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"The Big Easy," the nickname often bestowed on New Orleans, suggests a slow-paced, easygoing lifestyle. For six days beginning August 29 the southern city will be gracious yet anything but genteel. That's when an estimated 200,000 gay men (and, sure, some adventurous lesbians) will descend on the metropolis to defy the oppressive humidity and revel in the nonstop onslaught of boozy celebrations known as Southern Decadence (SouthernDecadence.net). During the long Labor Day weekend the quaint storefronts and brick-lined streets of New Orleans's fabled French Quarter will be transformed into a sea of bare skin, feathers, and glitter.
More than beignets and bourbon are required to fuel a long night's journey through the festival's numerous circuit parties. In a city world-famous for fine cuisine there's an abundance of truly legendary restaurants. Two musts: brunch at Brennan's (BrennansNewOrleans.com), home of the brandy milk punch and flaming bananas Foster, and dinner at Galatoire's (Galatoires.com), the Quarter's ageless culinary grande dame. The city's bustling streets are filled with stately but welcoming hotels. Towering among them is the historic, majestic Hotel Monteleone (HotelMonteleone.com), a 19th-century beaux arts architectural jewel crowned by the revolving Carousel Bar, immortalized in the writings of Hemingway. The Monteleone's sister residence, the Bienville House (BienvilleHouse.com), a richly appointed boutique property, occupies two renovated 18th-century warehouse buildings and provides a more affordable alternative.
Although the Quarter's Bourbon Street provides a sinful siren call to strip clubs and other raucous activities, LGBT visitors would be remiss to not take in the city's vast cultural heritage. A streetcar tour of the nearby Garden District emphasizes rich architectural history while exploring the beguiling residential neighborhood, with stops at the antebellum former home of beloved novelist Anne Rice as well as the nearby above-ground cemeteries noted in many of her best-selling novels.
Movie buffs will no doubt be lured to visit Houmas House (HoumasHouse.com), an elegant plantation with verdant gardens and lakes, located about an hour's drive from the city. The estate provided the filming location for the 1964 Bette Davis chiller Hush...Hush, Sweet Charlotte and is also home to a world-class restaurant, Latil's Landing.