Historical records of tourism in New Orleans will confirm that at one time, the city was a premier destination for pirates. Jean Lafitte, who once picked off ships in the Gulf of Mexico until he emerged to become a hero of the Battle of New Orleans, is said to have lived out his years near here. His less-infamous brethren, the eye-patched and peg-legged, also once roamed our streets in droves, feeding ill-gotten doubloons into the local economy.
Inexplicably, pirate tourism in metro New Orleans has fallen off in the last hundred years or so. It's difficult to say why. Plenty of attractions are here -- enough to keep any discerning swashbuckler busy for at least a layover.
Upon docking, hungry privateers would feel welcome in the dim, European ambience of Pirates Alley Cafe, directly behind St. Louis Cathedral. If panini sandwiches and scurvy-preventative salads are too light, Port of Call is an easy walk even with a wooden leg. An institution for burgers since 1963, the "Neptune's Monsoon" cocktail is lauded on the menu as "an old recipe used frequently as a last request by pirates condemned to walk the plank."
New Orleans is also home to New Orleans Rum. Made from Louisiana blackstrap molasses and sugar cane at the only premium rum distillery in the United States, it not only evokes fond memories of South Seas haunts but goes well with a rousing yo-ho-ho. Tours of the distillery are available by appointment.
Lafitte was a devotee of Napoleon and would likely stop by the 200-year-old Napoleon House. But he'd likely storm out when he learned that the specialty drink is the Pimm's Cup -- a (shudder) product of England. He'd feel more at home at the eponymous Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, a tenuous-looking 18th century structure that is rumored to have been a front for Lafitte's thriving contraband trade. Still lit solely by candles, the intriguing gloom is a perfect atmosphere for plotting pillage or mutiny. Or if it's not a business trip, simply enjoy the piano bar. Further up Bourbon Street is the Funky Pirate, where a partying privateer can catch Big Al Carson's electric blues six nights a week.
During the day, the Quarter also offers a variety of pirate-friendly shopping. Gargoyles sells tons of hip rock 'n' roll and gothwear, the latter including plenty of quality leather boots, seawater-resistant tight trousers in vinyl, PVC and pleather. It even stocks poofy shirts. James H Cohen & Sons, established at its Royal Street home since 1848, carries an impressive range of antique swords, firearms and coins, from dueling pistols to Civil War-era sabers to pieces of eight.
For family-friendly pirate fun, there's nothing like cheering on the UNO Privateers at a home game -- four track team members and five baseball players were recently voted All-Louisiana by the Louisiana Sportswriters Association. A little farther east, the rides at Six Flags include the high-sailing Lafitte's Pirate Ship, but the interactive film of Jean Lafitte's life has been replaced by a movie featuring SpongeBob SquarePants. Arrrrrgh.
The adventurous might visit the Barataria Preserve, part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve, a short drive south from New Orleans in Marrero. Hiking trails and canoe rentals abound. Lafitte was said to know the winding bayous of Barataria like the back of his sword. At the end of a long day, a pirate might want to check into the Hampton Inn on St. Charles, where a talking parrot welcomes visitors to the lobby. Or, if you can't sleep, you can always go back out to try to plunder some booty.