The seedy street where it all went wrong

new orleans shooting1:04

new orleans shooting

The infamous Bourbon Street.

“WE’LL celebrate this. We’ve earned it.”

This was the thinking of the two Australian men from Curtin University after their team won in the Intercollegiate Mining Games held in Montana earlier this week. But one serious lapse in judgment while out celebrating their victory in New Orleans in the early hours of Wednesday morning landed them both in hospital with gunshot wounds, one was struck in the chest and the other in the abdomen.

Jake Rovacsek and Toben Clements, who are both currently “awake and alert” and being treated in hospital with their families by their bedside, set out to party along with other revellers on Monday night and hit the thriving French Quarter, known for its picturesque buildings, bars and blues music.

But their mistake was undoubtedly to choose Bourbon Street, a famous tourist trap within the oldest neighbourhood in the city, to let their hair down. At any hour of the day, the seedy street is a bustling hub of live music, sleazy sex shows, strip joints and nightclubs, with boozy tourists drinking freely on the sidewalk and not-so-discreet prostitutes lingering nearby.

A police presence is now seen directly outside The Swamp bar on April 7, 2016. Picture: Bryan Tarnowski for

A police presence is now seen directly outside The Swamp bar on April 7, 2016. Picture: Bryan Tarnowski for

The Swamp, the bar where 21-year-old Mr Rovacsek and 23-year-old Mr Clements found themselves drinking until 4am, is one of the seediest establishments on the mile-long street. The duo are alleged to have approached a stranger in the late-night bar to buy drugs before making the disastrous decision to get into the car with the apparent dealer.

Located at 516 Bourbon Street, the honkey tonk saloon with a mechanical bull out the back is a popular watering hole among tourists, partly because it promises “the best damn party in The Big Easy” — a nickname given to the Louisiana city for its relaxed attitude towards alcohol consumption, even during the days of Prohibition.

With $3 shots being offered around by scantily-clad women, Happy Hour every day of the week and open till 5am, who wouldn’t be tempted? But not everyone’s experience is a positive one.

“Where questionable decisions will be made,” one Yelp reviewer wrote just two months ago.

“Stay away from this place at all costs. There is a group of thieves targeting tourists and stealing wallets and purses. Management does nothing about it,” another commented.

“There are over 40 bars on Bourbon St, STAY AWAY FROM THIS ONE!!!” said a recent reviewer.

A sign of trouble. Picture: Bryan Tarnowski for

A sign of trouble. Picture: Bryan Tarnowski for

Local residents despise the wild strip and even refer to it as “the street that New Orleanians love to hate”. In June 2014, 10 people were shot on Bourbon street. One of the victims, a 21-year-old nursing student named Brittany Thomas, died three days later. The incident, according to news reports, was the third major shooting on the street in the last three years.

In October last year, the Louisiana State Police revealed the details of a month-long undercover operation named “Operation Trick or Treat”, suspending the alcohol licences of five strip clubs on Bourbon Street after uncovering dozens of instances of drug activity, prostitution and “lewd and immoral acts”. Another seven establishments were under investigation.

“The French Quarter should not be known as one-stop shopping for criminal activity,” commissioner of the state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control Troy Hebert said at the time. “You pretty much walk into these places and you’ve got whatever you needed … marijuana, cocaine, sex.”

Anything goes inside The Swamp Bar.

Anything goes inside The Swamp Bar.Source:Supplied

While toplessness is generally accepted along the city’s iconic thoroughfare, Mr Herbert revealed the sting operation had found “bottomless women with zero clothes on” in the offending bars and clubs. Describing a situation where anything goes, Mr Herbert told reporters: “Basically they give you a menu: Sex? Drugs?”

There have already been more than 100 shootings and 30 homicides reported in 2016, with 165 last year in the city with a population of 384,000. Police in last year’s sting operation said 80 per cent of crimes statewide involved drugs and weapons.

The city has a colourful history of reputed mob activity, dating way back to 1890. While their presence has diminished, the Mafia still remains active in New Orleans today, where they hold kingpin status in the French Quarter, owning multiple strip clubs, bars, restaurants and drug import contracts.

While across the Mississippi river in Algiers is where Mr Clements and Mr Rovacsek were shot after not being able to produce “hundreds of dollars”, the seedy tourist strip of Bourbon Street is where everything began to take a turn for the worse for the Aussie students.

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