What began as a going away party amongst a group of friends sharing a derelict house in the Treme area has evolved into the biggest gay celebration in the city, often referred to as “Gay Mardi Gras,” and an internationally renowned event that attracts over 200,000 attendees annually.
Southern Decadence, one of the top 5 annual events in the city (based on its economic impact), will mark its 47th year of revelry, centering around the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann Streets, known as the “epicenter of gay New Orleans,” this Thursday, August 30, through Monday, September 3.
Although the event has evolved into a massive, world-famous gay event, it didn’t start off as such. At its onset in 1972, it was simply a lighthearted celebration amongst friends—some gay, some not—who referred to it as the “Southern Decadence Party: Come As Your Favorite Southern Decadent.” The party started late the Sunday before Labor Day with the intention of using Monday to recover. It was such a hit that the group decided to do it again the following year, but this time they took it public, starting at Matassa’s Bar to show off their costumes and southern accents and eventually making their way back home, marking the first Southern Decadence parade.
It wasn’t until 1981, after most of the original organizers had moved on, that it became a primarily gay event and began to take shape into what it is today. Many of the founders disliked the fact that the event had gotten so big, evolving from the intimate gathering of friends they had enjoyed before. Grand Marshal V, Robert King, stood as the only actively participating founder, and he and his friends from the Golden Lantern Bar took over to keep the tradition alive.
1987 was the first year the Grand Marshal named an annual theme, color, and song for the event, which in many ways acted as a turning point for what the event would become.
This year’s theme will be "House of Bourbon—Unleash Your Beast" with Royal Blue and Canary Yellow as the official colors.
Although attendants are predominantly gay and lesbian, all are welcome to partake in the 5-day long celebration, which starts on Thursday and continues non-stop through Monday. Festivities include a free outdoor concert Saturday evening, headlined by award-winning R&B singer Deborah Cox; the unmissable Southern Decadence Walking Parade at 2 p.m. on Sunday, starting at the Golden Lantern; and LOTS of racy after-parties, parading, and dancing, facilitated by some of the nation’s best DJs.
Be sure to check out CAKE, four nights of events hosted by Ace Hotel at their Three Keys music venue, that will feature DJ sets, dance parties, informative talks, and a community-centered environment. Especially noteworthy is Horse Meat Disco, a ticketed, disco-fueled dance party hosted by the iconic London-based crew of DJs, taking place on Saturday from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.
The Drifter Hotel Pool has you set for daytime celebrations, hosting pool dance parties from 12 to 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 4 to 10 p.m. on Sunday. And if you book a room, you get free access to the festivities all weekend!
Close out the weekend on Monday at 8 p.m. with the LIPSTIXX “Hung Over and Broke” Closing Party, upstairs at the Bourbon Pub, which will also be hosting dancing all night long all weekend.
Although most of the fun to be had at Southern Decadence is free and open to the public, entry to certain bars and hotspots will cost. VIP and weekend passes will grant you unlimited entry, so pick them up here.
For official Decadence events, you can find the full schedule here, but many more unofficial events will be taking place throughout the city:
- Another F*cking Decadence Show at Allways Lounge at 11 p.m. on Thursday
- Krewe Party Presents: FEVER at House of Blues from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on Friday
- Southern Decadence Drag Brunch at Brennan’s from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Saturday
- Kitten N' Lou's CREAM starring RuPaul’s Drag Race glamazon Vivacious at Civic Theatre at 8 p.m. on Sunday
So ask around because there’ll be no shortage of entertainment! Last year’s event racked up over $250 million in revenue, so the sky’s the limit this year.
Grab your dancing shoes, set aside your blue and yellow outfit(s), be safe, and, most importantly, prepare yourself for a weekend of non-stop fun.