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EXCLUSIVE | New Orleans for Pre-Halloween Festivities: A Daily Report

EXCLUSIVE | New Orleans for Pre-Halloween Festivities: A Daily Report

Our very own travel editor and his partner visit New Orleans during the gay high holiday of the weekend before Halloween. Here's his report!

Day 3, Sunday, October 28, 2007
This is our third and final day in New Orleans revisiting old haunts while the city itself prepares for a new set of haunts as thousands arrive to celebrate Halloween.

This metropolis of old cemeteries, mysterious alleyways and a hint of voodoo is the perfect place to enjoy a little pre-Halloween mischief. As Robb and I discovered last night, though, the looky-loos outnumbered costumed revelers. Some of the costumes were good (there was a guy dressed as an erect penis bursting out of a pair o pants!) but mostly they were just OK. The winners of one contest we witnessed was a Hugh Hefner and four rather tired looking bunnies. This, and the fact that they canceled Halloween in San Francisco. What's happening to our high holy holiday?!

Besides walking around the French Quarter absorbing the Halloween vibe, we enjoyed our best meal of the weekend at Muriel's Jackson Square (www.muriels.com), which offered that all-too-rare trifecta I love finding in restaurants: good food, good service and good atmosphere.

We also shopped along Magazine Street, a six-plus-mile long route with a clusters of commercial businesses all along the way. The area we most enjoyed was around the 3200 block: Lots of unique boutiques, coffeehouses and a few cool chain stores like American Apparel.

Day 2, Saturday, October 27, 2007
Old New Orleans
New Orleanians are justifiably proud of their traditions and heritage reflected in their music (jazz is the only indigenous American art form), architecture and culinary history.

We were invited this morning to Brennan's (www.brennansneworleans.com) located in the heart of the old quarter. It's here that Banana's Foster was invented decades ago. It emphasizes sauces (one breakfast dish includes both Hollandaise sauce and Marchand aux vins) and paired French wines.

The star of the show, however, is Bonnie Warren who handles public relations for the restaurant. The gracious lady regales visitors with rich stories that meander along compellingly from topic to topic.

We have been invited to the Bourbon Pub and Parade (www.bourbonpub.com) to see a live show with Shirley Q. Liquor later today. Sounds very New Orleans!

Day 1, Friday, October 26, 2007
After 'the storm'
No one in New Orleans refers to the horrific hurricane that occurred two years ago by its proper name, Katrina. Here it's 'the storm.'

The main theme that people in the hospitality industry want you to know is that New Orleans is very much open for business and very much wants yours. Gay or straight your dollars are more than welcome. They are absolutely necessary for the recovery of this amazing but fragile city.

Most people who haven't been here since the storm may have an image in mind of a city completed devastated by the destructive force of one of the worst natural disasters of our time. Sure, there are signs of that terrible storm's awful force, but the real story is how much the business community bounced back since then. And they are eager to demonstrate their legendary service.

Robb, my partner in travels and life (and fellow blogger) and I arrived at 6 p.m. local time and were quickly whisked to Galatoire's (www.galatoires.com), a local landmark that has been serving up New Orlean's specialties for over a century.

The waiters must love working here. Our waitress described herself as one of the newbies. She's 'only' been here for 12 years. The longest-serving waiter (not the oldest) started employment here in 1960. The oldest is 87! No one retires here, she said, because it's some sort of curse where those who do, die right after. So, they work till they die. (Not sure which is better, but hey, that's just me.)

Our very first impression of the city was not that favorable. We were walking down the main party street in the Vieux Carre (old quarter). Here you'll find mostly straight-oriented booze emporiums where folks can walk from bar to bar with their to-go glasses filled to the brim with daiquiris, margaritas and other potent libations.

As we were scooting to the restaurant some brave guy yells homos at us from the anonymity of a balcony over Bourbon Street. Great! The locals are 'laissez faire.' I'd wager that was some yahoo from a non-blue state.

Whenever I visit here (and this is probably my 5th or 6th time) I remark how much this does remind me of France. It's not just a story for the tourists. New Orleans has more than a certain je ne sais quoi of France in its architecture, street layout, in its love of good food and wine and the way people enjoy each other's company and spend time visiting with one another. Very old country.

The small group of us -- several journalists and a few locals -- were discussing life after the storm. Among the many heart-wrenching anecdotes, they described a phenomenon involving refrigerators. You'd never think of refrigerators as being cultural markers but in the wake of the storm as folks straggled back to pick up the pieces of their devastated lives, most people tossed out their fridges which became super large petri dishes of disgusting, nearly impossible-to-clean grossness.

So there were thousands of discarded refrigerators lining the streets of the city for a very long time. Folks then had to buy replcement refrigerators, so the streets were then lined with cardboard boxes. A short time later during the first Halloween celebration after the storm, many locals cleverly used these boxes as their costume. I think this says something about the resilient spirit of the Crescent City.

Robb pipes in
When we think of New Orleans the images that flash through our minds are not those of the city prior to Katrina, but of the faces of devastation from the storm.

I feel that it's time to turn a page. The media portrayed the horrific situation in the city in terms of an entire class of citizens abandoned by their government.

We as journalists have been and will be partly responsible for the rebirth of New Orleans and the lives of those who call her home.

To get down to it, why does someone choose to visit New Orleans instead of any other city in this country? The lax public drinking laws, the possibility of being a repeat offender or contributing to the repeat offenses of a public exhibitionist? And of all weekends, why Halloween? The opportunity to wear that mask of anonymity.
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