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Exclusive | Three Gay Days: New Orleans

Exclusive | Three Gay Days: New Orleans

Perhaps North America's most irrepressible city, NOLA is a cultural and culinary jewel in the South's crown.


The Crescent City has a proud past and a cosmopolitan composition that has fueled its post-Katrina perseverance. Founded by Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville in 1718, the city (as well as the rest of the territory of Louisiana) was under Spanish rule from 1763-1801, later becoming part of the United States in 1803. Its resident population claims many ancestries in addition to the Creoles, who were descended from the French and Spanish colonists, and Cajuns, descendants of the Acadians driven from Nova Scotia in 1755. Nowhere is this multi-culti mix more evident than in NOLA's sumptuous cuisine.

The most famous area of town is the French Quarter, bordered by Canal and Rampart Streets, Esplanade, and the Mississippi River. This 100-square-block historic district is home to the city's best shopping, dining, and nightlife, but Faubourg Marigny, the city's first suburb, and the Bywater area serve as welcoming residential enclaves for the local gay community.

The Marigny in particular, where low-key neighborhood gay bars and eateries are nestled amid historic homes popping with brightly colored paint, is worth a twirl-through for queer visitors. Across Canal from the Quarter, the Warehouse/Arts District bustles with new dining and shopping options, a mini-boom aided by the Harrah's hotel/casino complex -- it's more mainstream, but certainly gay-friendly.

Plenty of misinformation has circulated about the landscape of New Orleans since the devastating hurricane hit in 2005. The outlying neighborhoods are still very much in recovery, but the tourist areas are open for business -- and visitors are an integral part of the rebuilding process. Where safety is concerned, use common sense: Don't go staggering around drunk and alone late at night in unpopulated areas, particularly outside the French Quarter and Warehouse/Arts District.

The best time to visit New Orleans is in the spring, when the temperatures are warm but not too warm, and the humidity is low. Many visitors courageously choose the summer months, despite the torrid and humid conditions, to take advantage of the low off-season rates. Dress is cool and casual in the summer, and umbrellas are a must, thanks to frequent afternoon thunderstorms, which help cool things down.

Where to Stay

Don't judge a hotel by its casino lineage. The 26-story Harrah's New Orleans Hotel (228 Poydras St.; 504-533-6000 or 800-HARRAHS; $199+), sits across the street from the gaming action, blissfully blending into the district's historic architecture with tastefully muted colors and regional artwork. Hats off, also, for its efforts to court gay travelers since opening its doors in 2006 in the Central Business District.

The Wyndham-owned Bourbon Orleans Hotel (717 Orleans St.; 504-523-2222 or 800-996-3426; $145+) is the most gay-popular mainstream hotel, crawling distance from the big gay bars and host hotel for several gay events. It's charming, well-kept, and friendly; there are more posh offerings in town, but none with a better location.

For chic boutique showmanship in the heart of the action, the New Orleans-French Quarter (316 Rue Chartres; 504-581-1200 or 877-W-HOTELS; $199+), with its lovely courtyard pool, glowing fire fountain, and contemporary on-site Italian restaurant, Bacco, gets our vote.

The very trendy -- and smoke-free -- International House (221 Camp St.; 504-553-9550 or 800-633-5770; $179+), has 119 funky, comfortable rooms and a cool candlelit bar. The recently renovated penthouses, with their chandeliers and city views, scream Southern decadence. Despite its chic vibe, it's devoid of attitude and worth dropping in for a cocktail just to bask in the contemporary spin on local style.

Budget-minded travelers appreciate The Frenchmen Hotel (417 Frenchmen St.; 504-948-2166 or 800-831-1781; $99+), a 27-room, pet-friendly and gay-popular property near the border of the Quarter and the Marigny with a lovely brick courtyard, small pool, Jacuzzi, and 24-hour concierge. Free continental breakfast included.

Staying at the 10-room, gay-owned Lions Inn (2517 Chartres St.; 504-945-2339; $89+) in the Faubourg-Marigny feels more like bunking with local friends than staying at a B&B. It's set in two historic residences with a lovely pool and hot tub in a tropical back garden, and is an easy stroll from the French Quarter. Complimentary WiFi, bikes, and expanded continental breakfast included.

Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

More New Orleans
New Orleans: Introduction
New Orleans: Where to Stay
New Orleans: Where to Eat
New Orleans: Where to Play

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Joe Okonkwo