“An American has not seen the United States until he has seen Mardi Gras in New Orleans.” Mark Twain could have added that no gay man has seen New Orleans until he’s seen Southern Decadence.
"Southern" and "decadence," two words that summarize the Big Easy quite nicely. When A Streetcar Named Desire's Blanche duBois, trying to preserve the shards of her faded elegance, called the cathedral bells the only decent thing in the French Quarter, she wasn't far wrong.
In a sense, the whole city is Blanche write large. "The city that care forgot" is a phantasmagoria of the many nations who have passed through here. From the mossy tree-shaded mansions of the Garden District to the ancient townhouses of the French Quarter; the stately elegance of the most exclusive krewes that parade on Mardi Gras to raucous jazz funerals, New Orleans is a bundle of contradiction. It's easy to see why this is America's most famous city.
After the Native Americans who fished amid the bayous flowing in from the Gulf of Mexico, the French arrived and left an indelible mark on culture, cuisine and language. Next came the Spanish and their Caribbean slaves. Next came British loyalists fleeing the new republic, then the settlers and businessmen. They each added their own spices to the gumbo of a true melting-pot city.
As the port that governed the might Mississippi River, the city thrived. Cotton warehouses dominated the riverfront. Even the Civil War and periodic yellow fever outbreaks couldn't keep the city down. It took Hurricane Katrina 150 years later to bring the city to its knees.
Or so it seemed. But this city is nothing if not resilient, and the New Orleans that has arisen from the disaster appears to be in better shape than ever.
There's a lot to see and do here, but sometimes the best way to see the city is to do ... nothing. Linger over your chicory coffee and beignets, a donut with a French accent, outside Café du Monde. Or grab a drink in a go-cup and flight from bar to bar. Above all, eat. New Orleans may well be the only American city where you really have to go out of your way not to have a fabulous meal.
For gay men, New Orleans holds a special place in our hearts. The city wasn't always so welcoming to our kind, but it's worth noting that it was also one of the first to find acceptance. In the '60s, a crusading district attorney named Harry Connick (yes, father to the ultra-hot crooner) pledged to respect the gay community long before politicians in San Francisco, New York, or anywhere else.
Gay men have long been flocking to this garden of earthly delights, and our contribution to the city's culture is as great as any other group's. For starters, there's drag, which was always a respected form of entertainment. Many gay men still make the French Quarter home, but the "official" gayborhood is just beyond its borders, in the Faubourg Marigny.