10/12/2013 07:00 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Southern Decadence 2013: The Wildest Laid-Back Weekend in America

My boyfriend had planned our trip to New Orleans for Southern Decadence all by himself! So when I found out that we weren't staying in the French Quarter, I was neither thrilled nor surprised. But between his well-connected local friend and the nightlife people from New York City who I knew were headed down for the holiday weekend, I knew that we'd figure out how and where to have a blast.

It turns out that the Sheraton that we'd booked was French Quarter-adjacent, on a very scenic stretch of Canal Street. We were a two-minute walk from the beginning of Bourbon Street, and not much farther from the gay side of things. The hotel enforced a green initiative whereby if you skipped on maid service (you could still ask for fresh towels and supplies as needed), they'd give you a $5 voucher to use at one of their vendors in the lobby, and several vouchers could be combined for use on one purchase. Props to them for rewarding green behavior!


My boyfriend's local friend turned out to be quite the man about town. He led us on a tour of the dive bars on N. Rampart Street, the most interesting of which was The Ninth Circle. While the building itself was kind of run-down, it was obvious that someone had put some real thought into the design of the venue. A functioning model train track ran above the bar, metal sculpture chandeliers hung from the high ceilings above the small dance floor, and a mixed-media portrait of Marilyn Monroe sat above several other historic photos surrounded by fabric from her billowing skirt draped across the walls. The tiny stage had "Sexy Bitch" written in a psychedelic font and dayglow paint. The streets between these bars were dotted with cruisy men who seemed to have made (and were currently making) questionable life choices, including that one guy with the completely gold grill.

We hopped back down to Bourbon Street just in time to catch porn director Chi Chi LaRue and drag hostess Persona Shoulders host the "Dick in a Cup" strip contest with their special guest, porn director Sister Roma. Chi Chi LaRue is always a trip to see as a host (I once caught some fetish porn she threw into the audience at Folsom Street East[link NSFW]), and she did not disappoint at Oz! "You! Get up here! You're doing this contest! Take your pants off! Now!" I imagined her conducting herself similarly on set in full drag, which made me laugh even harder.


The competition was unlike anything one would ever see at any current flagship venue in New York City. Basically, they had the boys strip to their underwear and then passed out cups for them to cover their junk before making them strip naked. About half of them showed absolutely no resistance to going full monty, but all of them eventually obliged. Sixteen guys on stage in nothing but footwear and plastic cups. Chi Chi brought them up one by one to be evaluated by the audience, narrowing it down to a classically muscular bearded guy and a muscled bearish guy. The latter ended up taking home the prize of gallons of Swiss Army lube, some cash, and a few other goodies (plenty of Chi Chi's porn, no doubt). And after the contest, porn hotties Trenton Ducati and Seth Treston took over the stage for a massively hot twerk session.

We woke up a bit early on Friday and decided to wander through the Quarter for a bite to eat. We ended up taking a seat in the shady courtyard of Café Beignet. I have to say that I wasn't blown away by either of the places where I tried beignets, but my jambalaya was tasty. As we dined, an older man set up a tip bucket in the middle of the street and started singing familiar a cappella gospel songs in a cool, raspy baritone.

We decided to check out the aquarium just down the street from our hotel. Though it's a rather small facility, it's packed with local and exotic aquatic and avian life, including a stingray petting tank, a random hawk, a shade-throwing owl, and an enclosed patio with hundreds of parakeets that visitors can feed.


We returned to Bourbon Street for a late lunch at Pier 424 and enjoyed the view of the afternoon dancers' attempts to woo potential customers from the doorway of their presumably empty strip club.

That night we headed to House of Blues, where New York City promoter Brian Rafferty and L.A. promoter Woody Woodbeck had teamed up to throw the Time of Your Life party with a ton of New York City nightlife personalities in attendance and beats from DJs Corey Craig and Fernando.

Rafferty and Woodbeck had planned an afternoon pool party on Saturday too, but we woke up just in time to grab brunch at River's Edge restaurant. The Louisiana omelet with mixed seafood was the New Orleans food fantasy I'd been waiting for. Absolutely perfect!

With our appetites sufficiently satiated, we grabbed our Speedos and walked over to the W Hotel for the pool party. The only thing more beautiful than the pool deck was the $5 Grey Goose special! The boys were pretty damn hot too. When we spotted Grindr CEO Joel Simkhai, we had to wonder if some of the party's attendees had unexpectedly run into their online chat buddies at the pool!


We'd planned to see Big Freedia (a local gay recording artist who has gained national media attention and collaborated with RuPaul), but he ended up playing his gig at Mojito's early, finishing before he was even scheduled to start! We took the opportunity to stroll up Frenchman Street and see the part of town where locals go for live music. We actually ran into a pair of local women who claimed to be tight with Big Freedia. "Let me give you my number, and when I get back to my car, I'll send you her number, and you can ask her where she's at!" As expected, there was no follow-through with this odd but well-intentioned offer, so we ended our night with remixed pop music videos at Café Lafitte's in Exile.

On Sunday afternoon I suggested that we eat on the balcony of Royal House Oyster Bar, because I wanted to listen to the folk duo that was playing pop covers down the block. It turned out to be a great choice (hush puppies!) despite the scary slant that their narrow balcony has.

Back on Bourbon Street we happened upon Christian protestors with anti-gay signs and a megaphone. But a group of gays had gathered on the other side of the street with their own megaphone! Eventually the police told the protestors that they had to clear out for the Southern Decadence parade, which is open to anyone who would like to march. Gays in bright group costumes and wigs pranced down Bourbon Street between marching bands and random drag queens. Everyone was having a great time except for the protestors, who joined the parade with their signs and hate speech. The crowd greeted them with loud boos and middle fingers.


Our local friend knew the perfect place to escape the oppressive heat and crowds: Orleans Grapevine (only a block from Bourbon Street and St. Ann Street). We enjoyed made-to-order sangria from a blonde woman who introduced herself as Sunshine. ("I'll answer to Sunshine or anything weather-related.")

We were so comfortable drinking and eating in our wine oasis that we completely missed the recording of Lance Bass' Sirius XM radio show Dirty Pop at Bourbon Pub and Parade. However, we got to burn off some calories to DJ Drew G's throwback mix while Rhea Litre (who collaborated with RuPaul's Drag Race's Willam on "Let's Have a Kai Kai") crawled atop the bar in a catsuit with a tail and ears. While she hosted a "Best Ass" contest, the boyfriend and I grabbed a couple of frozen hurricanes, passing on the 190 Knockout made with Everclear, and strolled around the crowded streets of the Quarter, checking out the crowds of men in various states of sobriety and undress. (Leather gear and underwear with sneakers were two popular style choices.) A New York friend convinced us to make a brief stop at Rawhide, but we quickly agreed that the not-so-dark room was much more "raw" than either of us was in the mood for.

To pass the time before our flight on Monday evening, we took a stroll to Le Roundup, a western-style gay dive just off Bourbon Street, before grabbing one last drink at Corner Pocket. The number of dancers in the bar definitely took us by surprise. Also surprising: how chatty the dancers were! At least two of them kneeled down on the bar for a 5-plus minute conversation. Other patrons made it perfectly clear that the dancers' conversation skills were not among their interests. Let me tell you: Your dollar goes a lot further with a go-go in the Big Easy than in the Big Apple!


When acquaintances had told me how fun Southern Decadence was, I'd just assumed that it was a circuit party. However, I was quite happy to find that it was much more laid-back (and cheaper!) than the typical gay parties that draw tourists from around the world. Every hospitality and service worker seemed to know that Decadence was happening regardless of the orientation of the venue, and they were grateful for the additional business. I would recommend Southern Decadence for several reasons, but visitors' ability to either relax and take it slow or party as hard as they want for as long as they want (hello, 24-hour bars!) makes this weekend an ideal destination.