Bourbon Street: Welcome to The Neon Zone

If you're a first time visitor to New Orleans, there's just no avoiding it. 

After hearing so many tales of decadence and city-sanctioned overindulgence, after seeing Mardi Gras video footage and late-night infomercials; after feeling the gravitational pull of near-flammable frozen drinks, questionable "gentleman's clubs"  and pedestrian cocktail culture -- folks just have to have their own personal Bourbon Street experience. And for that, they've got to hit the Neon Zone. 

When visitors hear the phrase "Bourbon Street," they conjure up images of this seven-block stretch of Bourbon between Canal and St. Anne streets. It's a wonderland of boisterous cover bars, topless clubs, streetside beer vendors, and barkers that try to sell the sizzle to anything on two legs. It's the natural habitat of boa-draped bachelorette parties, whooping herds of greek-lettered students and 14-year-old boys of all ages. Off-hour conventioneers, nice Christian families, porcupine-pierced gutter punks and pneumatic exotic dancers in spray-on shortshorts roam this pedestrian-only zone looking for their personal version of action as bright neon lights bathe it all in a soft, eerie glow. 

For first timers or any attendee of a regional sales conference, the Neon Zone has "moth to flame" appeal-- bright, shiny, and prettymuch unavoidable. 

It is also the section of New Orleans most responsible for the city's saucy, somewhat illicit, and gloriously tacky reputation. Shot bars. T-shirt shops. Dance clubs. Off-season bead emporiums. Closet-width storefronts that magically contain a thousand churning frozen daiquiri machines. The distinctive smell of stale beer, cigar smoke, grain alcohol fried foods, and various bodily fluids. And sitting on the sidelines, the gigantic steel weenies and half-lidded gazes of the Lucky Dog vendors. 

Which is not to say that the Zone doesn't have its share of gems; many of the city's historic old line Creole restaurants--Galatoire's, Antoine's, Broussard's and Arnaud's to name a few --  are either a half block off Bourbon or smack dab in the middle of the boozy affair.  

A few blocks closer to Esplanade, Bourbon turns quiet; just another secluded residential street on the downriver end of the historic Vieux Carre. Outside the Zone, even Bourbon Street takes a breather. 

If you're here to do the things that you wouldn't dream of doing in your own town -- New Orleans gives you a brightly lit, no-holds-barred place to go wild for the weekend. But if you want to know the true nature of the city, walk away from the Neon Zone and see New Orleans in a more natural light. No beer goggles required.