The infamous Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop was built between 1722 and 1732 by Nicolas Touze. It’s reportedly the oldest bar in New Orleans and was reputedly the oldest gay bar in the United States. The structure and fence are in the old French Provincial Louis XV or Briquette-Entre-Poteauxe style used in French Louisiana. The building also escaped two great fires at the turn of the 19th Century, due to the slate roofing.
Between 1772 and 1791, the property is believed to have been used by brothers Pierre and Jean Lafitte as a front for their smuggling operation between 1772 and 1791, which involved partnering with privateers who stole goods from foreign ships and covertly brought them into the city while avoiding government fees and taxes. The building, which Jean Lafitte operated as a blacksmith shop at the time, provided a perfect front. The legend is based on the fact that the property was owned by the family of Simon Duroche a.k.a. Castillon and the privateer Captain Rene Beluche. Castillon who was known to be a rather record-shy adventurer and entrepreneur. Captain Beluche commanded his ship “Spy” in Lafitte’s Baratarian fleet. Although the owners of the property, Jean Baptiste Dominica and Joly LaPorte probably lived on the premises, it is within reason that the Lafittes could have used the place as a city base for negotiations with potential buyers of their goods. It is unlikely that a wealthy Creole would agree to meet at home on Royal Street. Bourbon and St. Phillip was probably regarded as a safe and convenient neutral ground. Legend has it that after the Embargo Act was passed, which forbade American ships from docking at foreign ports, the Lafitte brothers moved their smuggling business to the island of Brataria in Louisiana’s Brataria Bay, just a short distance from New Orleans. The operation was eventually shut down by the government and the Lafitte brothers were arrested.
After tipping off U.S. authorities about an impending British attack, however, Jean Lafitte earned freedom for himself and his brother, and fought bravely in the 1814 Battle of New Orleans. Instead of mending their ways after their pardon, the Lafitte brothers moved their operation to the Gulf of Mexico and targeted Spanish ships for profit, staying true to the outlaw lifestyle until their deaths.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop is a mix of truth and fiction with French, Spanish, African, Cajun and American embellishments. Like so many of the best places in New Orleans and particularly the French Quarter, Lafitte’s is rumored to be haunted. Patrons and bartenders have allegedly spotted Jean Lafitte himself peering out through the fireplace grate and sitting at a table in the back of the piano bar, drink in hand. A mysterious female ghost has also been known to prowl the premises, sometimes appearing in a mirror on the building’s second floor.
Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop 941 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, LA 70116
Hours:10 a.m. “until everybody leaves,” i.e. 5 or 6 a.m. Open 7 days a week.
Phone: 504 593-9761