Bring Back Storyville

Hey, I’m a local. That means the last time I went to Bourbon Street to an “adult-oriented” venue (a euphemism for a strip club) was quite a while ago, and it was probably with someone from out of town.

That’s the way it is. Locals have a hard time making it down to Bourbon Street, for the most part.

But there’s no denying that strippers and lap dancing emporiums on Bourbon Street are a major attraction for some visitors (I would hope they want to experience the music on the street, but I think I know better). It’s about the party, the drinking that’s allowed 24 hours a day, the ability to see pretty near-naked ladies (and some men). The “wild-and-crazy-anything atmosphere on Bourbon.” I get it.

Not my bag, but it’s a big attraction in New Orleans. The biggest, probably.

The city cracked down on eight adult entertainment venues in the last couple of weeks, pulling their liquor licenses. The ladies who dance in these clubs and who are the prime attraction in the clubs basically lost their jobs and (apparently, very) lucrative sources of income. Which means there are a hundred young women who are now unemployed and who are out on the street.

The city’s main reason for curbing this vice was to cut down on human trafficking that was supposedly taking places in these clubs.

The dancers organized (good for them), and actually seemed to make a difference. One of the performers, Lyn Archer, wrote a very good editorial in today’s Times-Picayune. She makes a lot of good points. Applause to these young ladies for standing up for themselves.

NOTE: If you are very religious, and/or squeamish about sex, scantily-clad dancers, or marijuana, you should stop reading now.

My opinion (not necessarily shared by other staff at OffBeat, or by my friends and relatives) is this: There is, was and always will be a market for performances or other (ahem) services that are sexually-oriented or -stimulating. Always. That’s never going to end, no matter how much we condemn it, prohibit it or try to prevent it. I’ve believed for some time that not only dancing should be legal, but prostitution. New Orleans did away with the Storyville District in 1917. It was a 20-year experiment, created by the city, and it legalized a red-light district in New Orleans to regulate prostitution and drugs (altering consciousness is also something that’s been practiced by humans since they discovered how it could be accomplished, for which there is also an ongoing demand that will never end, either. Right now, it’s satisfied by free and easy liquor).

Not too long after Hurricane Katrina almost destroyed this city, and we were wondering what the hell we were going to do to get back on our feet, I publicly promoted the idea of legalizing marijuana and prostitution in New Orleans. Hey, it was an idea whose time had come (again), but, of course, I caught some laughs for the suggestion.

(From Gambit’s Alison Fensterstock in 2009:

“In the issue of Offbeat magazine’s [sic] Weekly Beat e-newsletter that went out today, Editor-in-Chief Jan Ramsey suggested a novel method for New Orleans to jump-start its economy: following Amsterdam’s example, the city should legalize marijuana and reintroduce a prostitution district.

‘I also have the solution to solving New Orleans’ economic problems now and forever: let’s make it the Amsterdam of the U.S.

First, decriminalize marijuana use (oh the horror of Michael Phelps getting caught hitting a bong!!) and confine it to “coffee houses” in specific areas of the city; and second, re-create Storyville with taxed, legalized, controlled, clean prostitution. No more Canal Street madams or martyrs for David Vitter!

I can hear the screaming and outraged yelling now. But have you ever been to Amsterdam?

Think about it.’

It might not be such a bad idea at that. Any suggestions as to who would be best suited to head up the new Mayor’s Office of Weed and Hoes?”

Funny, yes, then and now, but I stand by that recommendation today. If we can drink ’til we drop and vomit alcoholically on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, have some lissome lovelies tempt us with their bodies in strip clubs, then what is so radically different about allowing and regulating prostitution and making marijuana available for those who want to use it, and taxing the hell out of it? Regulate it, tax it. But make it legal!

I say, bring back the Storyville District (sans guns, if you please). We’d have infinitely more money to repair our infrastructure, educate our kids, decrease violence and squelch a lot of the drug trade. Right now Bourbon Street is our de facto Storyville—but with no real “teeth.” If visitors want to patronize it—and they most assuredly will—we’ll build a better overall New Orleans.



  • Stan Beyerman

    I’ve been to NOLA 15, 20 times, beginning with Feb 11, 1986, which was Fat Tuesday AND my birthday. In all of my visits, I’ve never been in a “shaker palace” — much to the surprise of several co-workers when one one of those visits was a corporate convention. I stayed pretty much to myself and one morning I asked one of the women what they did the night before. She said, “Brad took us to a strip bar.” I said, “I’ve never been in one of those here.” To this day I don’t think she believes me.

    I’ve been to Mardi Gras twice, once drunk on my azz, once on the wagon. JazzFest twice, and never again, it’s gotten too big and too expensive. I’ve been there on work, for pleasure and in 1997 as an official for the USA Track & Field championships.

    I once spent a day driving around town with the late Bob French who I hooked up with over the phone after listening to his post-Katrina rants. I acted cool as, after lunch, he stated that he needed to drop by Mac Rebbenack’s house to drop off a CD. (Yeah, you right!!!) One of the coolest days of my life.

    Strolling past a voodoo shop in the Quarter once, a producer for an MTV show asked if I’d like to go in and act like a customer and appear on MTV. I gave her a one-word answer: “Why?”

    I was ignored by a very pompous Ed Bradley in a tent at JazzFest.

    I talked four big “bros” out of kicking my azz and robbing me when I got off on a side street late on my first (drunk) Mardi Gras night.

    I was on the riverboat President when Cinemax(?) screwed up the video taping of the first show of Marva Wright, BB King and Stevie Ray Vaughn – so they STARTED the second show with the encore, packed up their equipment and we got the whole show!

    I eventually got one of my nephews hooked on NOLA. Prior to his first visit, he asked me for one important piece of advice not in the travel guides. W/out hesitation, I told him to go to Goodwill and get a cheap pair of shoes, and, “… when you leave your hotel, leave the shoes.” He told me that’s the best piece of advice anyone has EVER given him about anything.

    And I know “where I got my shoes!”

    • bydabayou

      When the Jazzfest expanded out from the track, it got a lot less crowded.
      It cracks me up when people complain about the price. Yeah, it hurts me too, but ticket prices are far less, even half the price of other festivals- and with 17 stages too! But suit yourself. More room for the rest of us.

  • Kathleen A Rippey

    Yeah you right Jan. I’m totally with you on this. Unfortunately, I see the city going the totally opposite direction. Sigh.

  • marc stakenburg

    Living in Amsterdam and visting New Orleans twice a year, ofcourse I was interested in your story. Nudity bars is not really my thing, but hé, what’s against it? Funny thing is you compare New Orleans to Amsterdam. Well I can tell you that our famous Red Light district has had it’s best time too. A lot of ‘windows’ were closed the last couple of years. We also have to deal with woman trafficking. People wonder if this thing still is something to be proud of in the 21th century. Also; The red light district is the most beautiful part of the city and more and more Amsterdammers think it’s a pitty that only drunk people coming from abroad have their parties there. Believe me, very few Amsterdammers or even Dutch people go there. The same goes for you I guess in Bourbon Street. Small businesses arise in these streets now. My guess, in 10 years time there is no more Red Light district as we now have it in Amsterdam. Ofcourse, Storyville was something magical, but to bring it back? Times have changed.