Originally published in the December 2009/January 2010 issue of Out.
Through hell and (quite literally) high water the nearly 300-year-old city has managed to remain faithful to its complex homegrown identity in a way no other major American city has -- a testament to both the hardy soul of the community and the enthusiastic efforts of outsiders who have reinvested and rebuilt much of the Big Easy.
The cross-section of cultural influences here -- French, Cajun, Creole, Latin American -- has created a unique culture that values music, food, drink, and richness of soul above money or material gain. And unlike the rest of the South, uninhibited sexuality has always been a mainstay, well before Truman Capote arrived. A steady influx of creative northerners drawn to the city?s vitality have made it a hotbed of new boutiques, art galleries, funky restaurants, and caf?s?but it?s the live music that unifies the community.
With bars open 24 hours a day, and a laissez-faire approach to open containers -- try wandering under the lush foliage of Uptown or between the boho-hipster axis of the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods with a Hurricane or Abita beer in hand -- the entire city feels like one big progressive party.
This sprawling backyard in the Bywater area offers a bohemian atmosphere, fantastic jam sessions, and a small but superb wine list.
600 Poland Ave.
The most authentic Uptown live music venue -- dark, sweaty, and grimy. Tuesdays the Rebirth Brass Band rocks the house.
8316 Oak St.
One of the best-stocked bars in the country with some of the boldest bartenders, this is the spot for serious craft cocktails.
4905 Freret St.
A hipster hangout for relaxed drinking and a meet-up spot between live music stops.
1431 Royal St.
The Fruit Loop
Most gay bars in New Orleans inhabit this small section of the French Quarter around the intersection of Bourbon Street and St. Ann. Caf? Lafitte in Exile (901 Bourbon St.; (504) 522-8397), the oldest gay bar in the country demonstrates how to get down late at night. Corner Pocket (940 St. Louis St.; (504) 568-9829) offers cheerful twink go-go boys who work hard for the money and drag queens, and the dimly lit leather bar Rawhide (740 Burgundy St.; (504) 525-8106) gets grabby early and stays grabby late.
This clothing-optional swim club and bar underwent a significant remodel post-Katrina. Monday service-industry days are particularly young, but bears, daddies, jocks, regular joes, and everything in between lounge in various states of undress all week.
634 Louisa St.
This 100-year-old house next to a train track in the Bywater serves intensely savory hangover-busting food in a laid-back atmosphere.
601 Gallier St.; (504) 944-9272
A recent reno transformed the International from shabby to Euro-chic, and very gay friendly to boot?they won?t bat an eye here if you saunter in wearing your Southern Decadence leather best.
221 Camp St.