Bourbon Street new Orleans

When one thinks of New Orleans, several images come to mind, but perhaps none are as prevalent as those to be found along her most famous street. Known in French as Rue Bourbon, Bourbon Street symbolizes the carefree spirit of the city affectionately known as “The Big Easy”.

Never the shy lady, New Orleans has become synonymous with decadence. Her reputation of catering to the carnal has long been an “institution” along Bourbon Street. Her tastes, as well as her “offerings” are quite eclectic. French and Spanish influences have lent to style of New Orleans, a style recognizable worldwide. The iron laced balconies of Bourbon Street, where Carnival goers gather each February, have come to symbolize the attitude “Laissez les bon temps rouler”- let the good times roll.

In spite of her colorful reputation, New Orleans and her famed Bourbon Street were founded for reasons other than a perpetual party. In 1718 New Orleans took her place on the map as a French settlement- an ideal port city along the Mississippi River. Her purpose was to facilitate trade for France, a nation that had established itself as a formidable presence along the trade route from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.

New Orleans soon became an epicenter for merchants and artisans alike as settlers flocked to this promising new city. Her French origins quickly became reflected in the design and layout of her streets and public gathering areas. In 1721 Adrian de Pauger, the French Royal Engineer, designed the layout of New Orleans, naming each of her streets after the Royal Houses of France. Though many would assume that Bourbon Street was the namesake of a favorite beverage, this famous street in fact was named for the then ruling family of France- the House of Bourbon.

New Orleans passed from French to Spanish rule when the colony was sold to Spain in 1763. Just forty years later custody would pass to America as part of the Louisiana Purchase. Along with the influx of settlers from Caribbean nations such as Haiti, or Saint Domingue as it was then known, New Orleans became a melting pot of culture. From its rich diversity emerged the Creole culture we know today.

As irony would have it, it was the Creoles- New Orleans’ native sons- which built Canal Street at the south end of Bourbon Street in an attempt to keep the “low class”, unruly Americans out of the French Quarter. Their plan didn’t work.

By the turn of the 20th century Bourbon Street, and the French Quarter for that matter, became famous for the “unruly” crowd that it attracted. Known as the “Red Light District”, Bourbon Street catered to vaudeville acts and prostitution as the smooth new music known as Jazz permeated her saloons.

As it goes with port cities, New Orleans welcomed her fair share of sailors. Much to their delight, any manner of pleasure could be found with very little effort. During the 1940’s and 1950’s servicemen flocked to her famous nightspots- the 500 Club- the Sho Bar- the Casino Royale. They all came to see the beauties of Bourbon Street- exotic dancers such as Lily Christine, who’s stage name was The Cat Girl. This exotic temptress performed at the 500 Club and was so famous that her photo graced the cover of national magazines and she even appeared in more than one film of that era. Such was The Cat Girl’s fame on Bourbon Street that folks lined up for hours to catch her show- even in spite of hurricane warnings!

In those days folks dressed in their best attire for a night out on Bourbon Street. The vaudeville shows had become somewhat of a cultured affair. But not everyone appreciated this “style” of culture. In the 1960’s Jim Garrison, the District Attorney of New Orleans, was somewhat successful in cleaning up the blight that many folks saw in Bourbon Street. Clubs were raided and arrests were made, however- the “good times” continued to roll.

Mr. Garrison’s efforts soon backfired with the birth of the sexual revolution in the 1960’s. The vaudeville acts were quickly replaced by a more seedy variety of entertainment. Strip clubs and pornography further cheapened the fare on Bourbon Street. Modern hedonism was born.

Today Bourbon Street retains its style and appetite for “fun” as thousands flock to the French Quarter each year to celebrate Mardi Gras. Many of her historic buildings still host every manner of “spirit” for those who come to call. Whether it is the famous “Hurricane” drink served at Pat O’Brien’s pub or the Cajun fare that steams up the palette at any number of authentic restaurants, Bourbon Street is a must experience for any traveler to the Big Easy.