RED-LIGHT SHOWS FOR LOCALS
From 1897 to 1917, the New Orleans government set aside an area for legal prostitution, based on the red-light districts of European port cities. The area that is now mostly taken up by the Iberville Projects was once Storyville, an infamous district of brothels. The city even went so far as to publish "blue books," guides for tourists on the various houses, prices, services…you get the idea. Then World War I came along and ruined the regulated fun for everyone. We needed clean soldiers: morally clean soldiers. But for twenty years, there was a home here for the sex industry. Now, I'm sure it wasn't a just Disneyland for adults—that much debauchery fenced into a few blocks probably resulted in a fair amount of crime. But I can't help romanticizing this bygone era of sexual and political cooperation.
Now Bourbon Street, aside from the Vegas strip, is the most infamous destination in the country for sensual adventures. Strip clubs in North Dakota are one thing—cabarets on Bourbon are another. To entertain or be entertained on that historic street is to participate in a tradition that characterizes the national perspective of New Orleans (tell that to your fiance). Whether we like it or not, we live in a sexual city.
Doubtful that anyone living here will be venturing to Bourbon unless their old high school friend is visiting, on the obligatory college roommate bachelor party trip…But fear not, there are other ways to celebrate the sexual deviance of this town.
Most in keeping with the Storyville aesthetic is the up-and-coming New Orleans Poetry Brothel, a traveling event where guests are seduced by words. The Poetry Brothel started in New York City and is steadily growing branches in Barcelona, Madrid, Los Angeles, and of course, New Orleans. Guests purchase erotic poetry readings in private rooms with chaise lounges while musicians and costumed performers set the ambiance.
The "Brothel" association attracts a different crowd than may typically show up at a poetry event. It takes poetry out of the sterile academic environment where most nonpoets experience it and makes it a fun, sexy adventure. Plus, the private setting for readings gives guests and poets alike an uninhibited space of expression—this isn't open mic night at the corner coffee shop. According to Jordan Soyka, one head of the New Orleans branch, an explicit aim of the Brothel is to change the dynamic of literary events and "bring poetry out from behind the podium."
While the Brothel framework makes poetry approachable, it also lets poets make money for their work. In some branches, the poets are billed as "whores," making no subtle reference to the stigma of "selling out" if one dares make money with their art. Disclaimer: you may not hear straight-up erotic poetry, but these poets are whores in the house of word-love. Beyond the wink-nudge irony, the Brothel elevates poets by presenting them as high courtesans. Each poet creates a character, assigned to some private alcove, each with a distinct style and appeal. Much like visitors to Storyville's heyday, you can browse the blue book of poets and pick your poison.
Aside from the intimacy of the readings, the event is strongly collaborative in nature. There are always other sources of entertainment going on offstage to keep the process interactive: musicians, acrobats, burlesque dancers, tarot card readings, cyanotype printing, and caricatures have all been features of Poetry Brothel events. The event is still finding its home—most likely the AllWays Lounge on St. Claude—but has had pop-up events in several venues. I attended the Crescent City Bookshop, which was especially relevant to the literary motivations behind the event. Flickering candlelight cast shadows on the spines of countless books as poets whispered their sweet nothings to the antique air. But I wax poetic and digress… just like Storyville, a visit to the Brothel can be contagious. Join the Facebook group "New Orleans Poetry Brothel" to stay abreast of future event details.
For a more accessible erotic poetry experience, check out the Esoterotica residency every other Wednesday at the AllWays Lounge. Again—not your typical poetry night. Recurring poets seem to have amassed a small cult following in this world of erotic poetry. The night I attended featured these regulars as well as several virgin voices—it seems the revolving cast alone could keep things interesting if the explicit content is a bore. In my short experience with Esoterotica, I heard a Comedy Centralworthy love poem to the Pope, an episode of a Steampunk sex serial, a dry brokenhearted refrain and a lesbian's fi rsthand account of being knee-deep in…love. Local poet (and fi gure in the erotic poetry scene) Aime' SansSavant hosts the event. Her quirkiness sets the tone so that you can be aroused or amused equally without judgment. Visit esoterotica.com to fi nd out more.
Of course, words are not always necessary; sometimes bodies speak for themselves. AllWays hosts another hip embodiment of the local sex culture: Big D***'s House of Big Boobs. This is an avante-garde, Do-It-Yourself strip club, complete with underarm hair, gore, androgyny, choreography and pole tricks. A small cover buys
The AllWays Lounge hosts many libidinous literary events, including Esoterica and the New Orleans' Poetry Brothel.
you some "bucks" (you can buy more), which you tip the acts just as you would in a Bourbon club. Monopoly money rains from the crowd as brave souls expose themselves to a variety of numbers. Lip-synced, perfectly rehearsed group acts (with remixes clearly edited solely for the event) follow one-man shows of timid twinks, with occasional cameos by clear professionals having a fun night off. Everyone is a star at this event—the body is adored and the crowd goes wild, because what is sexier than confi dence, bravery and blatant fun? Check out theallwayslounge.net for event details, and don't forget to study their calendar full of alternative sex culture events like "69 Victory Party" and "Freaksheaux to Geaux" (curious? Show up and fi nd out).
The burlesque culture of New Orleans is famous and celebrated. Classy residencies at Irvin Mayfield and local troupes like Fleur de Tease keep the city perpetually aroused. But the alternative scene is just as vibrant. "Boobs & Goombas" is just what it sounds like—a Super Mario burlesque, quite possibly the nerdiest sexy moments allowed. Remember the sexual tension of having to watch your distant cousin play Super Mario while Christmas dinner was cooked, relating to Princess Peach and really all-too-desperately hoping that Mario defeats Bowser before the turkey finishes? Well, maybe that's just my memory. But regardless, there's no lack of die-hard gamers who can perhaps attribute their sexual frustration to their Princess Peach devotion. What better way to let out that frustration than by going to a burlesque show chock full of not only hotties, but references to stroke the gamer ego? The show was hilarious, the audience intimate. It felt almost like group therapy watching Toad finally get down to pasties. From arousal to embarrassment to joy, it was cathartic, and what more can we ask of theater? This particular show is leaving NOLA, but the show's Mario and figurehead Picolla Tushy will continue conjuring up shows that capture desires and somehow simultaneously our inner child. To quote Tushy: "Sex and sexuality is a part of growing up." It's only natural then, that these lighthearted explorations of our childhood fantasies should be, well, fantasies.
All these events are good and fun, but some of you may be less comical in your approach to the alternative sex culture of New Orleans. If so, then Colette Swingers Club is the adventure for you. It's safe, upscale, sexy and just large enough to get lost in. Every Thursday night is Newbie Night, if you want to try your luck. Then again, Friday night is Pantiless night, where ladies get $20 off the door for arriving in dress code. Singles and Swingers alike are welcome. And if you have "Eyes Wide Shut" playing in the back of your mind, don't worry; this is New Orleans, so it's naturally more friendly. Visit coletteclubs.com for more info.
Whether it's the mental seduction of local poets or the avante-garde striptease on St. Claude, New Orleans has reinvented its sexual identity to be (besides legal) vibrant, artistic and on its way toward legendary.