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As legend has it, in a time not too distant from ours, an unknown man walked into Cafe Lafitte’s in Exile one Sunday evening and sat down at the bar. Patrons began to clutch their beverages, surreptitiously glancing at the stranger in fear that he might be one of the undercover cops attempting to bust a gay establishment. The crowd ceased all overt displays of affection. As a gradual silence descended onto the room, the bartender leaned over to the man, and they began to murmur back and forth. After a few moments, the bartender turned to the room and declared, “Relax boys, he’s one of us!” With a collective sigh of relief, the onlookers rejoiced, tossing their drink napkins into the air.

On any given Sunday around 9 o’clock, the clientele of America’s oldest running gay bar spill out onto the corner of Dumaine and Bourbon. New Orleanians venture in from neighborhoods as far out as Slidell to take part in what has become known as the “napkin toss.” This Sunday gathering, which many attend as religiously as church, offers a home in the heart of the city for hetero and homo alike. Amid a musical pairing of evangelical gospel and a feel good disco track, drink napkins fly across the room, eventually covering every surface, in a ritual so wasteful and decadent it could only take place in New Orleans.

Photos by Tammy Mercure

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