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The Rampart Drag 
by Jamie Joy Gatto
Photography by Alex Gatto

Click on the Girls for a Bigger, Sassier Drag Show!

At the rim of the Quarter, an area possessed by misfits and frequented by the most unusual people (even by New Orleans standards), the drag bars line up along the edges of Rampart Street bordering Armstrong Park. Tucked behind mild facades of ancient buildings and quaint corner store frontages are the drag queen, CD, she-male, transvestite, show girl's bars. 

Photo: Move Over, Dennis Rodman!

A tough-looking black girl hurries from show bar to corner bar, rushing on her clunky heels, head erect, the look on her face a bit frantic, as she tries to hide her worries behind a drag-punk exterior. The girls always seem to walk too fast on the street and I wonder if they are in fear of getting beaten, harassed, jumped, maybe even raped. Stonewall seems both decades and miles away from the world of its own called "The Big Easy." This area reads more like "The Big Sleazy."

Photo: A Footloose Girl with an Attitude

Most likely the girls are rushing from show to show, or maybe trying to stay indoors to avoid the crime that sometimes leaks past Armstrong Park. Both local and national news have made our park famous by announcing it as home to the killing of tourists and the mugging of Opera and theatre goers who stray past its historic gates. To look at it, by day or night, you'd think it was a lovely park, the perfect place to wander in on damp New Orleans evenings, to sit under great oaks by the water's edge and cool your feet, or kiss your date, or stop to rest. What they don't put in the tourist brochures is that just beyond the park's limits is a group of housing projects where huddles of crack dealers and buyers pepper the corners and gun shots fracture the quiet nights. They don't remind you that the park is home to the homeless and junkies and all the bad things that go bump in the night-- things that make tomorrow's headlines. 

Photo: An Old Gal Sings The Blues

Armstrong Park's deadly welcoming glow seems to wash out well before it reaches the other side of the street, leaving the tiny bars on Rampart aglow in harsh, yet dim streetlight. Tourists rarely wander the strip. I assume it's too far from the stink and flash of noisy Bourbon Street to interest them. So you usually won't see white kids in ball caps and college T-shirts wearing out of season Mardi Gras beads stumbling drunk along its long corridor. Lucky for them. Lucky for the girls, too, I guess. If I were a man in lipstick and heels, I'd rather be faced with the occasional stray derelict wandering in from junkie park than the fists of a young, homophobic fraternity drunk.

 Photo: China Blue, Miss Gay Universe 2000
 Visit China Blue's Pageant Site

Our first stop on Rampart is Voodoo on Congo Square, a bar which takes its name from the historic days when Armstrong Park was not yet built. Once upon a time, it had been a place sanctioned for slaves. There the Africans would meet on Sundays and sell their goods, dance rituals and celebrations, find community in a life broken by slavery. Voodoo is the primary theme of this cute and quirky little corner bar. The walls are covered in voodoo dolls and African masks hang in the main bar. The Queens come in to relax, not to perform in this place. It is also home to a large mural of an antique library, walls painted with books and shelves and even a mantle filled with Voodoo accessories and candles, all reflected by a mock mirror. Each painted book has a tongue-in-cheek title and often locals have their own book-- one painted by the artist to include their name, or hobbies, or an inside joke. If you sit at the bar long enough, you'll often find someone ready to show you their book and explain its history.

Photo: Drag Queen Wearing an Amazing Wonder Ring!

Down the block, Footloose is home to endless parades of Dragettes flaunting their trashiest best each Saturday night. They climb the tiny, foot-high stage with a disco ball hovering precariously over their wigs and lip-synch to every disco song ever written. The "men" in the bars stuff dollars into the girl's gel nail claws as they gesticulate and mock-orate each lip movement of the original stars. Never mind the popularity of "The Lady Chablis" in the famous Savannah film, we have "The Lady Roget." There are no breath-taking Hollywood-style starlets in size three wearing Armani and Mackie and Chanel. No, these are true-blue, gritty and real, often huge and not afraid to look like a Drag Queen. They are in too much of everything and yes, some of them are truly stunning, but no one would ever scratch their head in wonder as to their literal gender, although, respectfully, most are treated as the ladies and hometown Divas they truly are.

Photo: New Orleans' Own: "The Lady Roget"

Tonight as we attend the Footloose show, we're blessed with the presence of two drag celebrities: China Blue, Miss Gay Universe and Felina Colby Shane, Miss Gay United States Universe. They are the most glamorous, the most passable and most certainly the best at entertaining us. I ask Felina about her rather large breasts, wondering aloud whether or not they are created from hormone therapy, but before I get the sentence out of my mouth, she is popping her nipples out of her halter and offering me a real handful of her smooth titties. She tells me they are made from silicone, but they hang and sway like real breasts, not overly large or too taut. I'm impressed. And I don't think it's a bit rude to ask, these women work very hard for their look and for their titles. I'm not willing to undergo the knife for looks, that's for damn sure. 

Photo: Felina Colby Shane, Miss Gay United States Universe 2000

China Blue is sans surgery or hormones or anything but her expertise in make-up and styling. She is a professional make-up artist by day and lives regularly as a male. My wonderment is increased after she actually performs, showing up on stage in a little black nothing with "Diva" written in sequins decorating her hem. I am star-struck and truly smitten. She is perfection.

Photo: China Blue Serenades Felina (Now THAT'S an Ass!)

Beyond Footloose is  T.T.'s, which isn't a drag bar, but it's home to some of the sluttiest and skankiest gay boy activity you'll likely find in any bar on earth with open French doors in an airy little Bistro style joint with aged brickwork adorning the French Quarter walls. Clothing seems to be optional, and that's not necessarily only for the dancers writhing on the narrow, nicely lit bar top. Here you will find yourself an eyeful of just about anything sexual and gay you desire, or a mouthful if that's what suits you.

 Photo: An Offer in the Ladies Room

Musicians wander in and out of Donna's which is about the only straight bar in the vicinity. It's often filled with brass bands and second-line marching bands and lots of partying locals. When there is no music scheduled, the doors, usually full of traffic and laughter, hang open and uninviting and the place has the stale air of low class and haphazard, make-shift decoration and care. When the bands within are disbanded, the place is nearly always empty. At least you don't have to wait in line for a bathroom behind a Queen who may be taking a while to powder her nose and Lord knows what else.

Photo: An Offer on the Dance Floor

The Rampart Drag is truly home to no one in particular, but the Queens do rule. If you find yourself strolling down the edges of the Quarter, that historic thirteen square blocks of decadence, to a place where tourists rarely venture, take a peek at the ladies of Footloose and tell them Mind Caviar sent you. Tip your dollar, pay your respects, toast to all the work and guts it takes to look that cheap.

Photo: Mind Caviar Staff Meets The Girls of Rampart:
Our Own Alex Gatto as "Olive Martini"

Click Here to see a full page of 
Rampart Drag Shots.

Photo: Violet Shows off her leopard pants as 
Olive Martini Offers Her Best to a Boy with Blue Hair


Copyright © 2000 Jamie Joy Gatto. All rights reserved.
Photos Copyright © 2000 Alex Gatto. All rights reserved.
Ad Graphics Copyright © 2000 Mia Jennings. All rights reserved.

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