A month-by-month guide
to the gay playground that is The Big Easy
When southern charm, a storied history and wild abandon collide, there’s absolutely no mistaking what city you’re in. The only dilemma a North Texan faces is exactly when to visit New Orleans to maximize the sensory overload. Fortunately, there are dozens of annual events that are either primarily LGBT or extremely welcoming of our community, all just a 90-minute plane ride away. (Or an eight-hour drive if you’re feeling road-trippy.)
With more than a dozen recent visits to the city between us, we’ve created a monthly guide for indulgent ways to spend a long weekend letting those bon temps roll.
February: Some big event with beads & parades. Even though Mardi Gras is celebrated all over the Dallas area in various ways, there’s nothing like the real deal in NOLA. Leading up to the fattest of Tuesdays are a variety of LGBT events, including the dog-themed Krewe of Barkus Parade (Feb. 8), which was conceived at gay bar Good Friends. Three LGBT masquerade spectaculars — Friday Night Before Mardi Gras Ball (13), Armeinius (15) and Lords of Leather (15) — are great places to show off your feathery masks before celebrating the big day at the Gay Mardi Gras Bead Toss (17) on Bourbon Street.
March: Four-leaf clovers. Get your fill of green beer and shamrock-festooned strippers as the gay bars join the rest of the city in celebrating St. Patrick’s Day (17). Two days before in nearby Metairie, the largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade (15) features floats handing out cabbages, potatoes, carrots, onions, packaged seasonings and other ingredients for Irish stew. It’s worth seeing, but best to skip on hauling veggies back to your hotel.
April: Bunny business … and all that jazz. We love spending Easter afternoon in Lee Park, but it’s always fun to mix things up and it doesn’t get much more mixed up than the Gay Easter Parade (5) featuring men and women in their Easter finest reveling in celebration on a festive stroll through the French Quarter. This year’s New Orleans Jazz Festival (April 24–May 3) is a who’s who of LGBT favorites, including Elton John, No Doubt and Lady Gaga with Tony Bennett.
May: Wine and mascara. When the weather begins to heat up, so does the social calendar. Favorite festivals are Bayou Boogaloo (15–17), New Orleans Wine & Food Experience (20–23), and the New Orleans Oyster Festival (30–31). But it’s the over-the-top hilarious MASCARa Run (15) that finds contestants bar-hopping and transforming from men into full-on drag queens, adding a different layer of femininity at each stop.
June: Over the rainbow. If you can’t wait for our own Pride parade in September, celebrate when much of the world does. New Orleans does it up big with a three-day gay Pride event filled with parties, a parade and a huge festival. Plus, the heat means guys and gals wearing much less clothing and that’s always a perk.
July: Steer queer. Pamplona’s got nothing on the Crescent City’s Running of the Bulls (San Fermin en Nueva Orleans) (9–12). These heifers have been replaced by a herd of female roller derby players who gore the slowest runners with foam baseball bats. Participation is free. Simply wear a white shirt with red neckerchief and let the games begin. Celebrate your success (or failure) at the course finale with sangria, tapas and other Spanish treats.
August: Drinking and dressing. The Red Dress Run (9) gowns range from long and elegant to short and slutty… and so do the men and women wearing them during this bawdy, anything-goes charity run. Ranging from three to four miles (no one really measures the distance), the focus is mostly on drinking, singing songs with X-rated lyrics and showing off your gams without having to wear a pair of matching heels.
September: To (gay) infinity and beyond. As Liberace once said, “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.” He could have easily been describing Southern Decadence (2–7). This epic, end-of-season gay send-off held Labor Day Weekend blends together the revelry of Mardi Gras with naughtiness of Folsom Street Fair for three days of nonstop music, dancing, drinking and hot boy watching.
October: Magical mystery tour. New Orleans throws one hell of a Halloween party, but what really sets this city apart is the Voodoo Music Arts Festival (Oct. 30–Nov. 1). Past performers at this three-day celebration have included Foo Fighters, Skrillex and Outkast. In addition to the tunes and the art, there are other festival must haves like amusement rides and a beer garden. In a city known for its ghosts, vampires and voodoo priestesses, Gay Halloween is superb, especially the massive HNO Costume Party (31) that goes until 4 a.m.
November: Lights! Get into the holiday spirit early with Celebration in the Oaks (Nov. 27–Jan. 3), one of the nation’s most spectacular lights festivals held in gorgeous City Park.
December: Creole Christmas. Add a fresh twist to tired traditions with Christmas New Orleans Style. This month-long celebration offers up holiday staples with Big Easy flair. Stroll the French Quarter draped in wreaths and bows or enjoy caroling in Jackson Square, bonfires on the levee and even a “Santa Paws” Dog Parade Costume Contest. Who needs eggnog and cookies when there are Hurricanes and beignets? Plus, New Year’s Eve in New Orleans is about as festive as it gets, from the bars to the street along the Mississippi River where a fleur-de-lis drop and fireworks start the next year off right.
Where to stay
There are hundreds of hotel choices in New Orleans, but our favorites roll out the pink carpet for LGBT travelers.
Windsor Court Hotel. Modeled after England’s elegant Windsor Castle, this property recently experienced a $22 million renovation. The only four-star four-diamond hotel in the city, it’s classic sophistication at its finest with exquisite perks like a scenic club level on the 22nd floor overlooking the river and offering everything from nibbles and bubbly to heavy hors d’oeuvres and craft cocktails. The nearby French Quarter may beckon, but with these perks so does a full day at the hotel.
Audubon Cottages at Dauphine Orleans Hotel. Tucked away in the French Quarter away from the hustle and bustle is the perfect location for a private getaway. These seven luxury cottages feature individual courtyards, a butler and complimentary breakfast. The centerpiece of this tranquil oasis is a saltwater pool shared by only the cottage guests and rumored to be one of the oldest in-ground pools in New Orleans. But really, any hotel in the New Orleans Hotel Collection is a good bet.
Hotel Monteleone. Perhaps the most famous French Quarter hotel, this massive property boasts old-world details from the impressive lobby to every guest room and suite. Known for a few ghosts and its iconic rotating Carousel Bar, it’s a must-visit whether you’re sleeping there or just popping in for cocktails.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 23, 2015.