Our Ultimate Guide to Celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans This Year
If you only associate Mardi Gras in NOLA with sloppy crowds, beaded necklaces, and utter chaos, you haven't done it the Jetsetter way. Here, our official guide to experiencing Mardi Gras in the Big Easy—including the best places to eat, drink, play, and stay far from the debauchery on Bourbon Street.
A New Orleans landmark since 1893 and the winner of seven James Beard Foundation awards, the Garden District’s Commander’s Palace is something of a local legend. Here, chef Tory McPhail prepares classic Creole cuisine with a locavore philosophy by sourcing 90 percent of the restaurant’s ingredients within 100 miles. While à la carte options are available, we recommend the chef’s tasting menu and wine pairings for a perfect sampling of Louisiana’s best.
All the Southern dishes at Willa Jean are delicious, especially the brunch, but we’re here for one thing this time of year: king cake—specifically Willa Jean’s Insta-worthy (and drool-worthy) Caramel Crunch King Cake, which is topped with cream cheese glaze and purple, green, and yellow sprinkles. Place your order 48 hours in advance, pick it up in-store through February 25, and enjoy the sweet treat throughout your whole stay.
You can’t leave New Orleans without grabbing at least one po’ boy (though we’d recommend trying a few). In the French Quarter, head to Killer PoBoys at Erin Rose Bar. The succinct menu has only four choices, but the original offerings are top-notch. Try the “Dark & Stormy” Pork Belly, with NOLA rum ginger glaze, lime slaw, and garlic aioli for something close to classic, or opt for the Roasted Sweet Potato, whose black-eyed pea and pecan spread, pickled shallots, and wilted greens give you a dose of veggies.
Looking to step it up from the boozy Hurricanes? At Cure, a 2018 James Beard Award winner for Outstanding Cocktail Program, the drinks are as classy as can be. Try the Dune Buggy daiquiri (mixed with notes of wildflower, green apple, and five spice) or the Pale Fire, a sherry negroni with honeysuckle, dark chocolate, and a hint of black tea. Alongside the sips, you can order a cheese and charcuterie board or one of the yummy snack specials, from pimento cheese toast to smoked trout dip. And don’t worry—just because the spot’s sophisticated doesn’t mean it can’t keep up with NOLA’s energy. The bar’s open until 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, so you can imbibe well into the wee hours.
For rooftop views overlooking the Mississippi River and downtown, visit the Pontchartrain Hotel’s eclectic Hot Tin. Modeled after a 1940s artist’s loft, the space features walls of knick-knacks and both a balcony and terrace, so you can sightsee while you sip. Most importantly, the cocktails are as cool as the digs, with names like Some Like It Hot (with tequila, mezcal, mango, lime, cherry brandy, and habanero) and Pink Panther (rosé, pear, Chareau aloe, maraschino, and hibiscus-infused absinthe).
If you’re down for a low-key spot (just not as low-key as some of the dives on Bourbon Street), grab drinks at Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29, a tiki bar that offers plenty of fun and whimsy with its tropical beverages and and accompanying bites that include gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan options. Go for the Banh Mi Sandwich and the namesake signature sip, which is made with eight-year Demerara rum, passion fruit purée, Latitude 29’s own Madagascar vanilla syrup, orange, pineapple, and lemon.
RELATED: Girls’ Weekend Guide to New Orleans
Festive New Orleans parades actually start weeks before Mardi Gras Day, so prepare to see them throughout your whole stay. While the biggest—like Rex and Zulu—are reserved for February 25 this year, there are plenty of interesting ones prior to the big day. For an evening affair, check out the Mystic Krewe of Nyx (Feb. 19), an all-female krewe named for the goddess of the night, or stop by the crowd favorite Le Krewe d’Etat (Feb. 21), which adheres to a secret satirical theme each year. There’s also the Krewe of Iris (Feb. 22), which celebrates the goddess of the rainbow, sea, and sky and is known for being the oldest all-female krewe. (They’re also known to throw sunglasses into the crowd, instead of just beads.) No matter which ones you decide to attend, remember to dress up, bring a bag to catch all the “throws,” and embrace the tradition.
Fondly known as “NOLA’s Backyard Party” due to its speakeasy pop-up beginnings, Bacchanal wine laboratory is the spot for open-air wining and dining complemented by original live jazz. The food menu focuses on Mediterranean minimalism, with a variety of ingredient-forward veggie, seafood, and meat dishes, plus sweet panna cotta and chocolate bark for dessert, while the wine list offers Old World–style sips from small producers. As for the tunes, the Backyard Party draws the best of the best, hosting incredible young jazz artists (from gypsy jazz to hard bop) seven days a week.
Located in a renovated 1800s storefront, Snug Harbor has been a premier spot for live jazz and regional cooking for over 30 years. Order up the Creole cream sauce–coated fish marigny (and traditional pecan pie, afterwards) to munch on while you wait for the 8 p.m. or 10 p.m. show to start in the cabaret-style Music Room. The experience is intimate, so come here if you need a break from crowded streets and bars.
Henry Howard Hotel
Originally designed by famed architect Henry Howard as a townhouse, the eponymous hotel—now an 18-room boutique stay—marries rich tradition with modern design. Surrounded by historic homes in the Garden District, the sleep offers a quieter alternative to the wild French Quarter this time of year. That’s not to say the area’s boring, though. Only a block away, Mardi Gras parades will march along St. Charles Avenue and you’ll find plenty of antique shops, live music venues, and restaurants nearby to keep you busy.
The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery
In the downtown Arts District, just a few blocks from the French Quarter, art and history come together at The Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery. Just look at the hotel’s impressive lobby gallery (currently on display: “300 More,” celebrating the city’s tricentennial) and artist-in-residence program, which hosts an out-of-town talent each summer to produce NOLA-inspired works. As for the history, the boutique sleep, built in 1854, originally served as a coffee warehouse and then as a chandlery used for sailing voyages. Today, the hotel still operates an updated version of the chandlery, with goods (jewelry, fragrances, candles) from local makers available for purchase around the lobby. Let’s not forget the guest rooms: they’ve got a flair of their own, sporting exposed brick walls, quirky art, and a “spiritual menu” of books of faith.
RELATED: The 10 Best Hotels in New Orleans
Along with everything you’d normally pack for a weekend trip, remember to bring a backpack or tote to hold your belongings during parades; comfy, closed-toe shoes to survive the crowds and long hours on your feet; and festive accessories to fully channel NOLA’s Mardi Gras spirit.
RELATED: 10 Packing Mistakes to Avoid
- 5 Easy Weekend March Escapes
- Where to Celebrate Mardi Gras—Besides NOLA
- The Best Places to Travel in February: U.S. Edition