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Spring 2006 | New Orleans Now

Spring 2006 | New Orleans Now

We asked Out Traveler readers to share their stories and impressions from this year’s Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans. The consensus? Laissez les bons temps rouler! (Let the good times roll!)

On a cold, clear night the Sunday before Fat Tuesday, I stood among thousands of New Orleanians at the edge of the French Quarter and witnessed a miracle. When torchbearers marched around the corner of St. Charles Avenue and led the parade of Bacchus down Canal Street, the suppressed spirit of New Orleans rose up and filled the visible universe. Fantastic floats followed the yellow brick road proceeding with humor and hope toward a new Oz, an emerald city draped in purple and gold. New Orleans is wounded and hurting, but it is alive, still offering refuge to outcasts and kindness to strangers. The birthplace of Capote and the inspiration of Tennessee Williams, the city is the Southern gothic godmother of the gay sensibility. Even though I've never lived there, I feel as though I'm from there, and going there is like going home.
Jackson Jones
Harrell, Ark
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I attended Mardi Gras (my seventh year in a row) with my dear friend Heather. We rode in Orpheus (Harry Connick's parade). The airport was clean, the staff was happy and helpful, and taxis were plentiful and cheap (they lowered prices to a fixed $13 per person into the French Quarter). We stayed at the Astor New Orleans on the corner of Bourbon and Canal. The hotel was rushed through a repair to get ready for Mardi Gras. The room was not in the best shape, as the air conditioner was falling out of the wall, and the hotel did not have Internet access as advertised. All of the gay bars were open and in full swing. Actually, the locals were all in our bars regardless of their sexual preference—I guess they have finally figured out that gay men are more fun than drunken college girls. We enjoyed lunch on Jackson Square at a restaurant named River's Edge, where the executive chef waited on our table. As a result of the storm, they were short-handed. Although it took a few extra minutes to get served, the food was great. You can always tell the success of a restaurant when the locals are in line. We give the city a passing grade and say "go visit!"
Don J.
Atlanta

We attended Mardi Gras this year. We had planned on attending Decadence last year, but Katrina hit a week before and scuttled our plans. We had already paid for our room, and they let us transfer our reservation to Lundi Gras (the monday before Mardi Gras). We arrived and immediately noticed that the Quarter looks the same. We then discovered our room, on Royal Street, had a balcony, a first for us. Coming from Baton Rouge, about an hour north of New Orleans, we have attended many Mardi Gras celebrations. This year's was just as insane as previous years. There were fewer people, but it was still packed. There were folks there from all over the U.S. We met people from Pennsylvania and Ohio. Everyone was very friendly. We went to all the usual places, the Bourbon Street Pub, Good Friends Bar, Cafe Lafitte. I even made a short trip to Rawhide, just to see what it looks like inside. We didn't attend any parades, though we did get beads from other sources. We wanted to make sure to attend the Bourbon Street Awards, an elaborate costume contest next to Oz, the main gay dance bar. The costumes weren't as elaborate as in years past, and there were lots of straight people, but it was loads of fun, and the emcees were great. All in all, the trip was great. Lots of hot boys and friendly people. We left on a slightly bitter note. We took a back road to avoid the traffic on the way out of town. When we hit Carrollton Street, usually teaming with pedestrians and cars, it was empty, like a ghost town. It served as a reminder that the city really is not back to normal at all. There is still a long way to go.
Marc and Bruce
Baton Rouge, La.

I went to Mardi Gras 2006! I spent my first 28 years in New Orleans before moving around the country and finally settling in Chicago. I've been in Chicago for five years. I have gone home for several Mardi Gras but none recently, so 2006 was a must. I wanted to go and support my city and enjoy celebrating something that is as special to our heritage as it is to Louisiana's economy. This year also marked a first: introducing my new partner, Tim, to his first Mardi Gras. I was forced to edit most of the Mardi Gras facts to include "before Katrina we did" or "it's because of Katrina." But Tim already understood, since he never left my side back in August as we watched the city sink under the waters of Lake Pontchartrain. So what did we do in the Big Easy? We started by tossing beads from a balcony on Bourbon and drinking vodka drinks at Oz nightclub. We managed to get the attention of my niece, who was marching down Canal Street in one of the Friday night parades. We hit two more parades on Saturday and danced into the wee hours that night. Then we camped out on St. Charles Avenue for Sunday's heavy parade schedule. We ate homemade Cajun dishes at my father's before doing a little more partying in the Quarter's gay bars. I took Tim to visit with my high school friends, who still go to the same spot that we caught parades at for the last 15 years. We had a blast! Mardi Gras was much like it has been for me in the past. It was a great excuse to have fun, visit with family and friends, and allow all the stresses in life to be forgotten, if only for a few days. Although Mardi Gras 2006 was smaller in size and attendance than previous years' celebrations, it still demonstrated the quintessential New Orleans spirit.
Namon Huddleston
Chicago

Where to begin? My partner and I drove from Little Rock to New Orleans. We have been [to Mardi Gras] for 17 of the last 18 years, so we had a lot to look forward to and a lot to dread. Like everyone else, we have seen the footage and read the horror stories. The best way I can describe our feelings as we drove: It felt like we were on our way to visit a dear friend who had been through a major illness. We knew that our friend had survived the illness, but had no idea what shape we would find him in. Driving in in the daytime, our first sign of damage came at Manchac, La. Several of the Cajun cabins that line the canals were simply blown over. Coming into New Orleans, there was much wind damage evident, but thanks to the walls they have built lining the freeway, not much to see. The first thing you notice are the blue tarps. Seems FEMA has been busy handing out tarps to "temporarily" fix roofs. We stayed at the Hotel Saint Pierre. Of 79 rooms, they only had 30 that were usable, partially due to water damage (leaky roofs) and partially due to no staff (they all used to live in the Ninth Ward). The staff that had returned were living on the property, as the few rentals that are available have doubled in price. The "Nelly Deli," a.k.a. Quartermaster, was open and serving up the po' boys and plate lunches it is famous for, as was the Quarter grocery across from the hotel. Sorry to note that the Quarter Scene Restaurant is gone. Most restaurants are open short shifts, many are cash only, and some had limited menus. La Peniche was open only until 5 p.m. and Petunia's was open only until 3 p.m. On a happy note, Mona Lisa is open (full menu, credit cards) and is now gay-owned and -operated. Many bars are open limited hours. MRB (open 11 a.m.–2 a.m.) was our Bloody Mary stop each morning. Mickey is the daytime bartender and makes perhaps the best Absolut Peppar Bloody Mary anywhere. The Golden Lantern (open 24 hours) is an interesting neighborhood bar that features drag shows at 9 p.m. and 11 p.m. The drinks are good for a fair price, and the drag show is something better experienced than described…although Phyllis Denmark as a plus-size Evita was particularly memorable. Cafe Lafitte in Exile, the Patio Bar upstairs, and FKA the Corral are still there and offer a great view of the show on Bourbon Street. Oz and the Bourbon Street Pub are still doing their usual boom-booming. Good Friends and the Queen's Head Pub are still going strong, as is the Rawhide. Yes, the Rawhide is still everything it ever was. Mardi Gras Day was the street show that it always is (I've got the pictures to prove it!). Blue tarps were the theme—everything from Marie Antoinette, complete with a wig made from blue tarps, to groups wearing hats that resembled roofs with Barbie and Ken dolls attached, marching together while Aretha Franklin's "Rescue Me!" played on their boom box. We found New Orleans changed yet unchanging. It will be some time before it recovers, and it will never be the same, but les bons temps continue. See you at Southern Decadence!
Paul D, via e-mail

Do you have your own New Orleans story to tell? Write to us at letters@outtraveler.com.

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