Bourbon Street, New Orleans: Party Central

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During the day, visitors, residents and their families quietly linger over cups of chicory or meander through the cobblestone streets to browse in funky local shops, all while being bathed in the historical ambience of Bourbon Street. New Orleans' French Quarter comes to life after dark, especially along this boulevard of debauchery.

You'll definitely want to leave the babies with the babysitter before you go to experience the adults-only atmosphere of public drinking, likely profanity and possible partial nudity on Bourbon Street after dark.

Though the world knows of the notoriety of Bourbon Street, New Orleans residents tend to point out that it is just a small part of the city, and encourage visitors to explore the rest of New Orleans outside of this narrow corridor. But there's no denying that vast numbers of tourists visit the Louisiana city to party in the French Quarter, and specifically Bourbon Street.

New Orleans builders laid out the French Quarter in a grid pattern in 1721, and it measures roughly 6 blocks by 12 blocks. Bourbon Street spans the length of the Quarter, from Canal Street to Pauger Street. The hard-partying action mostly takes place on the eight blocks of Upper Bourbon Street, New Orleans' hub of strip clubs, restaurants, pubs and T-shirt and souvenir shops. Amongst those, you'll also find a few jazz clubs and historic hotels.

The biggest parties take place during festival times, particularly Mardi Gras, when hundreds of thousands of tourists descend on Bourbon Street. New Orleans opens its arms to these visitors – and their money – especially after the massive destruction wrought upon the city by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. New Orleans is still rebuilding; its tourism industry is a big factor in the city's rebirth, and a major magnet for that tourism remains Bourbon Street.

New Orleans allows public consumption of alcohol by those of legal drinking age on the streets of the French Quarter, and along with the drinking comes a loss of inhibition. Women flashing their bare breasts for strings of beads is a fairly common sight – as are throngs of men waiting to capture those moments on camera.

Bourbon Street and its bars boast some signature cocktails, such as the rum-filled Hurricane, concocted by Pat O'Brien's, and the Hand Grenade, a melon-flavored mixture made with "secret ingredients" sold at Tropical Isle and marketed as the strongest drink on Bourbon Street.

With all that free-flowing alcohol and newcomers unaccustomed to Bourbon Street shenanigans comes some danger to tourists. If you're imbibing, try to keep your consumption at a reasonable level. Remain aware of your surroundings, avoid the side streets and stick with a group. Don't forget the address of your hotel in New Orleans, even if you have to write it on your arm, so you can tell your cab driver how to get there when the night is over.

And, again, a reminder. Your family can have a great time exploring Bourbon Street and the Historic French Quarter during the day, but plan to have someone responsible watch the kids if you're going at night.

Photo by Daquella manera on Flickr

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