Nola 300: How Bourbon Street became world famous

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NEW ORLEANS — It’s one of the most famous streets in the country, and it attracts millions of people every year from across the globe.

As New Orleans celebrates its 300th birthday with a year’s worth of Tricentennial events, we’re looking back at what made New Orleans the iconic city it is today.

Just three years after the city’s founding, Bourbon Street was carved out and named for France’s ruling family — the House of Bourbon.

At the time, it stretched all the way to Lake Pontchartrain, according to Kevin Harrell with the Historic New Orleans Collection.

The Great Fire of 1788 destroyed hundreds of structures in the French Quarter, but it stopped short of Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, which is still standing today.

It wasn’t until the 1870s and 1880s that tourism became a solid industry in the French Quarter thanks to railroads that connected New Orleans to places like Chicago, San Francisco, New York and Atlanta.

The anchor for the entertainment district was the French Opera House, which opened in 1852.

When Prohibition happened, the city’s seedier nightlife got pushed underground, but it quickly rose to the surface again after Prohibition ended.

In the 1960s, after night clubs began to fail because of World War II ending, that’s when “they sort of ripped the velvet” and started selling beer on the street.

“People moving down Bourbon Street drinking beer looking in windows. Opportunities for people to get their beers eat their food and walk. And this pedestrian foot traffic it’s what’s so important in kind of defining what Bourbon Street is all about,” Harrell explained. “What’s been so remarkable about it is its ability to adapt, its ability to produce an entrepreneurial spirit amongst the people that live here, and it’s an economical back bone for this city.”


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