Ambush readers of a certain age may remember blueboy. From 1974 to 2007, this glossy magazine featured pictures and centerfolds of naked men. Some people even read the articles. A friend of mine recently dug out his April 1988 issue and showed me an article about New Orleans entitled “New Orleans: Last American Refuge.”
I eagerly read the article and while it was mostly fluff, it did provide some insight into the gay social scene of the French Quarter in the late 1980s. The article, written by Timothy Dougal, is accompanied by a photograph of The Great American Refuge, a short -lived gay bar located at the corner of Royal and Ursulines Streets in the French Quarter.
Several gay bars are mentioned, some of which will be familiar to current Quarterites (Café Lafitte in Exile, Corner Pocket, Golden Lantern, Bourbon Pub). Other bars may not be familiar to younger or newer residents: Le Roundup, Gregory’s (now the Double Play), Paw Paw’s (now the 700 Club), the Hairy Dog, Lucille’s, Changes, Hooters, Wolfendale’s (now Grand Pre’s), the Mint, Jewel’s Tavern, and Mississippi River Bottom (which is still around but no longer a gay bar).
Several gay owned / friendly restaurants are referenced as well: the Clover Grill, Quarter Scene (now Eat), Petunia’s, Tortilla Flats, the Golden Star, and Café Sbisa. Other gay oriented businesses are listed, including a few B&Bs, the only one of which still around is Bon Maison. The article also lists several popular tourist attractions and historical sights.
The article is insightful as much for what it does not say as for what it does say. For example, no mention is made of Southern Decadence. Southern Decadence had been around for sixteen years when the article was published. And the only reference to the AIDS epidemic is found in a subordinate clause that mentions the AIDS Information Center on Bourbon Street behind the Clover Grill as a place to pick up Ambush and Impact newspapers.
The 1988 blueboy article was not the first time New Orleans was highlighted in a nationally circulated magazine. Queen’s Quarterly was published from 1969 to the early 1980s. “Baubles, Bangles, and Bayou Boys—Mardi Gras: Farewell to Meat in New Orleans” appeared in the March/ April 1971 issue of Queen’s Quarterly.
Unlike the blueboy article, which gives the impression that New Orleans’ fabled tolerance extended to the gay community, the Queen’s Quarterly article asserts that police harassment of gay bars was becoming more relaxed.
We also learn from the article there were five gay Carnival krewes in 1971, although only the Krewe of Apollo is mentioned. Not specifically named, the Bourbon Street Awards are referenced as a “costume contest” in front of the Clover Grill as a must-see event on Mardi Gras afternoon. Royal Street between St. Peter and Toulouse Streets is described as “almost exclusively gay” and Café Lafite in Exile is labeled “young and groovy.” Readers are also advised that hotel rates skyrocket over Mardi Gras weekend, some hotels fetching as much as $50 a night.
Other helpful tips are also offered. Those looking to “order in” are advised that many hustlers work the corner of Royal and Iberville Streets. The Aquarius is recommended as the place to find pornography. And for those looking for public cruising spots, the bathroom at the French Market where Dumaine meets Decatur is the place to be.
In addition to Lafitte’s, other bars are mentioned: The Caverns (now the Pub), Pete’s Place (now Oz), the Galley House, the French Bull, the Grog, Alice Brady’s (now the Black Penny), Manny’s Den, and the Up Stairs Lounge. Gay friendly restaurants include Erny’s, the Coffee Pot, and even Café du Monde.
The two aforementioned articles illustrate the historical significance, however minor, of source material that most people throw away. Such materials include not only periodicals but also fliers, brochures, posters, programs, and other ephemera. Fortunately, a concentrated effort is being made to preserve these items by the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana.