drum circle, New Orleans
Congo Square Drum Circle, New Orleans. Photo by Matthew Wexler for GayCities.

Congo Square in Armstrong Park has been a community gathering place for centuries, first populated by indigenous members of the United Houma Nation, then by enslaved Africans during the mid-18th century. The Sunday afternoon drum circle was revived several decades ago and has become vital to New Orleans’ living history. 

Courtyard cocktails

A cocktail at Cane and Table
Cane & Table. Photo by Matthew Wexler for GayCities.

Take a step off busy Decatur Street and discover a Caribbean-inspired gem with a rum-centric cocktail menu. LGBTQ+-friendly Cane & Table’s rear courtyard offers respite from the revelry, with beverages to quench your thirst on a scorching afternoon. Try an Old Cuban prepared with Mexican rum, mint, citrus, and sparkling wine, and if you happen to arrive during brunch, don’t miss the spicy Bloody Mary loaded with chowchow, a Southern staple of pickled vegetables. 

Jazz hot

Doreen Ketchens performing on Royal Street in the French Quarter.
Doreen Ketchens performing on Royal Street in the French Quarter. Photo by Matthew Wexler for GayCities.

You’ll find live music around every corner in New Orleans and can easily spend a hefty chunk of change on cover charges for prime seating. (Tip House Of Blues offers VIP upgrades, including premium seating, personalized service, and top-shelf spirits.) But street performers can be equally impressive, such as the legendary Doreen Ketchens, whose prowess on the clarinet will stop a crowd in its tracks. Her band can typically be found on Royal Street, Fridays through Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Grab some beignets from Cafe du Monde, grab a spot on the curb, and settle in for a set. 

Take command

Commander's Palace
Commander’s Palace. Photo courtesy of Commander’s Palace

New Orleans is known for its culinary accolades, landing 12 restaurants and chefs (or duos) on the 2023 James Beard Awards longlist. But sometimes, slow and steady wins the race. Commander’s Palace dates back to 1893 and features historical recipes that pay homage to the region’s Creole cuisine. The striped “Commander’s Blue” awning welcomes visitors to its maze of corridors, staircases, and dining rooms, with many requesting the famous Garden Room. (Imagine eating with Sophia, Dorothy, Blanche, and Rose, and you have a pretty good idea of the setting.) Staff flutter about, filling water glasses and pouring turtle soup tableside, while a jazz trio roams about, taking requests. From pecan-crusted Gulf fish and double-cut pork chops to Creole bread pudding soufflé, the hefty portions speak volumes to the city’s celebration of excess, and it feels so good to be bad. 

New Orleans resource guide

Popular

New Orleans

Southern Decadence and more

Cafe Lafitte in Exile

Oldest gay bar in the US 901 Bourbon St · New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 522-8397
Website

Virgin Hotels New Orleans

Sir Richard Branson’s design-centric digs in the Warehouse District 550 Baronne St · New Orleans, LA 70113
(504) 603-8000
Website

Hex

A one-stop shop for all of your metaphysical needs 1219 Decatur St · New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 613-0558
Website

Willa Jean

Chic southern fare 611 O’Keefe Ave · New Orleans, LA 70113
(504) 509-7334
Website

Cane & Table

Old Havana meets New Orleans 1113 Decatur St · New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 581-1112
Website

Commander’s Palace

Why eat, when you can dine? 1403 Washington Ave · New Orleans, LA 70130
(504) 899-8221
Website

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