NOLA is a city rich in LGBTQ history with a slew of stellar queer-owned restaurants, bars, and activities to explore.
New Orleans is a popular destination known for its mouthwatering food, festivals, parties, and parades. And while many visitors know that the Louisiana city is steeped in history and culture, they may not know that the city’s queer history stretches all the way back to 1724, which was when the first mention of homosexuality in the city was recorded. Since then, queer people have helped build New Orleans into the destination it is today.
Artist Gaston Pontalba designed the cast-ironwork on the Pontalba Buildings in the French Quarter, while gay musicians—like rhythm and blues keyboardist James Booker—left their mark on the city’s singular musical scene. Then there’s Fat Monday Luncheon, the oldest organized activity in all of Louisiana LGBTQ history, started in 1949, and the now closed Steamboat Club, which was the city’s oldest social organization for gay men, founded in 1953. The city is also home to the oldest continually-running gay bar in the United States, Cafe Lafitte in Exile, which is still in operation today.
If you’re looking to explore queer New Orleans, leave time to wander around. Below is a great start for a loose itinerary, but allow yourself to live in the moment and enjoy what finds you.
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Where to Stay
Looking for a place to temporarily call home that also happens to be close to everything? The Burgundy Bed and Breakfast is the place for you. The innkeepers have kept the building, which is a distinctive 1980s double shotgun-style home, in nearly its original condition, as apparent by the louvered shutters, pocket doors, and 12-foot-high ceilings. The B&B has just four guest rooms but plenty of indoor and outdoor communal spaces. Eat a full breakfast, then get out to the French Quarter, which is only a 10-minute walk away. Feeling more like a lazy day in? Enjoy the (clothing optional) spa on-site.
Where to Eat
For a filling breakfast or a midday reprieve, stop by the queer-owned Willa Jean. With drinks ranging from caffeine fixes to elaborate tableside mimosas, you can really choose the direction you want to take your day in. The menu features a huge variety of food and has a whole action dedicated to biscuits. And their hangover bowl filled with cheesy grits, brisket, potatoes, and eggs sounds just like what the doctor ordered after a long weekend spent indulging.
Does your idea of a vacation center around all things food? Dive deep into the world of New Orleans cooking and get your hands dirty at Mardi Gras School of Cooking. The school offers small group cooking classes ranging from creole classics to brunch and even a class on how to make roux-based dishes like shrimp etouffee and bananas foster. Vegetarians have their own class option, featuring gumbo z’herbes, corn maque choux, and pecan praline bread pudding with a salted caramel sauce. The cooking classes have a fabulously jolly vibe and are really easy to follow.
For an unforgettable dinner date that fuses the indigenous ingredients and cultural history of New Orleans with Caribbean flavors, have dinner at Compère Lapin. With James Beard award-winning Chef and Owner Nina Compton at the helm, Compère Lapin serves food that will surprise and delight you. Be sure to try their curried goat with sweet potato gnocchi and buttermilk biscuits, and leave room for dessert that perfectly compliments the flavors and caliber of the meal.
Brennan’s has been around for what seems like forever, and it’s as good as they say it is. Walking into Brennan’s feels a little like entering a time machine. The tables are covered in pressed white tablecloths, and an antique pink color scheme runs a thread throughout the whole place, from the pink upholstered chairs to the pink ties that waiters wear. You’ll find a menu full of traditional favorites like turtle soup and seafood gumbo. Don’t miss the steak tartare which is served on a potato hashbrown. It’s said that tableside bananas foster was invented at the restaurant, so don’t forget to splurge on some dessert. It’s flambeed tableside for an unforgettable experience.
What to Do
Sometimes travel can feel like go-go-go, especially if you’re the detailed itinerary type of traveler. Taking a swamp tour lets you let your hair down, breathe deeply, and really live in the moment. The Grayline swamp and bayou tour offers a pickup in the downtown area, where a comfortable bus takes you to the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park – Barataria Preserve. You’ll have a few moments to use the bathroom, buy a drink, and put on some sunscreen before loading onto the boat. Once out on the water, you’ll see crocodiles and other wildlife while a local guide tells you about the area’s history.
Tubby & Coo’s
If your vacation is missing the perfect book to curl up with, you’re in luck because New Orleans has a queer bookstore you’ll just have to explore. Owned by Candice Huber, Tubby & Coo’s is located in Mid-City and sells booking in the science fiction, fantasy, romance, horror, graphic novels categories, as well as children’s books, queer books, and, for the perfect rainy night, board games!
Queer bars have always been a place for our community to gather, be ourselves, and connect with others, whether for love, protest, friendship, or sex. And New Orleans is full of gay bars that are as unique as the people who enjoy them. The Page NOLA is a laid-back, Black-owned bar serving up copious drinks. If you’re looking for plenty of space to dance and fabulous drag shows, you’ll want to visit Bourbon Pub and Parade or OZ. For late-night food or just to slow the pace down a little, stop by Betty’s Bar & Bistro. Cafe Lafitte in Exile is open all day and all night, and they have a fabulous balcony (which isn’t open 24/7). It’s the oldest continually open bar in the United States. And, GrrlSpot hosts pop-up lesbian dance parties.
Nola Drag Tours
Walking tours are some of the best ways to get to know any city, but New Orleans takes it to the next level with NOLA Drag Tours. Tours are given by Quinn Laroux, a professional drag queen, who dives deep into the history of sex work, burlesque, queerness, and transness and how the city helped shape our communities. Laroux sums it up best, “This tour unapologetically centers the least respectable women and queer people possible for a bottom-up history of the sex in the city-celebrating their agency, creativity, joy, and brilliance in the face of some of the worst conditions you can possibly imagine without shame or judgment.”