Bourbon Street

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Looking up Bourbon Street towards the Central Business District
Tile Mosiac explaining the name Bourbon Street originated as Calle De Borbon when New Orleans was Capital of the Spanish Province of Luisiana 1762-1803.

Bourbon Street (French: Rue des Bourbon) is a street in the heart of New Orleans' oldest neighborhood, the French Quarter, in New Orleans, Louisiana. It extends 13 blocks from Canal Street to Esplanade Avenue.[1] While it is now primarily known for its bars and strip clubs, Bourbon Street's history provides a rich insight into New Orleans' past.[2]


The French claimed Louisiana as a colony in the 1690s. Jean Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville was appointed as Director General in charge of developing a colony in the territory. He founded New Orleans in 1718. In 1721, the royal engineer, Adrien de Pauger designed the city's street layout. He named the streets after French royal houses and Catholic saints. Bourbon Street paid homage to France's ruling family, the House of Bourbon.[3]

New Orleans was given to the Spanish in 1763 following the Seven Years' War. In 1788, a major fire destroyed 80% of the city's buildings. The Spanish rebuilt many of the damaged buildings, which are still standing today. For this reason, Bourbon Street and the French Quarter display more Spanish than French influence.[4]

The Americans gained control of the colony following the 1803 Louisiana Purchase.[5] They translated the French street names into English, with Rue Bourbon becoming Bourbon Street.[6]

New Orleans in the nineteenth century was both similar to and different from other Southern cities. It was similar in that like other southern cities, its economy was based on selling cash crops such as sugar and tobacco. By 1840, newcomers whose wealth came from these industries turned New Orleans into the third largest metropolis in the country.[7]

The main difference between New Orleans and other southern cities was its unique cultural heritage as a result of having been a former French and Spanish possession. This cultural legacy in the form of its architecture, cuisine and traditions was emphasized by the city seeking to entice tourists by showcasing these more exotic qualities.[8]

The French Quarter was central to this image and became the best-known section of the city by tourists. It quickly became a center of Creole culture that sought to avoid Americanization. Newcomers criticized the perceived Creole fondness for loose morals. This perception was fought by city officials, but persisted as many tourists came to New Orleans to drink, gamble and have sexual encounters in the city’s many brothels, beginning in the 1880s.[9]

Despite this, Bourbon Street was a premier residential area prior to 1900.[10] This changed in the late 1800s and early 1900s, when the Storyville Red Light district was constructed on Basin Street adjacent to the French Quarter . The area became known for prostitution, gambling and vaudeville acts.[11] Jazz is said to have gained prominence here, with artists such as King Oliver and Jelly Roll Morton providing music for the brothels.

This was also the era when some of New Orleans' most famous restaurants were founded, including Galatoire's, located at 209 Bourbon Street.[12] It was founded by Jean Galatoire in 1905. Known for years by its characteristic line snaking down Bourbon Street, patrons would wait for hours just to get a table —especially on Fridays.[13]

Before World War II, the French Quarter was emerging as a major asset to the city’s economy. While there was an interest in historic districts emerging at this time, urban developers felt pressure to modernize the city. Simultaneously, property owners capitalized on the wartime influx of people by opening adult-centered nightclubs that capitalized on the city’s risqué image. This led to Bourbon Street becoming the new Storyville in terms of reputation.[14]

By the 1940s and 50s, nightclubs lined Bourbon Street. Over 50 different burlesque shows, striptease acts and exotic dancers could be found there.[15]

There was a move in the 1960s under District Attorney Jim Garrison to clean up Bourbon Street. In August 1962, two months after he was elected district attorney, Garrison began raids on adult establishments on Bourbon Street. His efforts mirrored his predecessors’, which had been largely unsuccessful. He was much more successful than those who came before him, however. He forced closure on a dozen nightclubs guilty of prostitution and selling overpriced alcohol. Following his efforts, Bourbon Street was populated by peep shows and sidewalk beer stands.[16]

When Mayor Moon Landrieu came into office in 1970, he focused his efforts on stimulating tourism. He did so by creating a pedestrian mall on Bourbon Street that made it more walkable.[17]

The 1980s and 90s were characterized by a Disneyfication of Bourbon Street. Critics of the rapid proliferation of souvenir shops and corporate ventures claim that Bourbon Street has become creole Disneyland. They also argue that Bourbon Street’s authenticity has been lost in this process.[18]

Impact of Hurricane Katrina[edit]

Given Bourbon Street's high ground location in the French Quarter, it was mostly intact following 2005's Hurricane Katrina. A major tourist attraction, Bourbon Street renovation was given high priority after the storm. Despite these efforts, New Orleans was still experiencing a dearth of visitors.[19] In 2004, a year before Katrina, the city had 10.1 million visitors. A year after the storm, that number was 3.7 million.[20]

Attempts to draw tourists back to the city were undertaken by the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation that featured Louisiana celebrities such as chef Emeril Lagasse and actress Patricia Clarkson with the slogan "Come Fall In Love With Louisiana All Over Again." Attracting tourists was vital, as one third of the city's operating budget, approximately $6 billion, came from the tourism industry. Officials saw tourists as vital for economic recovery in the city.[21]

A major impedance for tourists were the mixed messages regarding the city's level of recovery. Advertising campaigns gave the impression that the city was thriving. At the same time, New Orleans was asking for increased federal assistance and National Guardsmen to combat crime waves in the city.[22]

The tourism industry received a boom when the 2006 Mardi Gras went off without a hitch. Popular Bourbon Street restaurants, such as Galatoire's, reopened around this time as well.[23] Reopening and rebuilding of popular tourist attractions led to a surge in post-Katrina tourists. By 2009, the city attracted 7.9 million tourists.[24]


Though largely quiet during the day, Bourbon Street comes alive at night, particularly during the French Quarter's many festivals. Most popular among these is the annual Mardi Gras celebration, when Bourbon Street teems with hundreds of thousands of tourists. Local open container laws in the French Quarter allow drinking alcoholic beverages in the street. Popular drinks include the hurricane cocktail, resurrection cocktail and Huge Ass Beers - a large plastic cup of draft beer marketed to tourists at a low price.

The most visited section of Bourbon Street is "Upper Bourbon Street", an eight-block section of popular tourist attractions.[25]

Among the tourist attractions are bars, restaurants, souvenir shops and strip clubs. There are also a number of gay bars. Most bars are located in the central section of Bourbon Street. Popular bars include Pat O'Brien's, Johnny White's, The Famous Door, Spirits on Bourbon, Razzoo and The Cats Meow.[26][27] Marie Laveau's House of Voodoo is located on the corner of St Ann.

Arguably the most popular restaurant on Bourbon Street is Galatoire's.[28] However, Jean Laffite's Blacksmith Shop and The Old Absinthe House are also popular.[29]

The upper end of Bourbon Street near Canal Street is home to many of the French Quarter's strip clubs. These include Rick's Cabaret, Temptations, and Larry Flynt's Barely Legal Club.[30]

The section of Bourbon Street from the intersection of St. Ann Street caters to New Orleans' thriving gay community, featuring such clubs as New Orleans' largest gay nightclub, The Bourbon Pub, and Oz. St. Ann Street has been referred to as "the Velvet Line",[31] in reference to it being the edge or boundary line of the gay community in the French Quarter. Cafe-Lafitte-In-Exile is the oldest gay bar in the country. The intersection of Bourbon Street and St. Ann Street is also the center of Southern Decadence, commonly referred to as the "Gay Mardi Gras" and attracts upwards of 100,000 participants over Labor Day weekend.[32]


Bourbon Street, New Orleans, 2002

Historically noise violations were the responsibility of the party making the noise.[33] This changed in 1996 with Yokum v. 615 Bourbon Street. The case ruled that the property owner, not the noise-maker is responsible for noise violations. A 2010 city ordinance stipulates that no music may be played in the French Quarter between 8 pm and 9 am. Enforcement has been inconsistent and critics claim its goals are vague. Some even state that is unconstitutional.[34] Besides being difficult to enforce, music aficionados claim that noise ordinances threaten the city's music culture. Local jazz bands, such as the To Be Continued Brass Band, who play in the streets would be prohibited from doing so under such ordinances.[35]

Aggressive solicitation bans are a newer issue on Bourbon Street. In 2011, an ordinance[36] was passed that banned individuals and groups from "disseminating any social, political or religious message" at night. The ordinance does not explain the justification for this ban.[37] On September 21, 2012, the ACLU of Louisiana won[38] a temporary restraining order against the ban on behalf of Kelsey McCauley (Bohn), a woman who converted to Christianity through a religious group's activities[39] on Bourbon Street which had several of its members arrested, and some of which were cited, on September 14, 2012 for violating the ordinance. A hearing was set for October 1, 2012.

On July 25, 2013, the New Orleans City Council voted 6-0[40] to amend the law to remove the Bourbon Street ban, with language that was acceptable to attorneys on all opposing sides.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ New Orleans French Quarter History, Architecture and Pictures
  3. ^ Ashbury, Herbert. The French Quarter: An Informal History of the New Orleans Underworld. Garden City New York: Garden City Publishing Company, 1936. Print.
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ J. Mark Souther. New Orleans on Parade. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 2006. Print
  8. ^ J. Mark Souther. New Orleans on Parade. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 2006. Print
  9. ^ J. Mark Souther. New Orleans on Parade. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 2006. Print
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ J. Mark Souther. New Orleans on Parade. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 2006. Print
  15. ^ J. Mark Souther. New Orleans on Parade. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 2006. Print
  16. ^ Savage, James. “Born on Bourbon Street: Jim Garrison’s French Quarter Fracas and the Shady Origins of a First Amendment Milestone, 1962-1964.” Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association 49.2 (2008): 133-162
  17. ^ Souther, J. Mark. New Orleans on Parade. Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 2006. Print
  18. ^ Gotham, Kevin Fox. "Authentic New Orleans: Touristm, Culture, and Race in the Big Easy." New York: New York University Press, 2007. Print
  19. ^,8599,1334012,00.html
  20. ^
  21. ^,8599,1334012,00.html
  22. ^,8599,1334012,00.html
  23. ^,8599,1334012,00.html
  24. ^
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  26. ^ [1]
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  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^ Palermo, Gina. “Waking the Neighbors: Determining a Landowner’s Liability for Rowdy Tenants Under Louisiana Law.” Louisiana Law Review 70: 1339
  34. ^
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Coordinates: 29°57′32″N 90°03′56″W / 29.95885°N 90.06545°W / 29.95885; -90.06545