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Go Cups Took the Bar Outside

When the padlocks came out on Bourbon Street, the coat-and-tie set called it quits.

The neon lights went dark. The dancers went home. It was the end of an era–and the beginning of a new one.

From the 1920s to 1960s, Bourbon Street was awash with men and women dressed to the nines in search of glittering depravity. Bawdy singers, comics, contortionists. They catered to the lowbrow tastes of a highbrow clientele.

The ‘40s saw the rise of burlesque. Women stripped on sumptuous stages of velvet and gold, lit up like vaudeville queens. Dancers–Blaze Starr and Rita Alexander the Champagne Girl and the like–became local celebrities.

Cops had a bigger problem with the street’s less savory side.

Pimps and prostitutes ambled. Mob men and criminals worked backdoor deals. The real income streams of the burlesque clubs were questionable. The illegal practice of B-drinking, where strippers took cuts of drinks they’d goded customers into ordering, was rampant.

In 1962, District Attorney Jim Garrison vowed to clean up Bourbon Street’s act. After two years of raids, the Bourbon Street of yore, with its tassels and tricks, was dead.

From its ashes,

the go cup.

Barkers, standing out front of the struggling bars and clubs that remained after the raids, unsuccessfully tried to lure the new patrons – tourists and hippies on budgets, mostly – inside with two-for-one drinks. It didn’t work.

But five years after Jim Garrison declared war on Bourbon Street debauchery, some enterprising genius discovered something to fill its place: window hawking.

Tiny operations began opening in windows, carriageways, doors. They sold booze in glass cups, food to be taken on the road. Lights shone on hand-painted advertisements for beer and corn on the cob. Pedestrians wandered Bourbon Street, drink in hand.

The go cup was born.

Photo: Rebecca Todd

And despite some pushback and shifting laws over the years, it’s not going anywhere.

Today, drinking on the go is part of the landscape. Daiquiris in nuclear colors, with names like Fuzz Buster and Cardiac Arrest, can be purchased from one of New Orleans’ many drive-thrus (they just don’t put the straw in). Bourbon Street, that birthplace of the go cup, remains rife with partiers on the move.

So the next time you stumble down the street, go cup in hand, raise a toast to DA Jim Garrison and his unsuccessful game of wackamole. Kill one vice in NOLA, and another one will surely pop up in its place.

Visit New Orleans and start your story with #OneTimeInNOLA.

Jenny is a writer of culture both high and low. Her work has appeared in V Magazine, Lenny Letter, and TIME, to name a few. She first fell in love with New Orleans over buttermilk biscuits and strawberry preserves. She’s been a NOLA regular ever since.

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