Drawing Dallas • 01.13.12

With a unique history and varied interests, life for Moses Herrera is an adventure

MARK STOKES  | Illustrator
mark@markdrawsfunny.com

MosesFNL_3Name and age: Moses Herrera, 27

Occupation: Hotel industry strategy and revenue management/talent scout for an entertainment company

Spotted at: Hunky’s on the Strip
This handsome, outgoing New Orleans native is the eldest of four brothers, the offspring of an Italian mother and a Spanish father. A charismatic Libra, Moses spent 10 years living in Prague with his family, an experience that opened his eyes to other cultures and set the stage for his future travels.

Decadent past: He attended college at Johnson and Wells in Denver, majoring in marketing with a minor in leadership. His career brought him to NOLA when he attended Southern Decadence, which changed his life. Moses grew to love the circuit and was an active participant for many years. These days his work requires him to travel, he’s been to every state in the union, except Alaska. He also donates his time to fundraising for the youth program of the Montrose Counseling Center, and for 11 years has served on the board of the National Restaurant and Hotel Lodging Association’s Prostart Program, which teaches high school students about the hospitality industry.

Staying healthy: Moses enjoys working out, yoga, cycling, kayaking … and cooking. He has an affinity for Italian and Spanish dishes, which he loves to prepare for his friends. An avid thespian, he appeared in numerous musicals, including Grease, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and The Lion King. He shares his life with Coco, an American cocker spaniel.

Favorite quote: “Good, better, best, never let it rest, until your good is better and your better is best.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 13, 2012.

—  Kevin Thomas

Chi Chi lately

If you haven’t seen Miss LaRue recently, prepare to be amazed

HALF THE GAL SHE USED TO BE | Her hair’s still as big as Texas, but the porn goddess and DJ has dropped 150 lbs.

STEVEN LINDSEY  | Contributing Writer
stevencraiglindsey@me.com

………………………….

CHI CHI LARUE
Drama Room, 3851 Cedar Springs Road, 10 p.m.–midnight,
Tin Room, 2514 Hudnall St.,
midnight-2 a.m., Sept. 16 and 17.

………………………….

Pulling over to a McDonald’s to access their free wi-fi in preparation for an interview with legendary adult film director Chi Chi LaRue seemed like a good idea at the time. A quick visit to her website and a review of her bio wouldn’t take more than a few minutes.

Except it never got that far. When a large photo of her film CockWatch, featuring stars with names like Drake Jaden, David Chase and Colton Steele, popped up on-screen … well, let’s just say the kiddies in Playland weren’t prepared for those kinds of McNuggets.

So I scooped up my laptop and headed to the car to call LaRue (the drag alter ego of Larry David Paciotti), who had just returned to Los Angeles after a three-movie shoot in Florida and a tropical-storm-soaked weekend at Southern Decadence in New Orleans. I actually ran into the diva at a bar in NOLA but didn’t recognize her since her extraordinary weight loss. Since her gastric bypass surgery three years ago, she’s lost more than 150 pounds (or the equivalent of 1.35 twinks).

“I’m glad I did it; I’d do it again,” she says. “It’s changed everything about me. It’s changed the way I even look at myself as far as the Chi Chi LaRue character goes. It took me a while to get back into character. Having lost the weight, I had it in my head that I wasn’t going to be my character anymore. But the character’s inside me. It’s what I exude and put out there and how I present myself. Fat or thin, you can do that. I had to get it into my head that I could still be big and flamboyant even in a smaller body.”

If anything, slimming down has energized LaRue and kept her busier than ever. In addition to directing gay porn movies in fabulous destinations all over the world, she has a retail store in West Hollywood that sells a variety of Chi Chi (and chi-chi) merchandise, and she books DJ gigs at gay clubs from coast to coast.

Which is exactly what brings her to Dallas for Pride. She’ll be spinning at the Drama Room and Tin Room on Friday and Saturday nights, then heads to the Alan Ross Texas Freedom Parade on Sunday. When she found out the Drama Room is next door to a certain Cedar Springs restaurant, though, she immediately perked up.

“Oooh, I love the Black-eyed Pea! I will be having some fried pickles. Guaranteed. I love the Black-eyed Pea!” she says.

Other than a few quick ventures out for a little comfort food and her official public appearances, LaRue’s travels have been pretty low-key.

“I like to stay in my hotel and just kind of chill and get ready for the DJ gig. I live my life as a vampire and stay in during the day since I’m working at night. When I’m only somewhere for a couple days, I don’t like to go out and wear myself out,” she says. “I’m an old woman! I’m a 51-year-old twat!”

Once the Dallas gig is over, it’s back to the grind of directing and traveling.

“I’m shooting a movie with Chris Crocker. You know who Chris Crocker is, right? He’s the boy who went on YouTube and did, ‘Leave Brittney Alone!’ He’s now turned himself into a cutie boy and wants to do a porn. I’m shooting his probably first and only porn movie,” LaRue says.

After that, it’s another movie with the Russo twins, a new flick with Greg Everett and DJing in San Francisco for the Folsom Street Fair.

“It never stops,” she says. “I just go, go, go. Same time, different year. And I’m happy with that. I’ve kept my name out there for 25 years. It’s great that someone’s stuck with me that long. I feel like Madonna, damn it! Well, sometimes I feel like Madonna, and sometimes I feel like Courtney Love the day after.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

It’s raining (ON) men

For one Southern Decadence virgin — and thousands of other gay men descending on NOLA — Tropical Storm Lee couldn’t steal their thunder

GET WET | Despite occasional cloudbursts, the French Quarter remained a hot-bed of activity all throughout SoDec weekend. (Photo courtesy Rod Orta)

JEF TINGLEY | Contributing Writer
lifestyle@dallasvoice.com

Gay culture has a longstanding symbiotic relationship with low-pressure fronts. Chanteuses and drag queens alike sing about it in “Stormy Weather,” it’s H20 that ultimately does in the Wicked Witch of the West and the post-shower rainbow has become synonymous with LGBT Pride. It seems like we’ll find any angle to work the adage “Every dark cloud has a silver lining.”

So when it came time for my virgin voyage to New Orleans’ “Gay Mardi Gras” known as Southern Decadence, I wasn’t about to let a little rain (or even massive Tropical Storm Lee) steal my thunder — even if Lee’s thunder was more than impressive.
As it turned out, I wasn’t alone.

Clad in soggy leather, feathers and outfits slightly less revealing than a birthday suit, partygoers from across the nation braved the storm that flooded others parts of city to make sure that this 41st annual event lived up to its indulgent namesake. Organizers estimate Decadence brought about $125 million in economic impact to New Orleans and a crowd of nearly 80,000 people (down from an 110,000 in previous years).

But beyond the loyal fans, what made Decadence really shine was its all-inclusive embrace throughout the French Quarter. The sense of notorious southern hospitality was almost palpable.

The hub of the activities began near Bourbon and Saint Ann streets, home of NOLA’s largest resident gay bars — Oz and the Bourbon Pub/Parade — which were festooned in this year’s official colors of fuchsia pink, black and silver for the occasion. Their crowded balconies provided great people watching, but there was plenty to see on the street below, too — like Miss Ashley. This self-proclaimed “traffic trannie” works the intersection with her best “Stop In The Name Of Love” moves along with a whistle and a whip to keep partygoers safe from passing cars. (She even has a Traffic Trannie Facebook page.)

Strolling along Bourbon Street, you’ll note how clubs that usually cater to the heterosexual set during other times of the year ramp up their Kinsey Scale rating to 6.5 over Labor Day weekend, adding rainbow flags, hunky bartenders and drink specials to lure in the gays. It worked for our group, which made repeat appearances at a little-known bar called Bourbon Heat (711 Bourbon St.) that offered more breathing room, three-for-one drinks and front row seats to the action on the street.

GLAM IT UP | Attendees at the annual Labor Day bacchanal let all inhibitions loose. (Photo courtesy Rod Orta)

Decadence is the kind of party that goes from morning-to-night — or morning-to-morning if you choose (throughout the year, there is no “last call” in New Orleans — bars stay open 24/7). But there are less crazy options if you need respite from dancing in the rain (or searching for your pants).

Places like the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone (214 Royal St.) is one such example. The bar is decked out like an old-fashioned carousel and your bar stool literally goes round-and-round to give you an ever-changing vantage point. The setting was very relaxed with background music as eclectic as the crowd.

And while the temptation at Decadence can be to live on a “liquid diet” or simple street foods like pizza and Lucky Dogs, we opted for one night of elegance at the world famous Arnaud’s Restaurant (813 Rue Bienville). It’s the Big Easy equivalent of dinner and a show. Before your meal, tour the upstairs Mardis Gras Museum. Some of the elaborately beaded and feathered costumes on display date back to the 1940s, almost resembling cave drawings that Bob Mackie might later turn into a gown for Cher. The real star, however, is Arnaud’s extensive menu of Creole belly-rubbing goodness. And for true dramatic flair, make sure to order up the flamin’ Bananas Foster for dessert (its presentation will have everyone in the room looking your way).

I’m sure that any other year, Southern Decadence might have received a much different report of dignity exchanged for beads and moral codes left in the gutter, but in this case the rain seemed to bring just some good clean fun. And as the talented Katy Perry was once paraphrased as saying: “After you [drink a] Hurricane, comes a rainbow.”

Southern Decadence 2012, I’ll be back. So get those blue skies and shirtless boys ready.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition September 16, 2011.

—  Michael Stephens

Fur the boys

Andy Stark brings reality TV to bear — with sights set on the networks

 

AndyMatt2
BEARS ON FILM | Andy Stark, left, created the reality show ‘Bear It All’ with a mostly Dallas-based cast including Matthew Moriarity, right, who has already made quite an impression. (Tammye Nash/Dallas Voice)

RICH LOPEZ  | Staff Writer
lopez@dallasvoice.com

On shows like The A-List or Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys, TV audiences get a peek into the inner workings of gay men (at least the ones Logo thinks represent us). But Dallasite Andy Stark isn’t so sure the current crop of reality shows profiles our community in the best light — or in all its glory.

He’s not the only one. Where those series may rely on caricatures or fabricated storylines, Stark is delivering his own show that he sees less as a drama fest and more as just a good time.

“The show is going to be a positive natured show,” he says. “I want it to be appealing across the board.”

Stark is talking about his reality/travel series Bear It All, which follows a cast of hirsute gentlemen in different cities around various bear events. Clips of the show have made their way online, with some containing footage taken at this year’s Texas Bear Round Up, but it makes its full-episode debut at a screening party Sunday at the Round-Up Saloon.

“The idea originally came up at Southern Decadence last year, so it’s almost a year old,” Stark says of the germ of the series. “I didn’t think it would take that long, but it’s nice. You know, we had the idea and the tools to make it and just said, ‘Let’s do it — we don’t need money, just the will to do it.’”

Pulling together a cast of mostly locals — including Butch Compton, Charlie Himmler and Michael Herrington — Stark pulled in Philadelphia-based bear Barney Philly and Indiana native Matthew Moriarity, who just might be the breakout star of the show.

“The one bit of feedback I always get is how adorable he is,” Stark says.

“I got involved with it when I was in North Carolina,” Moriarity says. “I didn’t really go to a lot of bear events or gay events, but I got in contact via Facebook.”

Initially, Moriarity hadn’t heard anything back other than “stay tuned.” But as TBRU approached, he received a call: He was now in the cast as he was making his way to Dallas for the bear event.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” he laughs.

As the Dallas-based episode came together, Stark entered Moriarity in the Mr. TBRU contest. Figuring on his random entrance into the contest, Stark had developed the arc of the episode and began planning the rest based on Moriarity not winning.

Only he did win.

“I had to rethink the entire thing,” Stark cries. “But we ran with it.”

The show has cemented a certain foundation for Moriarity. He moved to Dallas at the end of June, found a job as a bartender three days later and now finds himself a recognizable face among the local community. Of course, he’s modest about it and steers the conversation away from himself.

“The show is a great portrayal and good-natured of just us regular guys,” he says. “I think its great to bring that certain community to the frontlines. You don’t see that too much in mainstream portrayals.”

Andy Stark has the cred needed to produce his own show. He does production work for HDNet and MavTV so this isn’t some guy with a camera and an idea. Stark has a plan.

“I’ve had the idea of what I wanted in my head, but also it’s been an experience that we’ve manifested ourselves,” he says. “I wanted the travel documentary built into the concept of the show and so perhaps we’ll highlight cities and bear events as well as meet interesting people from all around. Hopefully we do something awesome with it.”

While Stark and Moriarity have only experienced positive feedback so far, they got a big push from the bear-oriented phone app Scruff. In one episode, Philly is wearing a shirt with the app’s logo on it; founder Johnny Scruff noticed and posted a notification so when people clicked onto the app, they were served with a pop-up announcing the show and its Facebook page.

Stark and Moriarity are affable guys — the kind that good luck seems to follow, which seems to be the case here. With the help of producer J. Louie Partida, Stark feels that the only way is up after Sunday’s screening. He’s even planned to have the show adjustable for different networks should they be interested.

“I’m aiming for the 25-minute mark. We call the show ‘bear-satile’ because it can be formatted to any network,” he laughs.

Hmmm. Maybe it’s better Stark stays behind the camera.

……………………………

Eligible for a reason: Obnoxious

NUP_144623_3273
Here’s my big problem with reality TV: Most of our lives aren’t scripted, but they are made to seem so if you watch too many of these shows. It’s not a problem on competition-based series like The Amazing Race or Survivor (how many of us get to travel that much anyway?), or even episodic series with a sense of humor, like Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D List (Kathy’s inherent wittiness feels authentic). But the Bravo-style throw-six-people-together-and-pretend-they-are- the-shit egothons like The Real Housewives and The A-List? They are merely soap operas where the actors are underpaid. And not very good actors.

Add to that list the latest little disaster of preening incorrigibility: Most Eligible Dallas.

It’s one thing to cajole your way onto America’s Got Talent by wearing goofy clothes or exaggerating your personality for a performance; it’s another when what sells you as a TV star is being the biggest asshole you can be. I don’t wanna sound like a curmudgeon blaming TV for the ills of society, but when I see drivers who take left-turns from right lanes with arrogant disregard for the rest of humanity … well, it’s difficult not to think that because they see everyone on the tube behaving the same way.

Most Eligible takes a half-dozen single 20somethings from Dallas and follows their appallingly wonderful singleness. There’s Drew, pictured, a car-loving gay guy who self-medicates with female hormones to keep from getting fat again; Glenn, the muscle-bound football wannabe who’s been passed around more locker rooms than a Kardashian; Matt, the obnoxious “playa” who goes on dates with multiple women; and Courtney, the big-haired bimbo who has such a blatant unacknowledged crush on Matt that her venom forms the basis of the Sam-and-Diane (or Reichen-and-Rodiney) thread on the premiere.

The calculated way the series tries to create personalities — Drew is, to my knowledge, the only person who has ever been shown smoking a cig in the address-the-camera interviews, just to show what a rebel-outside-the-box-gay he is — feels incredibly fake, exacerbated by the over-reactions to banal activities (Glenn in particular seems like a real drama queen). Easily the best thing about the series is seeing local landmarks. The rest just perpetuates negative stereotypes about Dallas.

— Arnold Wayne Jones

Premieres on Bravo Aug, 15 at 9 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 12, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

What’s Brewing: Sarah Palin on DOMA; anti-gay preacher Grant Storms on arrest; Prop 8 update

Grant Storms

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. Grant Storms, the anti-gay Louisiana pastor who was arrested last week for allegedly jerking off in his van while looking at kids on a playground, insists he wasn’t really masturbating — he just had his hand in his pants. In a bizarre press conference Tuesday, Storms claimed that reports saying he confessed to the crime are untrue. But he also said he knows what he did was wrong, and admitted he has a problem with pornography, which he’d been looking at an hour before the incident. Also, he’s sorry for those anti-gay protests he led at Southern Decadence and is asking for forgiveness. Well, we’re not going to forgive you just yet, Mr. Storms, but we will give you some free legal advice: Shut the hell up! Towleroad has video of Storms’ press conference.

2. Taking a page out of former Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert’s playbook, Sarah Palin slammed President Barack Obama for his decision to no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act. In a statement she gave to the National Organization for Marriage, Palin accused Obama of flip-flopping on DOMA, which is course patently false. Obama has said all along that he wants to repeal DOMA. We’d suggest that if Palin wants a real example of flip-flopping, she should refer back to Leppert.

3. California Attorney General Kamala Harris filed a brief Tuesday in the Prop 8 case urging a federal appeals court to allow same-sex marriages to resume immediately in the state. “For 845 days, Proposition 8 has denied equality under law to gay and lesbian couples,” Harris wrote. “Each and every one of those days, same-sex couples have been denied their right to convene loved ones and friends to celebrate marriages sanctioned and protected by California law. Each one of those days, loved ones have been lost, opportunities have been missed, and justice has been denied.”

—  John Wright

What’s Brewing: Anti-gay La. pastor arrested for masturbating at park; new hope for AIDS cure

Grant Sands

Your weekday morning blend from Instant Tea:

1. The Rev. Grant Storms, an anti-gay pastor known for protesting the Southern Decadence gay festival in New Orleans, was arrested Friday for masturbating at a public playground. Two women observed Storms masturbating in a van while looking at children near the carousel.

2. Speaker John Boehner said in an interview Monday with the Christian Broadcast Network that the House is likely to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court now that President Barack Obama’s administration has announced that it will no longer do so. Boehner called Obama’s decision not to defend the law “raw politics” and said he expects a decision on the House’s next step by the end of this week.

3. Scientists used genetic engineering to develop blood cells resistant to HIV in a new approach they say could lead to a cure for the virus that causes AIDS.

—  John Wright

Louisiana: Top & bottom

Part 2, profiling our gaybor to the East: Shreveport’s homespun gay appeal

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor jones@dallasvoice.com

KING OF CAKES
KING OF CAKES | The king cakes at Julie Anne’s are the best you’ve ever had, but all the baked goods soar. Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

We profiled the bottom of Louisiana as a travel destination earlier this month — now it’s time to hit the top.

With Southern Decadence right around the corner in New Orleans, nearby Shreveport-Bossier City doesn’t get the attention from gay travelers it deserves. But this neighbor to the east is making strides in cultivating its LGBT cred — and not just during Mardi Gras (although we like it for Mardi Gras a lot).

Much of the central business district is fairly compact and surprisingly lively. Less than a week after SoDec ends, Shreveport will gay up the state with the town’s second annual Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, sponsored by PACE (People Acting for Change and Equality) at the Robinson Film Center. The Robinson, like our own Angelika, is a mecca for artsy films (it was the only place in the region to show Milk a few years ago). It’s a beautiful, modern facility that, along with the ArtSpace across the street, gives Downtown an artistic vibe. That sense is augmented with John Waters in tow, which he will be for the fest.

Credit SBC’s progressives for standing up for gay rights. Last year, a city councilman threatened to yank funding for the Robinson because of the gay film fest. The reaction was large enough that not only did the resolution get nowhere, in December the city adopted a non-discrimination policy that covers sex and gender identity. (PACE is also sponsoring a mayoral candidate forum this Sunday.)

Walk or drive down toward the Red River to check out Sci-Port, an interactive science museum targeting families and especially curious kids, but an addictively entertaining place for nerds of all ages. The Sawyer Space Dome Planetarium inside offers everything from laser shows to calculating your weight on the moon (a boon to pound-conscious gays) and lets you show the stars on the day you were born. It also hosts the state’s only IMAX dome theater.

Just down the street, the Barnwell Memorial Garden and Art Center has a greenhouse that’s a hoot to wander through.

Farther away, but completely worth the drive, is the R.W. Norton Art Gallery, a huge museum of eclectic and excellent art, including “double elephant” Audubon portfolios and rotating high-end exhibitions. The self-guided cell-phone tour is an ingenious way to enjoy the art at your own pace.

Perhaps the most interesting attraction, though, is the Logan Mansion. Built in 1897, this private home (Vicky and Billy LeBrun live here full-time) is an architectural marvel bursting with history. It’s also full of believable ghost stories, which Vicky is more than willing to share. It’s one the best historic home tours ever.

Although SBC is not as famed as the Crescent City, all Louisianans know how to enjoy their food, and the culinary scene has several highlights.

Don’t miss the Wine Country Bistro, which deftly executes rustic dishes with French and American country influences. Try the perfectly seared scallops (the size of a fish) on a bed of bacon grits, a corn bread soufflé so sweet it’s more like spoon bread and a mixed berry cobbler with buttermilk ice cream that’s slap-yo’-mama good.

Bistro Byronz has branches in Baton Rouge and Mandeville, but the décor and fare cry out New Orleans, with traditional French dishes like cassoulet (a hearty white bean soup) and chicken paillard (a form of scallopini) in a casual setting that invites jazz music and mimosa.

Logan Mansion
GHOST TOUR | Logan Mansion offers one of the best hist- oric home tours anywhere. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

More formal and spacious, but just as delectable, is Giuseppe, an Italian restaurant with tons of private dining rooms for intimate parties. Try the Sunday “champagne symphony” brunch, which serves bottomless bellinis, mimosas or champagne for six bucks and has well-priced entrees. The razor-thin salmon carpaccio is a highlight, but the housemade pastas are unmissable.

OK, some of the food is more kitsch that cuisine — but even that is noteworthy. Julie Anne’s Bakery is home to the king cake, the signature confectionary of the Lenten season. If you’ve only choked down local grocery store versions, be prepared: They do ‘em right here (as many as 600 a day in the week before Fat Tuesday) and aside from being about as healthy a stick of butter, the flavors are heavenly. (There are other delicious baked goods here for the other 10 months of the year.)

On the other hand, it’s not a bad idea to plan a Mardi Gras season visit, where you can enjoy floats, a pet parade and maybe even get access to the pre-parade krewe parties where the massive moving structures are finished out. Some of the krewes are even gay — which goes to show NOLA doesn’t have a lock on queer-friendly Louisiana.

…………………………………..

LITTLE BLACK BOOK

Wine Country Bistro
Wine Country Bistro

ACTIVITIES & ATTRACTIONS
ArtSpace, 710 Texas St. ArtSpaceShreveport.com.
Barnwell Memorial Garden & Art Center, 601 Clyde Fant Parkway. BarnwellCenter.com.
North Louisiana Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (Sept. 10–16), NLGFF.org.
Logan Mansion, 725 Austin Place. R.W. Norton Gallery, 4747 Creswell Ave. RWNAF.org.
Robinson Film Center, 617 Texas St. RobinsonFilmCenter.org.
Sci-Port Museum, 820 Clyde Fant Parkway. SciPort.org.

DINING
Bistro Byronz
, 6104 Line Ave. BistroByronz.com.
Giuseppe, 4800 Line Ave. RistoranteGiuseppe.com.
Julie Anne’s Bakery, 825 Kings Highway.
Wine Country Bistro, pictured, 4801 Line Ave. Wine Country Net.com.

RESOURCES
PACE,
PaceLouisiana.org.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 20, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Gay getaway: Some updates for SoDec

In this week’s print edition, I wrote about New Orleans as a great gay destination, especially for Southern Decadence, which starts early next month over the Labor Day weekend. Well, there are some updates to sweeten the deal even more.

The Marriott Hotel has introduced the Rainbow NOLA Getaway for SoDec. Starting at $134 per night (two-night minimum), it comes with a complimentary bottle of champagne, a $50 food and beverage credit and complimentary Internet access. And even if you don’t get to town over Decadence, the rate is valid until July 31, 2011. Ask for rate code VIQ at its website or reservation line (800-228-9290).

I can also give a shout out to another GLBT publication, the travel magazine Passport, which again is teaming with the W Hotel New Orleans, pictured above, for a party over SoDec. For a $10 donation at the door benefitting Project Lazarus, you can get Szambelan vodka drinks and a chance to win prizes. It takes place at the W on Friday, Sept. 3.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Louisiana: Top & bottom

Southern Decadence is almost here, but even closer than the Big Easy is the Shreve

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor  jones@dallasvoice.com

BE GAY HERE | NOLA shows its pride with gay-friendly businesses boldly inviting queer customers in for some retail therapy. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

It was five years ago this month that Hurricane Katrina barreled through the Gulf of Mexico, ultimately ravaging New Orleans just before Southern Decadence, the gay end-of-summer bacchanal in America’s favorite municipal speakeasy, got underway.

Now, half a decade (and one more SoDec evac) later, the city welcomes its gay patrons openly. It might not be right to say it’s back — in some ways, it never went away, and in others, it’s more low-key — but the Crescent City remains a great draw for gay travelers.

But not the only one in the state. Even closer — about two hours by car — is Shreveport, a smaller town, more family-oriented burg best known now for its casinos. And while the gays in “the Shreve” make treks to NOLA for the big gay scene fun, there’s a lot to do here that’s cheaper and easier to get to.

So which is it: Extravagance or convenience? How about a little bit of both?

New Orleans

Now in its 39th year, Southern Decadence is a Labor Day weekend tradition that attracts countless gay men, a decent number of gay women and a surprisingly large contingent of straight people who come to revel in the exuberance. You can’t live in — or really even visit — New Orleans without being a little open-minded about sex and alcohol. But that’s not all there is to do.

New Orleans boasts two W Hotels, as different from each other as they can be. They do have one thing in common, though: An enthusiasm for gay clientele. (Last year at SoDec, one of the hotels hosted an Andrew Christian underwear fashion show and party that was as sexy and raucous as you’re probably imagining.)

The W Hotel New Orleans is a high-end high-rise with the W’s signature mod look (plums and scarlets with rich velvets and busy prints set the tone), including hipster-style lounge areas. (Whiskey Blue, the bar, exudes flashy urban cool.)

New Orleans
WHERE  THE BOYS ARE | Bourbon Street is gay bar central, with lots of rainbow flag and ‘to go’ drink spots along the flesh-filled streets. (Arnold Wayne Jones/Dallas Voice)

The “Wet” pool, lined with private cabanas equipped with TVs and room service, is as social as the pub and affords good views of downtown, as well as Harrah’s Casino, if you want a quick walk to empty your pockets. Zoe, the restaurant, is a multipurpose eatery open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, serving contemporary American cuisine in a relaxed setting. (A new chef was hired since last year’s SoDec.)

Just a few blocks but a universe away, the W French Quarter, nestled in the heart of party activity and historic sites, is a boutique property with small but charming rooms and a courtyard that looks like something from a Roman garden. A dramatic staircase overlooks a small shaded pool area with a dramatic fountain. Best of all, it’s shielded from the hubbub of the Quarter, but also in the thick of it, so you can go native or relax in a luxury cocoon.

The luxury element extends to Bacco, the onsite eatery from famed New Orleans restaurateur Ralph Brennan. In a town known for great food, Bacco is a standout for brunch or dinner, with the filet Oscar with a vegetable medley a heavenly bit of surf-and-turf, while the house shrimp entrée — whole prawns in a beer broth with rosemary and Creole spices — breath authentic Bayou cuisine.

The Ritz-Carlton splits the difference between the two Ws. Located on the corner of the French Quarter but with full-service amenities, it’s gorgeously ornate property constructed hacienda-style around a central court. The interior spaces are lush, and the amenities (an umbrella in the room in case you forget yours) justify the legend. (Rates at the Ritz are surprisingly affordable, especially in the summer off-season.) The Melange restaurant was relaunched as M Bistro, but the essence of the place — locally-sourced and organic foods predominate — remains.

CAJUN HEAT | The whole prawns at Ralph Brennan’s Bacco are a to-die-for dish.

The 41-story Marriott, also in the French Quarter, recently underwent a massive renovation and defies the old-school “Marriott-style” expectations. Its casual but tasty 5 Fifty 5 restaurant offers a marvelous takes on mac and cheese and oysters Rockefeller, and the bread pudding is more like pound cake doused in caramel and ice cream. Then again, you don’t come to NOLA to lose weight; you come to lose inhibitions.

The famous Brennan’s is unmissable for brunch, renowned for its alcoholic milk punch and of course its flaming bananas foster (which they invented). It’s an institution for a good reason.

Perhaps even more revered in the FQ is Arnaud’s. In a city that has taken casual exuberance to near pornographic extremes (flashing in the streets is not uncommon during Southern Decadence), Arnaud’s remains a bastion of erudition and dignity: The main dining room still requires gentlemen to conform to a dress code. We were fine leaving the coat and tie at home and holing up in the jazz bistro, where live music isn’t the only art: The food is (the menus are identical). Classic dishes, like the oysters Bienville and the house crab cakes, need to be tried. For dessert, treat yourself to the café brulot, a coffee drink with flames and booze and fruit prepared tableside. The show alone is worth it.

FRENCH  OASIS | The pool area at the W French Quarter is charming and quiet … and just steps from the hubbub of Southern Decadence. (Arnold Wayne Jones/.Dallas Voice)

The building that houses it is a massive structure that extends far beyond the well-appointed but gracefully ageing dining rooms; that’s true of a lot of New Orleans. Architecturally, it’s a monument to sturdy, bold structures that have weathered more than a few storms.

Galleries welcome browsers (and you can find some fabulous, often affordable art), and the street vendors are worth a look, too: From tarot card readers along Jackson Square to a permanent flea market along the waterfront, it’s a walking city meant to be enjoyed. (Dress comfortably, though — it’s a swamp in the summer, and it smells like it.)

You can enjoy most of the delights of New Orleans almost anytime during the year, but there are some definite key times to visit. The gay clubs book some racy headliners during Southern Decadence, but the entire city goes pretty gay during that time: There’s a street parade and the entire French Quarter becomes almost inaccessible to vehicles. Mardi Gras, of course, is also a draw, but also Halloween and even late spring, when the arts community comes out for the Saints & Sinners festival. That’s part of the charm of the city — the party never stops.

Shreveport

Those in Shreveport-Bossier City like to call their corner of the state “Louisiana’s Other Side,” but there’s much more to it than just NOLA’s poor relation. True, it does not celebrate SoDec in quite the same way, but be in town on Super Bowl Sunday with the Saints playing and you don’t doubt the city knows how to party.

A complete profile of the city will appear in two weeks in Dallas Voice.

Click HERE to see more photos.

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LITTLE BLACK BOOK

Accommodations
New Orleans Marriott, 555 Canal St. 504-581-1000. Ritz-Carlton, 921 Canal St., 504-524-1331. W Hotel French Quarter, 316 Chartres St. WHotelsNewOrleans.com. W Hotel New

Orleans, 333 Poydras St. WHotelsNewOrleans.com.

Food & Drink
Arnaud’s, 813 Rue Bienville. Arnauds Restaurant.com. Bacco inside the W Hotel French Quarter, 316 Chartres St. Bacco.com.

Brennan’s, 417 Royal St.

BrennansNewOrleans.com.  5 Fifty 5 inside the Marriott, 555 Canal St. Whiskey Blue inside the W Hotel New Orleans, 333 Poydras St.

Resources
SouthernDecadence.com.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition August 6, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens