Royal Street is the most exclusive address for shopping in the French Quarter, known for upscale antiques and first-rate art galleries. Parallel Chartres Street has some of the same kinds of stores, as do the blocks connecting them. The ritzier shopping is in the Lower Quarter; once you venture past around St. Peter Street, you’ll find funkier boutiques, such as mod clothiers, eccentric costume shops, edgy galleries, and places with a distinctly youthful vibe. Decatur Street is similarly offbeat when it comes to retail, and it’s also a good area for finding cheesy souvenirs. In such an irreverent and party-oriented city, it’s not surprising that many of the souvenir shops emphasize sex, drinking, camp, and off-color humor in their gifts, toys, cards, and novelties. Decatur Street also leads to the mother ship of New Orleans shopping, the French Market, which contains retail shops, a lively farmers market, and a flea market.
Bring out your inner (or outer) drag queen at outrageous Fifi Mahony’s, your one-stop salon and makeup counter for that occasion when you’re trying to make a statement. Pop in and browse the wigs that come in every color of the rainbow (and then some), plus body glitter, Tony & Tina cosmetics, wild hair-care products, and offbeat handbags. Shine Spa & Specialties is a full-service day spa that also sells a wide range of earth-friendly skin-care products.
Mardi Gras masks are a big business Littin New Orleans year-round, and Little Shop of Fantasy offers one of the better selections. Many of the masks and Mardi Gras costumes and accessories are made locally, others by artists from all over the world. Some of these items are strictly for collecting, not wearing, unless you’re willing to risk getting beer splashed across a $1,200 mask during a crazy Carnival party. Well, you’re in New Orleans, and there are few cities with a sexier vibe, so why not drop by the Quarter’s premier sex boutique (with plenty of gay items) ConXXXion (107 Chartres St.) a 24-hour emporium of movies, books, lingerie, oils, equipment, and assorted playthings. It’s popular with straights, gays, and everybody who identifies somewhere in between. In Faubourg Marigny along bustling Frenchmen Street, FAB on Frenchmen (Faubourg Marigny Art & Books) (600 Frenchmen St.) is the city's GLBT bookstore, with a great selection of magazines, books, and art. If you're looking for gay-leather products, don't miss Second Skin Leather (521 St. Philip St.), while Alternatives (907 Bourbon St.) is the best shop in town for gay Pride gifts, cards, club gear, and such. Another fun place with a decidedly gay bent is Hot Chocolate (509 Dumaine St.), which carries erotic cakes and candies as well as other irreverent novelties.
The Quarter has a couple of decent shopping centers, Jackson Brewery, a restored 1891 brewery inside a stately 1891 building (from the top you get nice views of the Mississippi River). A more comprehensive mall with a definite gay following is the Shops at Canal Place, which includes branches of such acclaimed retailers as BCBGMAXAZRIA, Saks Fifth Avenue, Coach, Kenneth Cole, L'Occitane, Gucci, Williams-Sonoma, and Pottery Barn. There’s also a very movie theater that specializes in indie films, some of them gay-themed, as well as the usual blockbusters. The acclaimed Southern Repertory Theatre is also housed here.
It's art and antiques that really makes the French Quarter a top shopping 'hood. In the Shops at Canal Place, don't miss RHINO Contemporary Craft Co., whose mission is to promote and sell the hand-crafted decorative arts, furniture, objets d’art, and clever creations of local talents. The famous “Blue Dog” artist George Rodrigue operates his Rodrigue Studio in an attractive space behind St. Louis Cathedral. You can buy everything from original oil paintings to inexpensive Blue Dog gifts. Sorry, the model for Rodrigue's art, Tiffany the terrier, entered the gates of doggies heaven many years ago. If you're a Mardi Gras fan, drop by Gallery Nine-Forty, which carries New Orleans-themed works, including many compositions related to Mardi Gras (as well as official Hurricane Katrina posters, depicting a fanciful purple kitty, that benefit Animal Rescue New Orleans).
Look for original works by Peter Max, LeRoy Neiman, Frederick Hart, and other notables of the contemporary art world at Angela King Gallery. The world-famous Martin-Lawrence Galleries have a branch along Royal Street. The roster of star artists with works here is astounding: Picasso, Chagall, Warhol, Erte, and more. Callan Fine Art has lovely 18th- and 19th-century Impressionist and other fine paintings, with the works of the French Barbizon movement a particular specialty. Photo giants like Ansel Adams, Edward Curtis, Elliott Erwit, Henri-Cartier Bresson, and Helmut Newton have works available at the prestigious Gallery for Fine Photography.
Since 1899, Keil’s Antiques (325 Royal St.) has been specializing in 18th- and 19th-century antiques from France and England, from marble mantels and magnificent crystal chandeliers to garnet chokers. You might expect to find some first-rate French antiques in the Quarter, and indeed, the French Antique Shop, which moved to New Orleans from Paris in 1939, has an extensive and impressive array of fine Gallic furnishings from the 18th and 19th centuries as well as some striking Asian vases and accessories. The tiny and terrific Brass Monkey (235 Royal St.) carries a wonderfully odd assortment of antique collectibles, from Limoges boxes to ancient walking sticks to vintage medical paraphernalia--expect the unexpected.
Your best bet for souvenirs is simply to stroll the length of Decatur Street and pop inside a few shops, as there are many of them, and they’re pretty similar. Perhaps the best, or at least the campiest, of the quirky gift and novelty shops along Decatur, Funrock’n carries bizarre and tacky knickknacks you probably never knew you needed: Elvis lamps, Day of the Dead lunchboxes, “Satan Was a Lesbian” refrigerator magnets, The Scream posters, iron-ons, cards, and other peculiarities.