Bourbon Street, the flagship street of New Orleans, is pretty disgusting. Firstly, it smells like a mix of vomit, spilled drinks, sweat, and rat diarrhea (caused by eating too many cockroaches, I imagine). Then there are the strip clubs. Bourbon Street has the highest concentration of strip clubs you’ll see this-side of … well, Portland, evidently (well-played, Google — didn’t see that one coming). There’s Babe’s Cabaret, Big Daddy’s, Deja Vu Showgirls, Larry Flynt’s Barely Legal Club, The Hustler Club, Lipstixx Gentlemen’s Club, Little Darlings, Rick’s Cabaret, Rick’s Sporting Saloon, Scores Mansion on Bourbon Street, Stiletto’s Cabaret, and Temptations — all on Bourbon Street.
The French Quarter is not big (about 1/2 a square mile, you can walk through it fairly quickly), many of these are on the same block. I wonder if they’re just different fronts to the same stage in back. How do all these places stay in business?
Well, the hawkers on the street, maybe. “Ladies with yellow shirts get in free,” one of them calls to us as we walk past. Lisa is wearing a yellow shirt. What are the chances? We keep walking. “Their friends in blue polos get in free too!” he calls after us. We hear another ask a pair of tourists: “Let me ask you a simple question — would you like to see some boobs?” It’s 2:00 in the afternoon. My goodness gracious.
We try to retreat to a bar, but the bars on Bourbon Street aren’t much better. They’re pretty sleazy and skeevy and sketchy. Sit on the wrong stool and you just may end up with syphilis. Or you may upset one of the drunks and get a broken bottle in the gut. We retreat farther.
We end up at Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar, the oldest bar in America, a place named afterJean Lafitte, a pirate (thanks for the tip, Marie!). The bar is about 2/3 of the way down Bourbon Street in what seems to be the Boystown of New Orleans. It is busy with people drinking Hurricanes (a 7-second pour of white rum, some sweet juice mix, a floater of 151 on top). We opt for beers. The Hurricane is a serious drink.
We find some stools inside the beer garden and out of the sun. We discuss how odd it is here, how much we want to live here in spite of it. Because despite its underbelly of sleaze, New Orleans is very much a cool town.
Henry Miller writes in The Air-Conditioned Nightmare: “In the ten thousand miles I have travelled thus far I have come across two cities which have each of them a little section worth a second look — I mean Charleston and New Orleans. As for the other cities, towns and villages through which I passed I hope never to see them again.”