Gay New Orleans – Your Local Gay Travel Guide to the Big Easy
Mardi Gras is undoubtedly the highlight of the social calendar in New Orleans—and that's saying something given the list of gay festivals and events is quite long and impressive! Consisting of over forty parades and numerous balls planned by over 70 Krewes or social organizations (10 of which are gay!), the Mardi Gras parade season lasts from early January through Mardi Gras itself or Fat Tuesday in mid-February or early March depending on the Church calendar. Tradition has it that a fatted calf is slaughtered just before lent. It's a super fun time to experience all that New Orleans has to offer as well as party with fellow travelers and friendly locals alike! For a behind-the-scenes look at how artists and architects build the over-the-top Mardi Gras floats each year, there is a giant warehouse you can visit with self-guided tours and a free shuttle. For more information and tickets, click here. This tour is also how I learned about the traditional king cake at Mardi Gras and why there is a miniature plastic baby in it? The person who gets that slice of cake is known as the king but also has to bring the king cake to the next event. Clever!
Overview – Gay New Orleans is one of my absolute favorite cities! I’ve been coming here for over twenty years since my very first Southern Decadence for a gay party weekend with friends back in college, so I know a thing or two about the best gay bars, restaurants, and the best things to see and do in the Big Easy.
I’ve also been investing in this incredible city for over a decade, so if you are moving to New Orleans, then I can definitely connect you with my amazing gay realtor. Along with his husband, they are former Grand Marshals of the Gay Easter Parade and Southern Decadence and both look amazing in drag! Needless to say, they are both super fun! We met at the Golden Lantern, the official home of Southern Decadence, many years ago.
Top 10 Things To Do in New Orleans
Bar hop on Bourbon Street -Of course, no trip to New Orleans is complete without a bar crawl down Bourbon Street. It’s an open container district (OCD), so don’t hesitate to grab a ‘go cup’ if needed. See below for the best gay bars in New Orleans and our favorites!
Join a cemetery tour -Guided tours are now required to see some of the most famous graves in the United States, including the voodoo queen herself, Marie Laveau. To place your own small gift at her tomb, buy a ticket to tour St. Louis No. 1, the most popular in the city.
Marvel at Saint Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square -Enjoying a stroll through this artsy square and snapping photos by the fountain in front of this New Orleans landmark is a must. It’s also the oldest cathedral in continuous use in the United States.
Taste the world famous beignets -Cafe Du Monde is the classic and most popular spot to enjoy these New Orleans staples. For an alternative, or if the line is too long at Cafe Du Monde, we love Cafe Beignet on Royal Street. Why not pair your beignet with a cup of local chicory coffee?
Take a walk down Royal Street -For iconic New Orleans architecture, fascinating art galleries and antique stores, and local shops and restaurants, don’t miss Royal Street, our favorite street in the Quarter. In the afternoon and evening, you will also find amazing street musicians.
Ride the historic street cars -Hop on one of these beauties and head over to the Garden District, the second most popular neighborhood in New Orleans. It’s a nice break from the French Quarter to meander down Magazine Street or have a cocktail at The Chloe.
Sit and spin at Carousel Bar -After a full day exploring New Orleans, refresh yourself with a classic Pimm's Cup at Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar! It’s the city’s only revolving bar, making a compete circle every 15-minutes. It's so glam, Liberace even performed here back in his day!
Have a drink at the oldest continuously operating bar in the United States -Opening its doors all the way back in 1700s, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Piano Bar is the oldest continuously operating bar in the United States. It's also home to a lively piano bar in the evenings.
Recover from a fun night at The Country Club -After an epic night at the best gay bars in New Orleans, head over to The Country Club, a local favorite in the Bywater, for a swim or Drag Brunch. They have an amazing pool here which is super fun in the summer!
Listen to local Jazz in its birthplace -To end your trip on a high note, head to Bourbon and Frenchman Streets where you will find the city's best jazz clubs. Famous musicians from Louis Armstrong to Harry Connick Jr (Leo from Will & Grace) are from here.
When to go – There is literally no bad time to visit New Orleans! There are festivals nearly every weekend, including the aforementioned Mardi Gras (January-February/March), French Quarter Fest (April), Gay Easter (April), Jazz Fest (April-May), New Orleans Gay Pride (June), Tales of the Cocktail (July), Red Dress Run (August), Southern Decadence (September), and Halloween (October), all of which are gay or gay popular festivals and events. Yes, it’s hot AF in summer, but that also means everyone is wearing much less clothing! In addition, hotel rates are typically lower during this time.
Getting here – For logistics, you will most likely fly into Louis Armstrong International Airport located approximately 15 miles west of the French Quarter. The airport recently opened its new world-class terminal in 2019 which was a huge improvement. The airport code is MSY which stands for Moisant Stock Yards. On arrival, there is often a full band in the atrium to welcome you to this fascinating city!
For transit to your accommodation, we recommend a taxi, Uber, or Lyft as prices are fairly reasonable around $35 USD for a 20-30 minute transfer to the French Quarter or surrounding neighborhoods. For more information on flights, parking, ground transportation, and dining options at MSY, click here for the official website.
Where to stay – For a legendary gay-friendly hotel, look no further than the luxury boutique Hotel Monteleone located just one block from Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. The hotel has hosted a long list of historical figures, including literary and gay icon, Truman Capote, who wrote Breakfast at Tiffany’s. As a young man, he is rumored to have had his first drink of many in the hotel’s Carousel Bar while proclaiming he was born in the hotel. In fact, his mother was living in the hotel when he was born in 1924, however, she gave birth to him in a nearby infirmary.
In terms of the hotel itself, the Beaux-Arts-style Hotel Monteleone opened its doors back in 1886, making it the oldest hotel in the French Quarter. On the inside, we love the ornate lobby, unique Carousel Bar, excellent location (214 Royal Street), and warmly decorated rooms in this still family-run hotel.
Other popular gay-friendly hotels nearby include the luxurious 5-star Windsor Court (300 Gravier Street), Ritz-Carlton (921 Canal Street) and The Roosevelt Hotels (130 Roosevelt Way). For those of you with Hilton Honors Rewards, The Roosevelt is a participating Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The rooftop pool, Sazerac Bar, and Domenica Italian Restaurant are all very popular as are the holiday lights in the lobby over Christmas.
For budget-friendly options, why not try something different and stay in a historic inn like the Olivier House. Also, don’t be afraid to stay just outside the quarter in the Central Business District. There you will find a number of historic properties as well as ultra modern properties like the gay-friendly Ace Hotel which also accepts pets. The hotels in the CBD are just a short walk to the French Quarter.
For an excellent boutique hotel option in the leafy Uptown neighborhood just steps from the Garden District, we love The Chloe. On the main level, there are numerous rooms with little nooks for privacy to relax during the day. The Chloe also offers a gorgeous bar with a friendly happy hour each afternoon. In addition, the Insta-worthy pool is also a popular spot during the summer with day passes available on a first-come, first-served basis. In terms of location, you are just a few blocks away from Magazine Street with tons of local shops, restaurants, and bars. For a scenic and fun ride to the French Quarter, the hotel is located on the historic St. Charles Streetcar line.
Over the years, I’ve stayed at dozens of properties in New Orleans from the Hotel Monteleone to the Olivier House depending on my budget at the time, and found all of the above to be good choices. It’s also important to keep in mind you will most likely be spending very little time in your room in this vibrant and extraordinarily fun city!
Where to eat and drink – For the best restaurants in New Orleans, let’s start with brunch by heading over to local gay favorite The Country Club in the Bywater. In addition to a gorgeous dining room, delicious food, and a full bar, The Country Club offers access to an amazing pool which is super fun in the summer. I actually remember when the pool was clothing optional, but unfortunately, it is now clothing only. The Country Club remains, however, extremely popular with the LGBT community, especially for the weekend Drag Brunch! Be sure to make your reservations in advance as it is completely booked for many weeks at the time of this writing. If no reservations are available for your dates, try to come early for one of the bar seats which are first come, first served.
Another local hangout and coffeeshop also in the Bywater is hipster-friendly Satsuma Cafe for big coffees and hangover staples. It’s a relaxed place to come for a hearty meal to start your day.
For lunch, back in the Quarter, we highly recommend Napoleon House, one of our long-time favorites. This historic restaurant is also an excellent place to come for amazing afternoon cocktails at the bar on a rainy afternoon. Like the nearby Carousel Bar, Napoleon House is known for their Pimm’s Cup which is a refreshing gin-based drink for those hot summer days.
In addition to a Pimm’s Cup, we also enjoy Negronis as an aperitif followed by wood-fired gourmet pizzas and a slightly chilled glass or three of Malbec or Chianti. Oddly specific? Yes, because this is one of our favorite meals; and if this sounds good to you too, then don’t miss Domenica inside The Roosevelt. Reservations are suggested however there is a happy hour from 3-5pm during the weekdays where both the pizzas and the wine are half off!
For special occasions and fine dining, Commander’s Palace in the Garden District has been a culinary landmark since 1893. It’s now co-owned by a member of the Brennan family known locally as perhaps the city’s top restauranteurs. Under Brennan management, world famous chef Emeril Lagasse began his illustrious career at Commander’s Palace. Definitely reserve ahead to sample their famous Haute Creole cuisine. It’s a top dining experience, and they pull out all the stops for special occasions. As an alternative, we also like Mr. B’s, another Brennan-owned restaurant in the Quarter directly across the street from Hotel Monteleone’s Carousel Bar.
A new find for us and our top pick from our latest trip to New Orleans is Irene’s. The service here is top notch, the bar is beautiful, and the piano player could not be more accommodating for requests at this excellent Italian restaurant in the Quarter. We also like that you can sit at the bar for a more relaxed experience.
If you are looking for a romantic evening, candlelit Sylvain is the perfect choice with their famous champagne and French fries—two of our favorite things.
Finally, for late night dining and breakfast all day (open 24-hours), a popular spot is the Clover Grill on the gay side of Bourbon. It’s a greasy spoon, but sometimes you need that after a fun night out out!
Where to find gay nightlife – For the best gay bars in New Orleans, the two most famous are the Bourbon Pub & Parade and Oz New Orleans. Both have something nearly every night of the week from gay bingo to show tunes to amateur strip night, and of course, they host plenty of amazing drag! Scroll down for more gay bars and clubs–there’s something for everyone here in New Orleans!
On a night out, you typically don’t start your evening at Oz though. And if you are visiting New Orleans on your own, you are definitely going to want to warm up at Good Friends Bar. It’s an easy going gay bar to have an afternoon drink with friendly locals and fellow tourists.
Speaking of friendly, the bartenders at Cafe Lafitte in Exile are some of the nicest you’ll find in the city. This bar opened its doors back in 1933 and is famous for being the oldest continuously operating gay bar in the United States…but don’t confuse this bar with somewhat similarly named Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Piano Bar which is the oldest continually operating bar in the United States opening it’s doors back in the 1700s. You’ll also find a large number of gay folks at this bar, but it’s not exclusively gay like Cafe Lafitte in Exile.
As mentioned above, Golden Lantern Bar is the home of Southern Decadence, one of the largest gay events in New Orleans happening annually over Labor Day Weekend. Golden Lantern Bar is also great spot for day drinking (they open at 8am!) and local drag.
Taking it up a notch, the two most famous gay bars in New Orleans, as mentioned above, are Bourbon Pub and Oz. They are located directly across Bourbon Street from each other, defining the corner as the epicenter of Gay New Orleans. Hanging out on the either porch upstairs is a must for any gay festival for the best people watching! Both have shows many nights of the week, but I’ve always been partial to the performances at Oz. The energy here is just so fun, and everyone is welcome.
Where to go for our favorite tours and the best day trips – A great way to get a fascinating overview of New Orleans is to take a 1-hour horse-drawn carriage ride through the French Quarter. You will learn tons of history about the city and for sure identify places you want to return for a closer look.
For art lovers, in addition to the incredibly unique galleries and don’t miss antique stores like M.S. Rau on Royal Street, the New Orleans Museum of Art will certainly exceed your expectations. The world class collection here is wide ranging. A few of our favorite artists have pieces here, including Miró, Picasso, and Warhol.
Foodies will also be in heaven in New Orleans! The city is home to many famous and award-winning restaurants. A fantastic way to explore the wide range of local specialties from alligator sausage to seafood gumbo to traditional pralines (my favorite!) is to join a Cocktail and Food History Tour. This small group tour includes top quality food and drinks, and it often sells out so definitely book early.
Another favorite of ours is the massive and well-curated World War Two (WWII) Museum. As dedicated by Congress, it is the official WWII Museum of the United States. My grandfather was in the war, so I found the immersive experience extraordinarily interesting. Also, for any fellow aviation enthusiasts, you will appreciate the fully restored warplanes. For skip the line tickets, click here.
If you have more than a weekend in New Orleans, we definitely suggest renting a car to visit some of the nearby plantation homes. Alternatively, for a no hassle experience and pickup directly from your hotel, you can opt for this super fun and informative airboat swamp tour including two plantation homes and lunch by our friends at Get Your Guide.
Banking – Chase and Capital One are the two most well known national banks operating in New Orleans. Both branches are located along with many regional and local banks just a few blocks outside the quarter in the Central Business District (CBD). Within the Quarter, you will find numerous ATMs, including a Chase ATM at 240 Royal Street that is open 24 hours.
Fitness/Gym – For the best gay gym or should I say gay popular gym in New Orleans, you will definitely want to work out and enjoy the expansive facilities at the historic New Orleans Athletic Club (NOAC). The stunning pool and large ballroom are highlights as well. In addition to a huge gym, NOAC offers an expansive locker room with showers, steam and sauna. It’s truly a spectacular space. And, of course, in true New Orleans fashion, you can have friends meet you at the bar after your workout.
Wine/Liquor store – A well-stocked option for wine and liquor in the French Quarter is Vieux Carre Wine & Spirits. It’s centrally located at 422 Chartres Street between Conti and St. Louis Streets. Another super popular option in the Quarter is Rouse’s Market (701 Royal Street) which stocks everything you may need for your trip to New Orleans, including a large selection of beer, wine and spirits.
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Hi! We're Two Gay Expats
Hola amigos and welcome to our gay travel blog! We are Andy and Trai, a gay couple traveling the world with PRIDE 🌈 …and our rescue dog, Pattie!
After meeting in San Francisco in 2018 and later moving to Chicago, we decided to quit our jobs in 2021, sell everything, and become Two Gay Expats!
If you’d like to follow our adventures, be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel and add us on social media using the links below. We’d also love to hear from you and meet up if we’re in your city!
❤️ Andy + Trai