Southern Decadence, the biggest gay party in the South, began way back in the days of Richard Nixon and Karen Carpenter. In 1972, a group of New Orleans gay friends threw a Southern Decadence Party where attendees dressed as their favorite Dixie decadent. It was a hit, and the friends did it again the following year; it eventually grew to encompass LGBT parties throughout the city. This weekend marks the 47th SD, with over 150,000 expected to attend. Here's what to know if you're heading to the party to end all parties. —Kristen Becker
DO remember it is early September in Louisiana. If you aren’t familiar with a Gulf Coast September, it’s like spending the entire day in the sauna at the gym. Pull out the Speedos and don’t whine about the heat. Pack accordingly and lather on the sunscreen and you'll be just fine. On the plus side, the heat adds to the already sultry sexuality that runs rampant Decadence weekend.
DO shake your moneymaker. The Bourbon Pub (pictured) and OZ feature legendary dance floors. They are also the grand central station of Decadence. In addition to the best DJs in the country, there will be drag shows and a chance for you to show off your assets with the Hot Ass contest Saturday night at Bourbon Pub.
DON’T think the Deep South doesn't know how to be high-end. Shop Canal Place and take a break from the heat in the downtown shopping center. Keep walking toward the mighty Mississippi River and hit the shops at the Riverwalk (pictured). You can start at Saks Fifth Avenue and end up eating alligator on a stick just down the street.
DON’T forget that people live in the French Quarter and the Marigny and all the other neighborhoods you will be partying in. Please, don’t pee on people’s bushes, in their backyards, or in the alleys. Yes, there will be lines, but plan ahead. Also, public nudity/public sex laws are on the books and they will be enforced. The only thing worse than partying yourself into a hospital visit is spending the weekend in the holding center.
DO get out of the Quarter and see the city. There is plenty to do and see outside the French Quarter and it can’t hurt to give your liver a break for a few hours. Hop the St. Charles streetcar uptown and check out the Audubon Zoo and surrounding parks. Visit the Garden District and Magazine Street to get your shopping fix. While you are there, hit Juan’s Flying Burrito (pictured above) for lunch.
DON’T be surprised if a man or woman on a balcony offers you a 10-cent string of beads in exchange for a peek at your parts. I know I said to avoid public nudity, but that is more about banging in an alley or peeing on someone’s petunias. The Mardi Gras tradition of tossing beads from balconies also happens during Decadence, so let your inner exhibitionist fly.
DO pack comfortable shoes. This is a walking town. Parking in the Quarter can be a hot mess, and you’re probably going to maintain a constant state of inebriation for most of your adventures in the Crescent City. Cabs might also be hard to track down during Decadence, and in some cases, high volume equals high fares. United Cabs has a good reputation with the gay community in New Orleans, though.
DON’T think Decadence is just for the boys. As at most LGBT parties, men tend to dominate many of the events, but New Orleans knows girls just want to have fun. Check out Grrlspot’s yearly Burlesque Review and dance party at the Eiffel Society (pictured) and the ladies' pool party at the Country Club. Also stop by Rbar, Erin Rose, and Parasol’s.
DO put a ring on it. I’m talking to you, fellas. And by ring, I mean condom. They will be everywhere. New Orleans has many committed volunteers concerned about your health and safety, so they spend their holiday weekends walking around with baskets of condoms to help you help yourself. Take a handful!
DO walk around Frenchmen Street and catch some of the best musicians in the world doing their thing. No trip to New Orleans is complete without treating your ears to some live, local music. Dragon’s Den, d.b.a., and the Spotted Cat Music Club are some personal favorites, and there is a complete list of clubs on Frenchmen here.
DO know that New Orleans has the best buskers (street performers) in the country. Playing on the street is a job. It is part of what makes New Orleans the city it is and provides that electric feeling you get when walking through the Quarter. Take a minute or two to stop and listen, and drop a few dollars in their buckets.
DO check out a tour. There is the Gay New Orleans Walking tour, which will give you insight on where folks like Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and other famous gay residents wet their whistles. There is also the Confederacy of Cruisers (pictured) bicycle tour group, which offers a cocktail tour and a pedal-to-paddle tour that incorporates bicycles and a bayou kayak trip.
DON'T skip the parades. In other places, the idea of a parade evokes images of high school marching bands and VFW posts meandering down the street tossing hard candy. No city parades the way New Orleans parades. The marching bands are the best in the country, and building floats is a lifestyle here. The float parade is Friday, and the walking parade on Sunday will likely showcase many a lady or gent still going from Saturday night.
DO treat yourself to a fine dining experience. Look off the beaten path and you will find some culinary gems. New Orleanians pride themselves on good food and hospitality, so skip the touristy chains and search out the real deal. Some local favorites are the Pelican Club, Herbsaint, Pesce, and Atchafalaya (pictured).
DO remember there is safety in numbers. In every tourist destination, there is an element that likes to prey on unsuspecting tourists. Body-to-body crowds that pack the French Quarter make for prime pickpocketing. Leave the wallet at home; just take your cash and ID. Don’t throw your passport in your back pocket and run out the door.
DO expect to take a day off after your New Orleans vacation. Even the most disciplined festival-goer often gets sucked into the 24-hour party that is the Big Easy. Go ahead and let your boss know that you probably won’t be back in the office until Wednesday. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did.