Love it or hate it, Bourbon Street is the center of New Orleans for many who visit here. The street wasn’t always a strip of cheap beer, peep shows and T-shirt shops. The street was once an upscale residential street in the middle of the French Quarter. The French Opera House at Bourbon and Toulouse was the center of Creole society for decades until it burned down in 1919.
About the same time, the Storyville district was closed, and businesses migrated to Bourbon. Jazz musicians, prostitutes and prohibited liquor during prohibition could be found along Bourbon Street. The street also attracted restaurateur – Jean Galatorie opened Galatroire’s in 1905 and later, Owen Brennan opened “Brennan’s Vieux Carré Restaurant,” on the street.
The street was at its peak in the 1950s and 1960s with burlesque performers including “Pearl of the Orient,” “Champagne Girl” and “Wild Cherry,” at clubs like “Hotsy Totsy” and “Gunga Den.” Jazz greats Pete Fountain and Al Hirt opened competing jazz clubs on the street.
In an effort to clean up Bourbon Street in the 1960s, District Attorney Jim Garrison began raiding clubs known for illegal prostitution. Mayor Moon Landrieu followed on that effort by making the street a pedestrian mall and repaving the sidewalks. Critics said future efforts to clean up the street led to more souvenir shops than clubs and that the street had lost its “authenticity.”
Though Big Daddy’s swinging mannequin legs are long gone, and the old time burlesque shows have been replaced by newer joints, Bourbon Street – buoyed by 24-hour bars and open-container laws – shows no signs of slowing down.