STORY: (Late 1970s-1980s): In New Orleans, Bourbon Street runs for thirteen narrow blocks, roughly north to south, a straight line, ignoring the bend of the huge Mississippi. This can be deceptive because Uptown looks like its north and yet its west, and if you look to the left towards the River you can see the barges and the ships floating a couple of stories higher than you. Your bearings have already been taken over by the city.
Beginning at Canal Street, Bourbon ends at the tree-lined neutral ground at Esplanade. Some only experience New Orleans from the first blocks with the tourist trap t-shirt shops, the all-night jazz clubs, and restaurants—although the real good ones aren’t even on Bourbon.
This is where you can earn your beads by showing your tits or a man pulling his cock out. Such simple entertainment for a strand of plastic beads and such reward.
But it is much more as you get into the looseness of the city and about 8 blocks down you find yourself among the queers. Beginning at St Ann Street a whole different world of New Orleans rules and the city in its proper southern tradition of stature chooses to look the other way.
They couldn’t be New Orleans society. Except of course for the money it generates. Queers generally have money and in New Orleans it can be quite old queer money. But you couldn’t be queer in Society in New Orleans or at least not in the early 1980s.
It was at night that the lower end of the quarter became the wildest partying going on anywhere. 24 hours. Never closing. And New Orleans society men were always prowling the gay bars at the lower end of Bourbon.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, called the oldest bar in America, is at Bourbon and St Philip Streets in the 900 block of the French Quarter. In the 1950s this was a gay bar. The city didn’t like it and knew a landmark tourist attraction for the buggy rides when they saw it and forced the queers out. Bar raids by the police were common, men who wanted men couldn’t touch in a bar or in public. They would be rounded up and arrested.
So forced out, they moved up one block to 901 Bourbon and made Café Lafitte in Exile and it has been open and in exile and queer ever since.
I worked 9-to-5 at Café Lafitte in Exile as a bartender for $20 a shift for 8 hours off and on for the better part of 5 years in the 80s. 9 pm to 5 am. Morning. When I got off work and went for a drink or happy hour it was 7 am.
Businessmen would come in for a quick drink and a bump of whatever before going to the bank. My vampire life. And the people I met were the most exotic and normal people I’ve ever met. Of the 10 bartenders of the crew I worked with at Café Lafitte then, only 2 of us are left alive. We escaped somehow the annihilation of our generation of gay men. Like a battle no one wanted to see but was raging out of control anyway and with great casualties. A gap. And the memorials to them stitched. And a loss of history, decadence, passion, love and sex. And cocktails and sex. And drugs and sex. And costumes and sex.
The delicious life of waking at 3 pm in the afternoon to go to work and being called the Warren Beatty of Bourbon Street. Sneaking out the back door of the bar over bags of garbage; cause I’d made too many dates not thinking they’d all show up and they did—at 5 am.
Walking down Bourbon to the first rays of light turning the sky that incandescent blue bayou color. Of men who wanted men passionately even for moments on a balcony or in the back. To be flirted with and tipped and to party and live. To be who we were. Outlaws. And to know the French Quarter as my living room.
These are Quarter Stories.