There’s no party quite like the extravagance that is Mardi Gras. Though as its namesake states, Mardi Gras is technically on Fat Tuesday, the celebration starts the previous weekend and continues all week. And no one celebrates debauchery, gluttony, and hedonism like the good people of New Orleans.
If you’re staying in the French Quarter (and you should, because between the parades and the thousands of people descending on the area, I imagine getting to the French Quarter is a lengthy nightmare), then joining the festivities is a simple matter of walking out of your hotel. New Orleans is a city basically made up of music and during Mardi Gras, all the city’s talented musicians come out to wow the revelers. There are parades scheduled every single day in all different parts of the city. So whether you want to get a good spot on the parade route to catch beads from or you want to enjoy it from a restaurant balcony while you drink and have a shrimp po’boy, you have a lot of options. But of course, the party starts when the parades end.
For those of you that have never been to New Orleans, Bourbon and Royal Street are basically always a non-stop party destination, probably because they have no open container laws. You can buy drinks and cocktails from what is basically a take-out window anywhere in the French Quarter. And by cocktails, I really mean giant fishbowls full of sugary booze for $5. In that respect, Fat Tuesday isn’t all that different from any regular Tuesday in New Orleans, with one major exception… you know how you decided it would be a good idea to go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras? So did everyone else in America. The French Quarter is actually not very big so when thousands of people go out at same time, you definitely feel it.
You want to start your drinking early so that when the crowds come and the bars get more full, you’re not waiting around to get a drink. Basically, in the true Mardi Gras tradition, which celebrates eating and drinking heartily before fasting for Lent, you should spend the trip, well.. eating and drinking. The food in New Orleans is second to none so I will gladly wait in line for 45 minutes outside Acme Oyster House for two dozen chargrilled oysters to start my day. If I’m ever put on death row, I guarantee this will be my last meal. After that, it’s time to walk around and start taking in some of the craziness. Some must-have drinks on Bourbon St. include the hand grenades, hurricanes, and one of those glowing skull drinks, from Spirits as featured on Bar Rescue. If you’re still not drunk after all that, it’ll only cost you less than $20 to get another one of each. Drinking in New Orleans is outrageously cheap.
Once the beads start flying, you’re going to see a lot of boobs. I don’t know what it is about beads, the currency of Mardi Gras, but people in the balconies can basically get the people on the street to do anything for a shiny string of beads. Bonus points if they’re large or if they have some sort of memorable pendant. If you want to be one of the people in the balcony wielding all the bead power, you either have to rent a hotel or walk over to one of the bars with a second story balcony fairly early before all those places get packed. If that’s your plan for the evening, make sure you buy the good beads in advance.
If you’re looking to get away from the craziness outside, my favorite chill spot on Bourbon Street is Fritzel’s European Jazz Pub. There is none of the sloppy drunkenness in there. Just great cocktails and fantastic lively jazz every day. It’s like a completely different world from the insanity right outside their doors. It’s a good place to sit down and decompress, count your bead bounty, and relax before heading back out into the shitshow in the French Quarter.
There is plenty of drinking and partying all night long, but I can’t emphasize enough how crowded it is. By 9 or 10 o’clock, the street is so densely packed that you’re basically being carried by the crowd. Mardi Gras also brings out plenty of celebrities. The year I went, Will Ferrell was part of the parade as Bacchus, God of wine. After dark, he was throwing beads from a balcony on Bourbon Street. You can imagine that there was an impossibly dense crowd down below hoping to catch a glimpse… and one of his beads.
A good New Orleans spot to hit at the end of the night is Cafe Du Monde where you can get hot chocolate and their world-famous beignets at all hours of the day. It’s always busy, but especially during Mardi Gras. There might a line but it’ll be worth it. After you recharge with that, you can sleep for 3 hours and wake up to do it all over again.