Wonder Woman with a fruit daiquiri. Cat Woman with a beer. Baby Huey with a drink he can't identify. Death with beads. Pinhead with, well, pins.
Yes, it's Bourbon Street, just before midnight. Amid the writhing throngs of costumed bodies -- some trying to move, others just trying to stand up -- scores of people in normal street clothes walk, gawk, snap pictures and shoot video. On the balconies young men entice women on the street to lift their tops. Some oblige. No, make that: Many oblige. And every time a top goes up -- as it does now, courtesy of a pregnant nun -- a dozen camera flashes explode as beads rain down and the crowd whoops and hollers.
A reveler dressed as Mother Nature joins a New Orleans Halloween parade.
(Chris Granger/The Times-Picayune)
If skeletons dropped from the ceiling scare you, do not go to the House of Shock (4951 River Rd., Jefferson, www.houseofshock.com), a 20,000-square-foot space in which every satanic nightmare and creepy hallucination seems to have come to life. Young men and women dressed as demons, their spawn or their acolytes execute this intensely interactive experience with such conviction -- and gory accouterments -- that area church leaders once broke in to sprinkle holy water all over the place. As one local reporter wrote about what it feels like to come out of the House of Shock: "Deep down all you want to do is lie on the ground and suck your thumb." Open Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings only in October. Tickets $15 Fridays and Saturdays, $10 Sundays.
Prefer to confront your demons on the street? Supernatural-themed tours are popular all year long, but they become almost mandatory at Halloween. Here are three major operators who can hook you up with a group tour tailored to your interests, fears or sense of humor.
Haunted History Tours, 504-861-2727, www.hauntedhistorytours.com. Offerings include a Vampire Tour, Voodoo/Witchcraft Tour, Cemetery Tour, Ghosts of the Garden District, and Ghosts of the French Quarter Tour. Cost: $18.
Bloody Mary Tours, 504-523-7684, www.bloodymarystours.com. Options include Moonlight Graveyard Tour, Tour of the Undead, Gravestones and Ghosts Tour, Ghost Vampire Voodoo Trilogy Tour, and Marie Laveau Legacy Tour. Cost: Usually $20 in advance, $25 at the start of the group tour.
Historic New Orleans Tours, 504-947-2120, www.tourneworleans.com. Offerings include Haunted French Quarter Walk, Cemetery/Voodoo History Tour, and Garden District/Cemetery Tour. Cost: $14-$15.
-- William Triplett
Sensory overload is the theme. Live music blasts from bar after bar after bar. Blinding neon flares everywhere. The smell of booze mixes in the air with occasional whiffs of . . . never mind. Two things come clear almost immediately: Costumed or not, you don't want to wear good shoes, and you never want to look down.
Still, residents say this is a calmer crowd than during Mardi Gras. Halloween, they claim, is more about acting out a fantasy and being seen, pretty much as it is anywhere else. But nowhere else has a kinship with the dead like New Orleans. Ghosts are to this city what art is to so many others.
Okay, maybe this is the art of excess. But maybe it's excessive because the presence of death is so palpable. Or maybe because people simply don't know how to control themselves. Whatever the case, this is the only city I know that feels haunted by its past anytime you come here. Halloween is just a massive get-acquainted party that New Orleans's undead throw for the living.
William Triplett last wrote for Travel about a Beatles tour in Hamburg, Germany.
Details: New Orleans
GETTING THERE: US Airways has round-trip flights from Reagan National to New Orleans starting at $270. Fares on Continental, Delta and Northwest go for about the same price.
WHERE TO STAY: The Pontchartrain Hotel (2031 St. Charles Ave., 800-777-6193, www.pontchartrainHotel.com) is a landmark in the Garden District and a short streetcar ride to the French Quarter. Weekend rates start at $69. Magnolia Mansion (2127 Prytania St., 888-222-9235, www.magnoliamansion.com) is a grand, upscale B&B, also in the Garden District, catering to romantic couples over 21. Lavish suites with names like Vampire's Lair and Bordello Moulin Rouge start at $200.
In the Quarter, the Dauphine Orleans Hotel (415 Dauphine St., 800-521-7111, www.dauphineorleans.com) has 18th-century townhouse walls and a palm-tree-lined courtyard. Rooms start at $149. For contemporary New Orleans, try International House (221 Camp St., 800-633-5770, www.ihhotel.com), two blocks from the Quarter in the Central Business District. The elegant hotel inside this sleekly redone beaux arts-style building includes a bar named after Voodoo deities and illuminated by candles only. Rooms start at $199. Want a hotel with a ghost? Take your pick at www.neworleansgetaways.com/hauntedhotels.htm.
WHERE TO EAT: In the Quarter, Alex Patout's (720 St. Louis St.) specializes in southern Louisiana cuisine -- appetizers like Cajun-style crab-stuffed mushrooms and Louisiana won tons stuffed with shrimp and crawfish on a bed of mango chutney; and entrees such as smoked pork loin in a wild mushroom and garlic sauce laced with Southern Comfort. Dinner runs $80 to $100 for two, depending on wine.
For fresh Gulf fish (shell or fin), a raw oyster bar and several other classic New Orleans seafood dishes, try the Redfish Grill (115 Bourbon St.). Start with baked Louisiana blue crab fingers with Creole tomatoes, Vidalia onions and garlic ($6) or the $11 Bourbon Street sampler (coconut shrimp, grilled alligator sausage, mini crab cakes and BBQ oysters; serves two). Follow with the hickory grilled fish of the day in a barbeque glaze with roasted sweet potatoes ($22).
For lunch, try the Gumbo Shop (630 St. Peter St.), with po' boys from $5.95 to $7.95. Or check out the chicken andouille gumbo for $6.95, reputedly a local favorite. Or take a leisurely streetcar ride through the Garden District, heading out of town on the St. Charles line, for a simple, old-fashioned breakfast or lunch at the Camellia Grill (626 S. Carrollton Ave.), a diner inside an old weather-beaten building. Eggs, burgers, sandwiches -- it's all good and cheap ($20 for two, with tip).
INFORMATION: New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corp., 504-568-5661, www.neworleansonline.com.
-- William Triplett