Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Zagats for Faggots: New Orleans continued…

In the last post, I mentioned most of the gay bars that I’m very familiar with, but there are a few other places of note (bars and otherwise) that should be mentioned before moving on.

If you continue away from the hullabaloo walking down Bourbon St., you come to an area where the streets go at different angles and don’t quite line up the same way after you cross Esplanade Ave. Welcome to the Marigny. This might be my favorite neighborhood. Close to the French Quarter, but still off the beaten path, this neighborhood has some beautiful houses and really cool little bars and shops. I like my bars, but if like anything more it is bookstores and you can find my favorite one here. Faubour Marigny Art and Books is at the corner of Frenchman and Chartres and it is that super small, super local kind of bookstore that is getting harder and harder to find. While you can find all kinds of books there, it also caters heavily to a gay clientele and I always find books there that I can’t find anywhere else. The fellow that runs the store is this charming gentleman Otis who is always ready to help you find a book, or talk literature or just about the neighborhood and New Orleans in general. I have a fantasy of Ben and I moving to New Orleans and taking over the bookstore when he retires. He told me when I visited there last time that there are a line of people eagerly eyeballing his location and at least one who regularly comes by and asks him if he’s ready to retire so he can snap up the location. Unfortunately none of the people seem remotely interested in keeping the site a bookstore. But let’s not think of endings; the store remains and the owner is far from retiring, though he did say he is going to start shutting down for a month or two in the summer and just hang out at the Country Club or travel.

The Country Club (634 Louisa St., between Royal and Chartres) is a place I am kicking myself for never discovering before my most recent trip. I’d heard of it, but never quite knew where it was and it is well out of the way if you are on foot (though truth be told, I did walk there from the Quarter and didn’t regret the ramble), so I hadn’t ventured there. This last trip my friend Nicole mentioned having heard of it and never having gone and the bookstore owner told me about it too, so I resolved to venture a little farther this time. It did not disappoint. It is in this kind of grand house in a quiet residential neighborhood. What make it unique aside from its location are two things: food and pool. In the front is a fairly nice restaurant. Nicole and I went and grabbed dinner there one night and I’ve got to say I was pleased with the food. In the back room there is a bar, and this was also fairly pleasant and I should say the bartender was attentive and super friendly. What makes this place popular in the summer is that it has a clothing optional pool out back. Now, I image this becomes quite an intense scene, particularly during the big celebrations, but I was there in January when an arctic cold front was running through and had dragged the temperatures down in the 20’s and lower so you would be correct in assuming it wasn’t hopping. But they had a hot tub and they had heated it up, so it seemed an appropriate escape from the cold. I went back one evening and snagged a glass of wine and headed back for a dip. It was just me (bare ass naked) and an older lady (in a frilly floral swim suit) for a while, though another guy did come join us after a while. While I not describing a rollicking party time, and it wasn’t, I really did have a super pleasant time chatting with those two and sitting beneath palm trees pretending it was warm and wondering if it might start snowing. I’d go back on a similarly empty night in a heartbeat, but I do want to go when it is livelier sometime. Another note, that while this is ostensibly a gay bar, at least on the slow nights I was there, a majority of the customers were straight. Just an observation.

As I was walking towards the Country Club, I passed a bar called Friendly Lounge (Chartres St at Marigny St). It is back in the Marigny and I’d passed it before and seen it advertised in Ambush. I had needed to pee since well back in the Quarter and still had quite a walk ahead so I decided to give it a try. The bartender has to buzz you in, but once inside I’ve got to say it lived up to its name. There were a couple of clumps of friends at either end of the bar and everyone was smiling and laughing and the bartender immediately introduced herself and started talking to me like we were old friends. I had a couple of drinks and felt guilty having a different destination in mind and leaving so quickly simply because the place was so welcoming and friendly. High on my list of places to revisit. It definitely seems to be a local place that tourists stumble into only occasionally.

Having said before that the straight end of Bourbon Street is filled with the worst kind of irritating tourists, it is worth pointing out that other neighborhoods have some pretty amazing bars and nightlife. These bars I tend to get taken to by friends so I don’t remember really well the names or even necessarily how to find them, but a couple of neighborhoods stand out. I’ve already mentioned the Marigny. The one fun straight bar I do remember the name of is there and is called DBA. I remember this 1) because there was a live band and people swing dancing and it was basically super awesome, and 2) because this is also the name of what seems to be a sister bar in New York of the same name, but the New York bar is so annoying my friend Michael and I speculated that the initials must stand for DoucheBagAlley. The one in NO, go to; in NY, avoid. There are also other cool bars in that proximity so is worth wandering around there.

The other neighborhood that is more local and cool and less tourist trap is around Magazine Street. Lot’s of hip little bars and stores and restaurants. I couldn’t name one off the top of my head but if you go to the general area it is easy great places and a welcome break from the French Quarter madness.

Before I wrap this up, it might be worth mentioning accommodations. I’ve tended to visit when I’ve had friends living there, so I’ve mostly couch surfed. This is, of course, always the best way to go. The one time I did have to find my own accommodations, I stayed at the India House Hostel (124 South Lopez St near Canal). I can’t say enough good things about the place. It is in midtown, away from the Quarter, but close to a cable car so getting there is easy enough. The place has a super friendly vibe and a little front porch and a big back yard. The rates were reasonable and they have shared and private rooms. I’d happily stay there again.

Oh, and a quick note on getting to the Big Easy. My family lives in Alabama, and my brother discovered that it is a quick and easy train ride from Birmingham to New Orleans, and pretty cheap, too. This is also true from Jackson or Memphis or Atlanta.

Please feel free to leave any suggestions of your own in the comments.

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