I've spent a lot of time in New Orleans, LA (N.O.L.A), and this city has never, ever disappointed. Any time of day, any day of the week, any time of the year there has never been a dull moment which is of COURSE why I had to catch the Big Easy in it's prime- during Mardi Gras 🎉
Mardi Gras, translated to 'Fat Tuesday' is a celebration that takes place on the last Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, a Christian tradition where observers practice fasting, moderation and repentance during 40 days leading up to Easter. So, Mardi Gras is the final day of indulgence for those who follow this tradition go cold turkey, although I highly doubt majority of the people at these events will be repenting... If they did, their systems would most likely go into shock, and they'd need a lot longer than 40 days (I'm not not including myself). It's funny the idea is to treat yourself before embarking on 40 days of good behaviour but Mardi Gras season lasts longer than that timeframe, starting in January (although celebrations are mostly just on weekends, they buzz is all around as soon as the New Year hits).
Before we get into how awesome the 299th year of Mardi Gras in NOLA has been, I have to give a shout out to another city I love where they celebrated their 314th Mardi Gras... Mobile, Alabama: The OG birthplace of Mardi Gras. Although, NOLA's has become much grander I have a few Mobilian friends who I know I'd be hearing from if I hadn't reckinized.
NOLA is my favourite city so I have A LOT of specific travel tips and recommendations to share, and will post those soon. But for now here have been some of our favourite highlights of this weekend:
1. THE PEOPLE:
NOLA is unique in that there is hardly a divide between the tourists and the locals* (Or at lest they make tourists feel that way). Everyone is welcome, everyone is equal. Everyone shares. Bars share drinks and clientele: The open container laws mean you can buy your drink at one bar and walk it down the street and into another. People share their beads: There is a weird, randomly intimate connection, you feel when you lock eyes with a stranger throwing beads and they choose you to toss their next handful too. Everyone is in costume, dancing, laughing, drinking. The feeling of freedom is unparalleled (coming only a close second MAYBE to being 16 on grad trip #invincible).
The people in NOLA, whether tourists or locals are like this all year round. It's always bustling, and everyone is laid back, everyone is dancing and free. This was amplified during Mardi Gras, from the shear volume of people who come out!
*This stemming from my view point as a tourist. As much as I wish to have surpassed tourist status in NOLA from seeing it with local friends.. I haven't. There is SO much to experience and you have to live it all to truly understand it. The history of this city runs so deep, gets dark, and it's not enough to just know of it... New Orleanians are passionate and generous and make you feel at home. They'd never rub it in, but to be truly New Orleanian is next level living -I can only wish to one day experience that level of understanding for this city.
2. Our Hotel:
We stayed at the Ace Hotel and it was the BEST. There was amazing staff and live music in the lobby, a Stumptown Coffee shop, three awesome cocktail bars (plus one decked out bar in our room complete with bitters and coup glasses)! The rooftop pool gave us an awesome view, and the chance to meet other entertaining guests.
3. The Parades:
My favourite was the Krewe of Bacchus Parade; one of the most famous parades that takes place on Sunday. Some of their notable Mardi Gras Kings are Will Ferrel, Larry King, Hulk Hogan, Alan Thicke and Drew Brees. This year they had Jim Caveziel. Another popular parade is the Krewe of Endymion which takes place Saturday night. Definitely make sure you see a day parade and a night parade if you can!
Intense people (mostly families) arrive hours before the parade and start setting up their tailgate spot complete with BBQs, lawn chairs, coolers, the whole nine. So be prepared to take a back seat or to schmooze your way up front.
It's also helpful to know the parade routes because a lot of streets are completely blocked off. TO get to Bourbon Street we had to walk around the parade about 5 blocks.
Leaving The Country Club
With NOLA being the largest food port in the world, this is undoubtedly a long list for me but I've narrowed it down to 5 to give you a taste:
N7: This place was like... out of a time warped dream. Tucked away in the Ninth Ward, a developing area, it's on a street that looks like an abandoned alley where skin heads would congregate (reminded me of that scene in Corky Romano... oh come you know it). You enter through a tall unmarked wooden door and enter what looks like the property of a 1950s suburban home. There's a driveway, a classic car, and a house! There is seating all around the front lawn, side yard, front porch, and throughout the little bungalow. The dishes are simple but the flavour combinations are delicious. They serve some dishes form a can #trending. The cocktails were delicious to, but overall the ambience is unmatched to anywhere else I can think of, besides what I feel like my grandmas house was like if she'd grown up in France? I really couldn't tell ya.
The Country Club:I don't mean to be repetitive but this is another place that is in a league of it's own, an entirely different league. Not too long ago it was a clothing optional hang out spot and now it is a classy, yet eccentric restaurant, bar, pool, sauna and lounge. It seems hoity-toity from the front. Men in dinner jackets dining at the front tables. But as you make your way in it gets increasingly wild. Once we got back to the pool there were drag queens, men in one piece bathing suits, people passed out on lawn chairs draped in fur, and it seemed like everyone knew each other. It was a SCENE and it was awesome. You've gotta see it for yourself. Not to mention their brunch and cocktails are delicioso. If you're in the mood for a Brandy Milk Punch, make sure Clint's working the bar. Tom's workin'? Grab a beer. Be careful y'all pace yourselves with Clint's convictions or you'll find yourself outback in the clothing optional pool 😐 Like I did.. but I don't want to talk about it. I said I don't want to talk about it 🙄 ..oh AND their desserts. Get the Apple Pie. They are open 6am to 3:30am but close the kitchen from 3-4:30pm so arrive accordingly!
Willa Jean:This spot just never fails. Firstly, their pasty chef is in the top 4, running for the #1 pastry chef in America so... ya. I recommend the Pop Tarts! They also have frozen creamsicle cocktails and frozen rosé aka frosé #ifyadontknownowyaknow. It's just a quick walk from the Ace Hotel too!
Antoine's: This is the spot for a classic upscale New Orleans dinner. Antoine's has been around since 1840 (older than Canada, as are most restaurants here). It is also the birthplace of Oysters Rockefeller! The Escargots Bordelaise were delicious as well. Good quality food and cocktails all around and be sure to dress accordingly. Collared shirts, close toed shoes and dinner jackets are a must for the guys. If you want something more casual try the attached Hermes Bar!
Cafe Du Monde: It was a tough pick for #5 on this list but come on, I can't not have Cafe Du Monde here! They only serve Coffee and beignets but they aren't just any beignets - This is THE place. And it's open 24 hours so pop in at any time. But, it's kinda what you gotta do when you visit NOLA. The best, and original location is in the French Market next to Jackson Squae (another spot you've got to see). Oh and it's cash only so be prepared!
Jacque-imos and Herbsaint are awesome spots as well!! (See? I couldn't just keep it to 5. At Jacque-imos try the Alligator Cheesecake and try and reserve the table on the bed of the pick up truck outside!) OH and for oysters go to Casamento's Oysters on Magazine Street!
The Cafe Du Monde Essentials
Bars here are boppin' all day and all night long... Here are 5 spots I always try to stop at in NOLA.
Pat O'Briens:Yes, it is super touristy. But it is also super AWESOME. The staff is always great, in their green blazers and there's often live music. It's garden oasis right off of Bourbon Street. Grab one of their a Daiquiris and you'll be good to go.
The Coop: This spot is right int he heart of the French Market. It's got great music and famous fried chicken! Definitely a fun spot to check out.
Bandstand on Bourbon:I just have to recommend this place because I had one of the times of my life there on a random Sunday in November a few years back. There was a hilarious MC entertaining everyone with karaoke and dancing. Let's just say I was called on stage and had the whole place chanting "Ca-na-da". This place has my 💖.
Carousel Bar:This is definitely no Bourbon Bandstand. It's located in the Monteleone Hotel and is a must see! It's a bar on a real Carousel inside the hotel lobby. The seats slowly rotate around the bartenders who fix some delectable cocktails in the centre. It's something you've got to experience when in NOLA.
The Spotted Cat: Frenchmen Street is where it's at if you want good music. You could spend the entire day waltzing up and down to great tunes. It's more laid back for sure, but a great place to chill out after a day of Mardi Gras indulgence. My favourite spot we went to was probably the Spotted Cat although you really can't go wrong.
Enjoying the back patio oasis that is Pat O'Briens
Couple Bonus Pointers:
If you can swing it, get there on the Wednesday or Thursday before so you can see the city build up to the organized chaos that is Fat Tuesday.
If you feel like you may need to go to the washroom, act upon that instinct right away! Washroom lines can get long and there is absolutely no tolerance for public urination. You'll be arrested on the spot and *rumour was* everyone taken in is held until after Mardi Gras... If you're that kind of person, maybe get some insurance for your flight home.
Every large gathering of humans has its petty crime. Be aware. Bring a money belt and leave anything of great value to you at home. You'll see my photos aren't the best quality here because I just brought my old iPhone out with me.
Comfy shoes are helpful on the cobblestone rows, and you'll be doing a lot of walking.
Again, I could go on about NOLA forever. We didn't even get to the ghost tours, cemeteries, voo doo, swamp tours, museums or plantations. I didn't even meant o get into the restaurants and bars but they are such gem spots I couldn't help myself. Whenever you find yourself in NOLA I hope this guide helps make your stay as enjoyable as possible!