Editor’s note: TravelQ, a series that documents travel through the eyes of stylish quplateers, returns this week with a new feature by Anita Dolce Vita and members of the #dapperQrew.
The convergence of music, art, history, food, nightlife and diverse, rich culture makes New Orleans the #1 Southern destination in the United States. New Orleans attracts large numbers of LGBTQ+ travelers from across the globe, particularly for their gay festivals, such as Southern Decadence (mostly gay men) and Gay Easter. I have always wanted to visit New Orleans and The Weekend Soirée, an annual traveling 4-day weekend retreat celebrating and empowering dope Queer Womxn, provided the perfect reason for me to finally gather my #dapperQrew and head down to the Big Easy.
Why We Were in NoLa: The Weekend Soirée
Founded by QPOC entrepreneurs Imani “Grant” Grant and Mary “MDOT” Fuller, The Weekend Soirée (TWS) is a 4-day traveling retreat for QPOC Womxn. TWS is disrupting LGBTQ+ destination conferences, festivals, and the travel industry by centering QPOC womxn’s experiences and interests. TWS is comprised of 3 session tracks that offer multi-media, multi-platform activities that go beyond drinking all weekend. TWS understands that QPOC travelers crave culinary, art, film, fitness, travel, fashion, and professional development experiences in addition to great nightlife.
Held this year in New Orleans, TWS session tracks were Enrich (for healing and wellness); Experience (to stoke creative juices); and Expand (for flexing mind over matter) and boasted over 50 activities, including, but not limited to:
Bootcamp with Carter the Body
Twerk til It Hurts Yoga with Leana Marie
Letters to Our Masculinity with bklyn boihood
Finding Freedom in Your Sexuality with Kim Daily and Shaquinta Richardson, PhD
Bites & Bubbles presented by LezNorie
Cooking Up Vegan New Orleans Style with Chef T
Curating Sexy Cocktails with The Cocktail Nymph
Desserts by Chef Shonda
MonogamISH: Exploring Non-Monogamy & Open Relationships with Dr. Monica Lyn
Queer Style as Visual Activism presented by dapperQ with speakers Anita Dolce Vita, Azure, Ryley R. Pogensky, and Leon Wu
Know Justice Know Peace: Unpacking the Role of Police in Our Community with Michelle Nicole
I was invited to moderate the panel on “Queer Style As Visual Activism.” We had an hour to present. However, my panel was the last panel of the day scheduled in the room assigned to us and we ended up chatting for 90 minutes because the speakers and attendees had incredibly dynamic conversations around topics such as the challenges of presenting masculine, femme style being transgressive, authenticity, and how queer fashion on social media is both helping and harming our visibility.
In addition to the panels and workshops, TWS also curated specialty daytime events, such as film screenings, and evening events, including their Saints and Sinners Masquerade Ball hosted by YouTube sensation Amber’s Closet.
TWS culminated with a closing brunch and awards ceremony that featured prominent politician and activist Leslie Herod, the first gay African-American to be elected to Colorado’s state legislature. After inspiring, impactful speeches by Herod and the honorees, TWS brought in a traditional New Orleans brass band and the day party started. Day parties are my THING. Nothing beats breaking a dance sweat before sundown. This party was particularly special – there was a strong feeling of community and unity as we concluded such an affirming weekend.
Where to Eat: Bring on the FOOD!
Let the battle of the best beignets begin. I heard conflicting reports of which establishment served the best beignets in NoLa: Cafe du Monde vs Cafe Beignet. Never the person to pass up an opportunity to eat fried desserts covered in powdered sugar, I decided to do a taste test and ate at both establishments. I personally preferred Cafe Beignet. However, my partner preferred Cafe du Monde. So, all I can say is go see for yourself. But, do so early in the morning. Both establishments get quite busy and you’ll find shorter waits in the morning.
Willa Jean | 611 O’Keefe Ave
Queer chef Kelly Fields is the Chef Owner of Willa Jean, a hip restaurant serving up contemporary New Orleans cuisine in the city’s Central Business District. The #dapperQrew (me, Alithea Castillo, and Kim Geronimo aka @thestreetsensei) ordered the BBQ shrimp toast, burger, and fish & chips. Willa Jean keeps a seasonal menu, so watch out for specials like Fields’ LGBT@+ Tartine, a #queertoast comprised of “lettuce + whipped garlic + bacon + roasted tomatoes + puffed quinoa + other stuffs.”
Justine | 225 Chartres St
If you’re a basic bish Insta haux like me (and don’t pretend you’re not), you get drawn into places with great Insta-worthy decor. I wandered into Justine already full from all the beignets I ate (see above for a reminder), but just REALLY wanted to take a photo of and bask in Justine’s ambience. I ordered a small snack – TUNA CRUDO: cured yellowfin tuna, scallion-ginger beurre noisette, and lemon preserve. IT WAS SO DANG GOOD that after I worked up an appetite at City Park (see below), I came back for a full dinner meal. They have a cute cafe with ceiling to floor doors that open to the street and a more formal dining area. For dinner, I ordered the burger: grilled peppercorn crusted patty, brioche bun, emmantaler, arugula & frites. No pics of the food. Just ate. It’s a solid brasserie in New Orleans’ historic French Quarter. No jacket required or formal French spot like Café Boulud or Daniel in NYC. But you won’t go wrong here for a cute bougie feel and tasty French meal. They also have a DJ and late night bites until 1am on the weekends, but that’s way beyond my bedtime.
What to See and Do
If you’re looking for what bars to go to or where to get a fish bowl drink on Bourbon St., you’re in the wrong guide. Our #dapperQrew is a tad bit more bougie than getting face-plant drunk and we crave style and substance beyond the bar. Here are my picks for an alternative New Orleans experience:
Most Instagrammable New Orleans | French Quarter, Warehouse District
When you travel with professional content creators, stylists, and photographers like Alithea Castillo and @thestreetsensei you must capture your ‘fits against the backdrop of whatever city you’re in. New Orleans offers so many beautiful locations to shoot your queer style, but Alithea, thestreetsensei, Leon Wu of Sharpe Suiting, and I chose the French Quarter and the Warehouse District for an impromptu photo shoot.
Graveyard Tours | Tours By Steven New Orleans
Leon Wu kept nudging me to take a graveyard tour, but as a New Yorker, I thought a tour might be cheesy. I eventually caved, and I’m so glad I did! Our tour guide, Teri from Tours By Steven, was so knowledgeable and gave us an in-depth history of the burial rituals and processes in New Orleans. I usually do not take photos in cemeteries, but photos are encouraged on some of the cemetery tours because a portion of the funds from tours go to care for and restore the overground tombs. (The tombs are above ground because New Orleans is situated slightly below sea level.) And, photos are a great way to get the word out about the tours!
City Park | 1 Palm Dr
City Park is a 1300-acre outdoor oasis away from all the loud, drunk tourists that crowd Bourbon St. There are so many beautiful, peaceful, picturesque areas in the park. Also, if you want to try Cafe Du Monde’s beignets, they have a location at the park. It’s not their original storefront, but you can watch the beignets being made at the City Park location, and its much less crowded. So, you can grab a beignet, a café au lait, and sit by one of City Park’s beautiful bridges.
The Garden District in another neighborhood that provides a respite from the tourist strips of the French Quarter. It is filled with beautiful oak lined streets and pastel mansions. The neighborhood is also home to hip shopping, bars, and cafes along Magazine St. I recommend starting at Peaches Records, a family-owned record store that carries new and vintage records, and then making your way down Magazine St. for charming shops and galleries. Zig zag through the side streets around Commander’s Palace to see historic homes and cute picturesque landscapes. Take a street car to the Garden District for the complete New Orleans experience.
Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge | 1500 N. Claiborne Ave.
You can’t leave New Orleans without catching some live jazz and blues. Kermit’s features a diverse lineup of music and musicians, including living legend local trumpeter and band leader Kermit Ruffins.
Thank you to The Weekend Soirée for having us in New Orleans. As a queer woman of color who loves travel and is always catching flights, collecting cities, and running out of pages in my passport, TWS was EVERYTHING because I not only got to experience a highly enriching retreat, but finally made it to a bucket list city: New Orleans. See you all at the next TWS in D.C., 2020!