One of the world's great party destinations, it's not exactly shocking that New Orleans - with its liberal attitudes about everything from sexuality to cocktails - is a top destination for gay and lesbian clubbing and bar-hopping. Many of the city's top GLBT hangouts are right in the tourist-centric French Quarter (near popular hotels and gay-friendly B&Bs), with other, smaller neighborhood hangouts mostly downriver a short distance in the Faubourg Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods. But as New Orleans has become more mixed and eclectic in recent years, a number of mostly hetero bars Uptown and elsewhere in the city have developed a somewhat gay following. You'll also find some great cafes and restaurants around the city that act as social hubs for the LGBT community and the city's many gay visitors. Here's an alphabetical guide of the best bars and nightclubs, from gay icons to mixed hipster bars, plus a few of these gay-popular restaurants and cafés, in New Orleans.
The definitive New Orleans gay nightclub, Bourbon Pub and Parade, has been pulsing and thumping since 1974 at the most famous intersection in the city for gay revelers, Bourbon and St. Ann streets. This is really the must-see of Big Easy gay clubs - it's open 24/7, and it has two distinct sections: Bourbon Pub, downstairs, with its central bar; and Parade, the upstairs dance floor with doors opening onto a balcony overlooking the colorful action below as well as fellow revelers on the upper-level balcony across the street, at rival nightclub Oz. Although it's the largest gay club in the city, it's still not an enormous place - nothing in the historic French Quarter is. And that's part of its appeal - it's always packed with gay guys and quite a few lesbians, but it's not so enormous a place that it ever feels overwhelming. Bourbon Pub and Parade always have different themes, depending on the night, such as retro videos on Sundays and show tunes on Wednesday down in Bourbon Pub; and Boys on Parade on Fridays and karaoke on Thursdays upstairs at Parade. The club is 18-and-over (21 to drink, of course), and it never closes.
Named for the swashbuckling Gulf Coast pirate of yore, Cafe Lafitte in Exile has an appropriately rich and raffish history. It claims - quite convincingly - to be the oldest continuous gay bar in the country, and it's been a favorite haunt of all sorts of gay New Orleans characters, from Tennessee Williams to Truman Capote. It's a fixture along the "pink" stretch of Bourbon Street, just a block beyond Oz and Bourbon Pub, and right across from the saucy and sassy diner, Clover Grill. Like some of the other favorites in the neighborhood, it's a two-story space in a historic building, with a lovely wraparound balcony around the exterior of the upper level. It's long had a bit more of a bear-leather vibe than other gay bars in this part of the Quarter, but really the crowd is quite diverse, and seems to have become only more so over the years, especially as plenty of tourists pop in here (even some straight ones) simply to partake of Lafitte's rich history (just down the street is another ancient and historic nightlife landmark, the unrelated Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar, which is mainstream but gay-friendly and also helps make this block a bonafide tourist attraction). On the ground floor at Cafe Lafitte, the bar has some great wallet-busting happy hour drink specials, and there are videos playing, a small dance floor, karaoke on Wednesdays, retro music on Thursdays, and movie night on Mondays. Upstairs, you can shoot pool, play pinball, or grab a breath of fresh air out on the balcony.
Known for its stable of toned and quite spirited strippers as well as its wet underwear contests, the Corner Pocket has had a popular following since it opened back in the '80s. The young-ish dancers strut their stuff on the bar every night, and on weekends there are special events, like Sunday "booty" contests and Friday amateur strip competitions.
The first thing you'll want to know about The Country Club is that it has a heated pool, hot tub, sauna, and cabana bar on the back patio. The pool area is no longer clothing-optional, but it retains its fun, gay-friendly atmosphere. There is a full restaurant menu, including brunch with bottomless mimosas. It's a fun place to gather with friends - gay and straight - especially on warm weekend afternoons.
Cutter's draws plenty of the same gays and allied straight folks who frequent other nearby Faubourg Marigny neighborhood bars, including Big Daddy's, Flora Gallery & Coffee Shop, Mimi's, Feelings Cafe, and Lost Love Lounge. You could make a pretty memorable bar (and noshing) crawl among oddball boites. It's a friendly and totally casual haunt, the sort of place where many of the staff and regulars know one another, and outsiders are warmly welcomed.
A 24-hour fixture in the French Quarter for many years, the Double Play is one of the more colorful gay bars in the city for people-watching, and for attending some wildly dishy and fun drag shows (the "Queens of Dauphine" include some notable belles as Big Momma, Coca Mesa, and Clorox Bleachman). Ostensibly a raffish and cruisey dive bar, the Double Play is a good-time hangout for cheap drinking and carousing and shooting pool. It's also a pretty lively scene well into the wee hours - this place often remains crowded well after sunrise.
The monthly pop-up lesbian and queer bar, GrrlSpot, has the benefit of drawing a different crowd and experience with every venue it sets up in. While New Orleans no longer has a dedicated lesbian bar, GrrlSpot offers a vibrant solution with plenty of options, from neighborhood bars to swanky venues, dance clubs to burlesque shows.
Just a block from the wild all-night partying of the Bourbon Pub and Oz gay clubs, Good Friends Bar has been a landmark GLBT hangout in the Quarter for decades. This friendly corner space with a cozy upstairs section known as Queens Head Pub is a relatively calm alternative to the clubs nearby - a good place to catch your breath, shoot a game of pool, listen to music, watch videos (or sporting events), and chat with locals before you go dancing down the block. The bar itself, cut from dark mahogany, is beautiful, giving this space an inviting vibe. It's popular with guys of all ages, and it also draws a relatively mixed gay/lesbian crowd, and even quite a few straight folks. Queen's Head is a great spot for listening to classic vinyl records on Thursday nights, and it opens to a balcony with nice views of neighboring historic buildings. Tuesday night's karaoke events always draw plenty of talented songbirds.
The only gay hangout in the French Quarter that's along charming and busy Royal Street is the Golden Lantern. Because of its aforementioned central location, this easygoing and friendly neighborhood bar pulls in quite a few out-of-towners (gay and straight); it's also known for its bloody Mary cocktails. Decadent drag shows and many other events are staged regularly.
To be clear, Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop is not a gay bar. But it is one of the most famous watering holes in New Orleans, and it's steps from such iconic gay spots as Cafe Lafitte in Exile, Bourbon Pub, and Oz, and thus draws in quite a few gay guys and lesbians, particular out-of-towners curious to see this fabled bar that's set in circa-1730s building, making it quite possibly the oldest building in the United States currently housing a bar. Supposedly, the colorful privateer and pirate Jean Lafitte and his brother Pierre smuggled contraband out of the building in the late 18th century. These days, you'll find a cozy though often crowded space with a brick fireplace, exposed brick and plaster walls, and lots of character. It's a fun, gay-welcoming stop for a cocktail before moving on to the several gay bars in the area.
The vibrant Mag's 940 offers plenty of reasons to stop in: delicious cocktails, sassy and friendly bartenders, burlesque, drag, live bluegrass, and plenty of colorful character. A staple of the Marigny neighborhood.
For a top-shelf cocktail prepared by a friendly bartender, in a cozy, mixed setting, head to Napoleon's Itch. Be sure to try their excellent mojitos.
Opened in the early '90s in a multi-level space on the same busy (and tres gay) intersection in the French Quarter as Bourbon Pub, Oz New Orleans has long been one of the Big Easy's top gay venues for dancing and partying. Although Bourbon Pub/Parade and Oz are most definitely rivals, the reality is that many - if not most - local and visiting revelers frequent both places, often hopping back and forth between the two. They're at the point on Bourbon Street, at the junction with St. Ann, where all the straight craziness of this thoroughfare's clubs gives way to...gay craziness, so on weekends, it can feel like a giant block party outside. Open 24 hours, Oz has a number of highly popular theme nights: College Tuesdays (1/2 price drinks with student ID), a Thursday-night "strip off", dance parties all weekend, and more. The crowd is typically more male, and quite a lot more cruisey, than at Bourbon Pub/Parade, but otherwise, you'll see a lot of the same dudes working the crowd in both places. If all the action (and those toned dancers and strippers) gets you too warmed up, head outside onto the upstairs balcony, and enjoy the breeze as well as the views of the characters on the street below.
Another New Orleans gay bar that's really two spaces in one, the Phoenix/Eagle New Orleans is a 10- to 15-minute walk from the French Quarter in bustling Faubourg Marigny, a neighborhood that's become increasingly trendy and also popular with the LGBT community over the years. This two-level club has been a neighborhood fixture since 1983, its downstairs area occupied by the Phoenix and catering to a diverse bunch of guys (mostly), from locals to tourists. Leather is a common site in the Phoenix but by no means a requirement, as you'll get a fair mix in here - bears, Levi's, otters, and even a few curious Twinks. It's a relaxing spot, and you can quite easily carry on a conversation in here (and the drinks flow freely and cheaply). Venture upstairs and you'll find yourself in the dark and cruisey Eagle New Orleans, where leather and uniforms are more likely the attire. This action-packed place exudes sexual energy, especially late on weekends. As with many other gay bars in the area, the club is open 24/7; it also never charges a cover, and - this is rare among New Orleans gay bars - there's a good-size free parking lot.
If it's a sexually charged vibe you're after - and you're a fan of leather, bears, uniforms, and kink - look no further than Rawhide 2010, a dark and intimate corner bar in the French Quarter with a decidedly cruisey energy, especially late at night and into the wee morning hours (it's open all night on weekends, and till 5 am weekdays). By day it feels like more of a typical gay neighborhood bar, and no matter when you go, you'll find cheap and strong drinks, a nice team of guys behind the bar, and an unpretentious crowd. Those seeking leather should make a point of attending on a Saturday, for Saturday Night Leather (SNL), when you get happy hour prices for wearing a combination of vest, harness, and chaps. Another must, especially if you're out on the prowl, is the second-Thursday-of-the-month Blackout party. As the Rawhide website points out, you should beware (or perhaps behold) "things that go bump in the dark."
The elegant and amusingly named 700 Club is, by French Quarter standards, a relative newcomer to the gay scene - it's only been around for a few years (while the majority of the GLBT clubs in this neighborhood are at least 20 years old). This may account for why the 700 Club has a slightly more modern and hip ambiance than some of the others in these parts - it's softly lighted, has a sophisticated wine list and tasty bar food, some of the best cocktails in the Quarter, and a totally relaxed but rather dignified air. It's a nice choice for couples or professionals or any others who are seeking a gay hangout where the floors are not sticky from splashed beer. The crowd is mostly gay, with a mix of men and women, but fairly mixed much of the time. This class act is a couple of blocks away from the rowdy and touristy Bourbon Street action, too, making it a nice alternative from the fray.