A man doing a shot of whiskey during Mardi Gras
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Insider's Guide: Best Mardi Gras Hot Spots

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February 1, 2023
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Mardi Gras is a brain chemistry altering experience. For most, that’s a good thing, and here are some tips to help keep it that way!

Bathrooms- It is nearly impossible to get to a bathroom during the height of festivities. Some people use bottles, others let it fly on the streets. Both are discouraged by the New Orleans Police Department. Find one that is accessible, or plan your usage accordingly.

Views- Near the Riverwalk is arguably the best place to see Rex and Zulu. These are two social clubs that put on two of the best known parades. Fun fact, famous jazz musician Louis Armstrong was once crowned King of the Zulu parade. 

Respect- Remember, the locals are sharing their home with everyone. Don’t get so blasted that you ended up in the swamps. 

More than alcohol- The parades are the biggest draw, but there is so much more to the city than just those few hours. Read more about what the city has to offer to maximize your experience in this historic town. 

A local’s perspective of New Orleans

As a Marine, I was always surrounded by a cacophony of good ol’ boys; those Marines so southern that their geographical heritage was difficult to mistake. My accent, or lack thereof, often confused them as to my own origins, deep in the swamps of southern Louisiana. I am, without a doubt, as “southern” as one can be in the United States (and no, that part of Florida doesn’t count). 

Having spent the majority of my formative years in the metropolitan, tourist plagued city of New Orleans, I have both the bona fides of a southerner and the cultural understanding of a Western European. This isn’t idle bragging mind you, simply laying out my right to say what follows as a true resident of this town of jazz, jambalaya, and drinking. 

First and foremost, comes Mardi Gras. Although it only comprises one month of twelve in this historical city, it is nevertheless what we are most known for. For 2023, Mardi Gras itself is on 21 February. Though that is only the day itself. Mardi Gras means, quite literally, “Fat Tuesday”, which is preceded by Lundi Gras or “Fat Monday”. These two days are themselves preceded by a month of parades, festivals, and activities.

Let me backup a little. New Orleans has, during parts of its history, had a large Catholic population. Said Catholic population observed a period known as Lent, approximately 40 days during which Catholics give up certain worldly pleasures, such as alcohol, chocolate, red meat, and other carnal indulgences. For example, it's not uncommon to find even chain restaurants such as Domino’s Pizza to offer Lent-safe alternatives such as crawfish or shrimp pizza during this time to make up for pepperoni or sausage toppings. So it is no surprise that a city known for its excesses would throw an all out party before having to become disciplined and behaved for almost a month and a half, and thus Mardi Gras was born. A month of drinking, crawfish boils, parties, and general debauchery. That’s right, ladies and gents, the history lesson is over… Let’s get to the fun parts.

No one from New Orleans says “N’awlins” aside from tourists and the New Orleans Tourism Board. We’re southern, not lazy. Considering half of our city street names are pronounced in a difficult fashion, we know the difference. Tchoupitoulas (chop-ah-two-lass) is Native American in origin, for example, while Calliope (Cah-lie-oh-pee) is of Greek etymology.

But I digress. There are a great many places to go in New Orleans for tourists and visitors, but there are specific landmarks that you MUST go to in order to get a real experience. Simply going to Bourbon Street won’t cover it.

Café Maspero

Originally at a different location starting in 1788, (which is still open, by the way) Café Maspero’s was opened in the 1970’s to service a larger number of customers in a more available location. Home to the most famous Muffuletta sandwiches on the planet, as well as breakfast foods that include crawfish and alligator, missing out on this NOLA classic is a serious error. As a local, there is also a large, safe parking area for daytime explorations of the French Quarter just across the street, so missing this one is foolish at best.

St. Louis Cathedral

Okay, so yes, this one is a church, and is beautiful and historical. But the real treasure remains in the long walkway outside. Filled with street performers of every stripe, this area is rife with talent (which is essentially free, unless you care to donate). This means if you’re bringing a date or companion and wish to be both entertained and given the opportunity to be seen as a patron of the arts, this is a good place to wander casually with your partner. In two decades living nearby I was never disappointed.

Café Du Monde

You and your friends have spent several hours drinking and enjoying the many pleasures of the French Quarter and the questionable areas of Bourbon Street, but now it’s 0130 in the morning and some places are beginning to close. Where do you go? Café Du Monde. There are two locations, equally easy to get to from the places you people go in the French Quarter, and each has a simple enough menu. Order coffee, a local blend including chicory, and beignets. These are essentially a French variation on donuts that will knock your socks off, provided you’re still wearing any. Another benefit, as if more were necessary, is that they are exceedingly cheap, so if you spent too much the evening leading up to your drunken stumble up to the place, it won’t break the bank.

The Streetcar and The Camellia Grill

All of the places I have mentioned so far have been part of the culture of New Orleans long enough to be available to any tourist, so what insight are you really getting? Plenty, of course, but let me offer you an additional nugget off of the beaten track. Along both St. Charles Ave, which goes through a beautiful chunk of uptown New Orleans, as well as Carrollton Ave is the epitome of old school New Orleans, the streetcar. Other places in the world call it a trolley, but those places are wrong. The streetcar carries locals to work, and used to carry one to school every day for a fairly cheap amount. Close to its turn between Carrollton and St. Charles lies the Camellia Grill. Beginning in the 1940’s, this place served simple but amazing New Orleans staples of Cajun and Creole cuisine until it was shuttered after hurricane Katrina. So much local love and support went into the building after Katrina that it was purchased and reopened by a local restaurateur. Both the ride and the food are a part of New Orleans you should not miss.

While there are a great many places in the French Quarter you should visit, as well as New Orleans in general (to include the National D-Day Museum; did you know that Higgins Boats from WWII were made here?), these locations are touchstones that you would wound your very soul to miss. As I have said for two decades to anyone who will listen; there are two things New Orleans does well, food and parties. To deprive yourself of either is a tragedy.

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