At 301 Years Old, New Orleans Never Looked So Good

by Joseph Pedro

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday August 15, 2019

New Orleans may reign supreme as the South's go-to party destination, but its history, diversity of cultures, LGBTQ friendliness, and lay-say le bon tom roo-lay attitude keeps visitors coming back year after year to experience all aspects of the Crescent City.

A walk through the French Quarter perfectly captures the city's history as a melting pot. Most of the architecture is uniquely Creole (the term used to denote mixed race, often of Spanish and French origin). Wrap-around balconies made famous for nighttime bead-throwing shenanigans appear much more sophisticated, colorful and whimsical in the day, while the cobblestone streets fill with tourists searching for the best place to grab a traditional culinary treat.

"Voodoo" shops with window-display curios sit below bars bursting with laughter and drink cups tied up in Oleander blooms while peaceful churchyards can host impromptu second lines that weave through Tarot card readers.

New Orleans has always been a city of diversity. Its location as an important port has brought visitors since its founding in 1718 who are both famous historical figures and fictional (Anne Rice's Lestat and partner Louie became fathers and homeowners here). While its history is expansive, the city is consistently updating and changing. As NOLA continues to break tourism records, the Crescent City evolves to accommodate and welcome new people to its shores.

Get Your Bearings
You can take a traditional carriage ride through the French Quarter or book a basic guide, but in a city like New Orleans, you'll want to see the city through a more entertaining lens. Experience neighborhoods on the French Quarter Food and Cocktail Tour where a local takes you for drinks and delicacies while giving culinary nuggets of information about how food can tell the story of this city (and yes, tasty fried dough known as beignets are included).

Those who are more macabre inclined should book the two-hour New Orleans Cemetery History Tour through Haunted History Tours. In addition to gaining access to the city's most famous aboveground cemetery, which has the tomb of the notorious voodoo queen Marie Laveau and a pyramid tomb to one day house the earthly remains of actor Nicholas Cage, it also takes you to various other points of interest throughout the city.

New and Noteworthy
This fall, the city will finally get the airport it deserves, the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport will cut the banner on its $1 billion 972,000-square-foot facility that will contain 35 gates. It will also welcome new direct flights from destinations such as Montreal and Nashville.

The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) officially opened the six-acre expansion of the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden in May. When visiting the free space, journey through the beautifully manicured lawns that feature new sculptures, an outdoor amphitheater and stage, pedestrian bridges and walkways, a new gallery and an outdoor learning environment.

Maison de la Luz is a brand-new boutique experience. Located in the Warehouse District, the property features 67 guest rooms, a library bar, and a curated concierge service. While exploring this up-and-coming neighborhood (also home to the Ace Hotel, the future home of the Virgin Hotels New Orleans, and fun gay bar The Rusty Nail), you can pop in for a cocktail at Bar Marilou, housed in the former City Hall library.

How about a stay in a former Catholic Church and school? It may sound spooky, but the folks at Hotel Peter and Paul have restored and renovated this building into a 71-room city icon. The property boasts four buildings including The School House and The Rectory contain guest rooms in former classrooms that feature European, historic and religious aesthetics in the furnishings; The Rectory houses the five top-tier rooms on the property, plus The Elysian Bar operated by the team at local-favorite, Bacchanal; and The Church, a 9,450-square-foot red brick Catholic church designed by Henry Howard, now repurposed as a speical event venue.

New life has been breathed into an old woodworking shop thanks to Kristen Essig and Michael Stoltzfus of Coquette fame. The new restaurant, Thalia, which just opened its doors, features a small rotating menu that focuses on sustainability and local flavors along with a tasty cocktail menu.

Trendy gay-owned EAT New Orleans is a bright spot in a beautiful home that dishes local food like Gulf shrimp and smoking delicious ribs. Also, it's B.Y.O.B., which makes the entire experience feel like your going to a good friend's house for dinner.

Southern Decadence
The best time to experience the LGBTQ New Orleans community's joie de vivre is during one of the many festivals that take place throughout the year. Southern Decadence has occured each Labor Day Weekend since 1972. The six-day festival continues to grow with estimated 300,000 LGBTQ people and allies descending upon the French Quarter. Grab drinks from the local bars' outdoor stations, mingle with the eclectic locals (including some local queer icons like Bryan Batt, Big Freedia or Jake Shears) and visitors, watch the parade filled with non-stop drum beats and gag-worthy drag, and don't forget to let the good times roll.

Joseph Pedro is a Seattle-based freelance writer. He specializes in world travel, LGBT journalism and fiction writing. Follow along on his adventures on Instagram and Twitter: @joelovesyou.