Wanting Bohemia, Discovering Bourbon
New Orleans knows how to party. No matter the season, no matter the reason, this city likes to celebrate. Holidays do not go unnoticed, and locals love to misbehave on an idle, non-“Fat” Tuesday. So while Santa Claus dons Mardi Gras colors, Rudolph’s nose glows red after too many Hurricanes, and everybody turns Irish at Pat O’s even when it’s not March 17th, the Old City can be considered “Disneyland for Adults” at half the price.
Whether it’s the traditional Jazz Funeral second-lining to uplifting tunes behind a hearse, or the many celebratory parades hording down St. Charles Avenue during Carnival Season, the Big Easy has a centralized location where there is little need to pinpoint a reason to toss back some good food, good drinks, and good times. Stretching from each end of the French Quarter, no bigger than a mile, is the infamous street known as Bourbon, which many assume is named after the potent alcoholic beverage but is in fact named in honor of the House of Bourbon, a ruling French Royal Family at the time of the city’s founding.
As center of the original town, Rue Bourbon was not always a year-round fiesta of fun, food, and festivity. After its structures were rebuilt under Spanish rule from fire damage in the late 1700s, Bourbon’s vulgar history poured from the doors of The Absinthe House. The trade of bartering food, tobacco, and liquor established an early version of a corner grocery store, complete with bartenders. Restaurants and quaint hotels opened through the 1800s, and after Prohibition, a new era developed a naughty reputation for Bourbon Street. Young military men of World War II who were on leave in New Orleans were no longer interested in the dying art of vaudeville, their tastes hungry for risqué business of burlesque and live jazz bands. Bawdy entertainment was the roar, creating an epicenter of nightclubs featuring striptease artists, comics, singers, contortionists, and other avant-garde entertainers.
In the stretch of several short blocks lit with neon lights and papered with live-attraction posters, Bourbon Street’s legacy of barkers tempting tourists and locals inside clubs continues to this day. Eateries, bars, nightclubs, music venues, and souvenir shops are alive and kicking, creating a Mecca of nightlife in New Orleans that dwells in the spirit of pleasure-seekers and lurid pizzazz. In an underworld of bohemian lifestyles – artists, entertainers, mixologists, and street mimes – Bourbon offers a background of tumultuous history and graceful structures in an exuberant old town of emotional storms and sabotaged antiquity.
Down a street where the immortalized Desire Streetcar Line once ventured, down a street where vehicles are now blockaded at sundown for a pedestrian mall of nightlife, down a street where the average person is onstage sidelined with cheerleaders and audiences watching, applauding, joining in the show… down this street called Bourbon is the crude phenomenon that can only be captured by a firsthand experience. Artists and photographers can point-and-shoot its buildings and façades, recreate its marquees and leggy women behind curtains, and curiously describe the transient chaos of crowded revelry, but nothing compares to the bohemian rhapsody of a fumbling night on Bourbon Street.