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Road to the Altar: A Night in New Orleans 

Road to the Altar: A Night in New Orleans


En route to their engagement party, Kit and John took a detour to explore the gay offerings in New Orleans.

This fall, John and I decided to make a stop in New Orleans on the way to my hometown of Jackson, Mississippi for our engagement party. One of my favorite travel hacks is to compare airfares with nearby destinations and fly in a day early; it’s often considerably cheaper to fly into a neighboring state and take a bus or train the rest of the way, and you can spend the money you save on a hotel and a nice night out.


John had never been to New Orleans before, and I felt a responsibility to show him around. Coming from the south, New Orleans was truly Sin City for me; from my first kiss to my first hangover, the city had made a profound impact on me growing up. I would regularly take the Amtrak train from Jackson to New Orleans to visit my older sister at Tulane. I knew we wouldn’t have enough time to take in all the sights, but we did our best.


Although there are many great luxury hotels in The French Quarter (the Hotel Monteleone being a family favorite, not to mention a favorite of the late Tennessee Williams), we chose to stay at an AirBNB in Tremé to save money—we are planning a wedding, after all. I’d stayed with our host Jordan and her adorable cat in the past, and she gave us a great intro to the neighborhood’s history and culture. Just east of The French Quarter, Tremé is filled with beautiful architecture, with unique homes painted in a vivid array of colors.

We grabbed a late breakfast at Pagoda Cafe on Dorgenois Street, a neighborhood favorite with just the right blend of local flavor and hipster flair. We sat on the sun-drenched deck and enjoyed vegetarian breakfast tacos with “Villa Arcos” sauce and grilled toast with goat cheese, pistachios, chili flakes, and honey.

We hopped in an Uber and an elderly grandmother with a Cajun accent took us to the Decatur, where I began our tour of the quarter with beignets and chicory coffee at Café Dumonde, a fixture of my childhood. Located next to Jackson Square with its famous tarot card readers and psychics, local musicians will often come and perform for the tourists seated on the patio, which is covered in a thin silt of powdered sugar at all times. Make sure you bring cash to tip the performers, and to pay your bill, as Dumonde is cash only.


From there we ventured to The Napoleon House to begin our drinking tour of The Quarter with a famous Pimm’s Cup, which is a gin based aperitif mixed with fresh lemonade, 7 up, and a sliver of cucumber. You can taste the history in everything in this city; The Napoleon House, for example, is in a 200-year-old building where Napoleon was invited to live while he was in exile. Napoleon never made it, but both my grandfather and my father would sit at the bar by the entrance every time they visited the city.

Next, we stopped in Pat O’Brien’s for one of their famous Hurricanes, a mysterious rum punch that packs a serious punch—make sure to pace yourself here. We enjoyed the cheesy dueling pianos for a minute, but decided to take our drinks and go exploring, as it’s legal to drink on the street in New Orleans. Our waitress tipped us off that we could turn in our empty signature glasses for a partial refund.

We walked the length of Bourbon Street, basking in the neon and jazz emanating from every bar. It was a chilly night, so not many revelers were out, but the street still smelled like the oldest dive bar you’ve ever been in. I’m sure you could get drunk from slipping in the gutter.

After grabbing some artichoke and mushroom pizza at Angeli, one of my sister’s favorite places to grab a quick bite after a long night out, we decided to hit the gay bars. First, we visited Cafe Lafitte in Exile, the oldest continually operated gay bar in the United States, which counted Noel Coward and Tennessee Williams among its regulars and still has a solid happy hour after all these years. We then walked over to the corner of St. Anne’s Street and Bourbon to have a whiskey at The Bourbon Street Pub, where I had my first kiss as a teenager (I won’t say how old I was, or how I got in, but I will admit that I was sitting on a trashcan and watching a Natalie Imbruglia music video). We sat on the wraparound deck looking out at the street for a while, and then decided to pop our heads into Oz next door for a quick tour, and ended up making friends with some Floridians on vacation for the week.


One of my favorite things about New Orleans is that it’s a real hub for the LGBT community in the Southeast—growing up, as far as I was concerned, all roads led to New Orleans. Although I have yet to take in Southern Decadence, the south’s answer to the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco, it’s definitely on my bucket list of gay pride destinations.

We ended the night at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, a dimly lit piano bar that has been in business since the 1700s, and was the original home of Cafe Lafitte before their exile a block away in 1953.

The next morning we took Amtrak train to Jackson, a little hungover and very content that we had taken in as much of the city as we could in a day. Running alongside the long bridge across Lake Pontchartrain, I was grateful to have had the chance to share such an important part of my own personal history, and LGBT history, with the man I was preparing to share my future with.


30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff and Wayne Brady

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Kit Williamson