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Rue Bourbon

Want to explore the shadier side of New Orleans? Try our Lewd Spirits tour – a boozy trip through past ladies of ill repute, the ‘gentlemen’ that were involved with them and the iconic bars that locals actually go to. For example, Bourbon Street today can be a challenge to the nostrils these days.
But it wasn’t always this way. After World War II, with a newfound economic growth in the city, new neighborhoods grew toward the outskirts and new suburbs were created. The French Quarter started to become a quaint neighborhood to visit. Many of the old line bars and restaurants began to acquire a ‘classic’ feeling. Visitors, and locals, would spend a Friday evening at Pat O’Brien’s or the newly opened Preservation Hall

Mikko Macchione

Tour Guide with Unique NOLA Tours and Author of books about New Orleans.

New Orleans Rum: A Decadent History

Rue Bourbon was a residential street, complete with the famous Desire streetcar running down the middle until the Forties. Its name does not come from the whiskey, but from the French royal family, Bourbon, after their family name. In fact, bourbon whisky got its name from Bourbon County, Kentucky which also got its name from the French royal family.

In the Fifties, nightclubs and burlesque joints started opening along Bourbon. These places were among the first in the country to offer air conditioning, beer taps, and even televisions. They were urbane environments, the strippers were teasing more than sleazing, and a gentleman would put on a jacket and tie and bring his wife (or an illicit substitute) and sip $1.50 martinis at a table before the stage. 

Madame Francine’s was a popular naughty spot in the late fifties. At that time at the Sho Bar, there was a young woman, Fannie Belle Fleming, aka Blaze Starr stripping nightly. Her biggest fan (and lover) was the governor of Louisiana Earl Long, brother of Huey P. 

The third Playboy club (after Chicago and Miami) opened right off Bourbon in 1961. Local legend Al Belletto and Ellis Marsalis (father of Wynton and Branford) would play nightly. Sammy Davis Jr. would stop by. Today, weirdly, it’s the site of Playboy’s longtime rival Penthouse Club.
The classic Galatoire’s Restaurant, opened in 1905, and the charmingly seedy Clover Grill, established 1939, reside on Bourbon Street almost acting as historic and demographic boundaries. 
By the end of the Sixties, Louis Prima, Al Hirt, Dr. John, and a myriad of other legends had done stints on Bourbon Street. The city now understood what a goldmine it had, and in the 1970s they blocked it off at night to make it a walking mall, or ever since then, a staggering mall. 
It is not all bad news, however.  The quaint Fritzel’s offers live music nightly. They mix a hurricane that has five 5 (!) shots of rum, two or three more than other spots.
Finally, literally the last bar on Bourbon Street, sits Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop. Today it maintains its Old World feel with exposed beams and antique fireplace. The building was probably built in the 1740s. They say it’s the oldest bar in America, it’s not; but it’s a fun bar in a charming old building.