Mardi Gras can chew you up and spit you out. If you are a visitor in New Orleans for the first time, Mardi Gras won’t buy you dinner and romance you, it will bully you. I have enjoyed seeing some friends from out of town come to New Orleans, wide-eyed and thirsty, but by Lundi Gras, they are begging for an IV or bail bonds.
Toeing the line between having fun and getting too sloppy is half the battle of surviving Mardi Gras. Drunkenly roaming the streets is a rookie mistake and could actually lead to some bad situations. Hopefully if you have been a New Orleanian for your whole life, or at least been through multiple Carnival Seasons, you know how to keep it together (relatively speaking).
This list is to help you help your Mardi Gras guests have a good time. Mardi Gras needs out of town folk to attend since it is the largest economic boost the city sees year round. However, if you have friends coming in town, your friends, neighbors and other locals will appreciate you watching out for your visitors and introducing them to Mardi Gras traditions and decorum.
There are too many things to list that the city has to offer during carnival season. Bring your friends to places where you have had fun before and to new things in the city that you may not have experienced either. If you fail to help your friends out in their revelry, there is a good chance you will be holding some hair back or trying to trace their credit card receipts to find out where they last were seen. Make sure to show them the best version of New Orleans and Mardi Gras!
(1) Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World
It always surprised me how few locals have taken the time to go to Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World. You will not only appreciate the effort and year-round work that goes into building the floats, but your out of town friends can get a brief history of Mardi Gras. After all, Mardi Gras is more than a celebration; it is representing many of the good and bad aspects of New Orleans history. This is the only educational experience on the list, I promise.
Buy Tickets for a tour of Mardi Gras World here.
(2) Krewe du Vieux
Let the debauchery begin. Krewe du Vieux this year is on January 31, so not all of your guests may be in town, but this parade that starts in the Marigny and snakes it way all the way to the Civic Theatre is a great introduction for visitors to see what Mardi Gras is all about. If you catch the parade in the Marigny, your guests will also get to hang out in one of the most unique and fun neighborhoods in the city.
(3) Mardi Gras Indians
New Orleans comes attached with some folklore. Voodoo, ghosts and graveyards are all common interests of visitors. Mardi Gras may be a good time to check out some of those things, but I would encourage you to take your friends someplace they might catch some Mardi Gras Indians in action. Not much is known about the organization or schedule of the tribes, but their elaborate costumes are one of a kind. The French Quarter or Claiborne Avenue on Super Sunday and Fat Tuesday are good days to catch a Big Chief in his full regalia.
Music and Mardi Gras go hand in hand. The list of venues to check out and upcoming shows can be found at here, but my personal favorite spot is Tipitina’s. Located in Uptown New Orleans, Tipitina’s (501 Napoleon Ave) has long been a great venue with a large stage, wide ground level, expansive balcony and accessible bars. Some of the best shows I have seen in New Orleans were at Tipitina’s during Mardi Gras, such as Galactic and Trombone Shorty. It is a great spot to bring your friends from out of town and experience some real funk.
(5) Bourbon Street
I can hear the groan from many locals who may be reading this. However, Mardi Gras on Bourbon is an experience everyone should experience at least once. Even if you hate Bourbon, you and your visitor will find a way to have fun down there. Hand grenades and fishbowls get the job done, no matter what you think of them. Check out places like Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop, Bourbon Heat, or bring them to Oz and Bourbon Pub & Parade depending on your taste.
(6) Neutral Ground Camping
I may be self-identifying myself as a former fraternity member, but I don’t care. Go Uptown, get to the neutral ground early, and set up your spot and do not forget the keg. It will probably be cheaper for you and your friends, and your out of town visitors will see the fun in drinking on public ground for possibly the first time in their life. The neutral ground experience during Mardi Gras is unlike anything else. Just make sure to stake a claim to a good spot early.
(7) Tequila Sunrise
Named after the cocktail, this Mardi Gras traditions entails either staying up all night Monday before Fat Tuesday, or waking up especially early on Mardi Gras day to see the sunrise. This of course entails some drinking, but there is no better accomplishment during Mardi Gras than saying you made it to Tequila Sunrise. The Boot Uptown annually throws a big block party near the Universities for Tequila Sunrise, and there are multiple locations in the French Quarter and Garden District to get the job done.
(8) Drink a Bloody Mary, Irish Coffee - or both! - regularly
These drinks are a great way to pace yourself in the morning and keep the buzz from the night before rolling on a smooth wave. Your visitor will need all the help they can get keeping up, and these drinks will help. Instead of face planting into a pothole because of shots or too many beers, these drinks will keep you on your feet long enough to get you through the cold, wet and foggy mornings. Igor’s on St. Charles is my favorite place to get an Irish Coffee during Uptown parades, and check out The Golden Lantern if you are downtown and need a Bloody Mary.
(9) Go to a Mardi Gras Ball
Some people might mistake this a hard task to accomplish, but many Mardi Gras Balls are open to the public. Yes, it can be rather expensive to reserve a table at a Mardi Gras Ball for some of the more popular krewes but this in not your only option. If you are not interested in such a lofty investment, check out something like the Endymion Extravaganza or The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus Chewbacchanal. These events are free or reasonably priced and are a great collection of post parade revelry and debauchery. Check out more here.
(10) Bring Your Friend to a Dive Bar
New Orleans has the best dive bars. You meet the most interesting people and see the most interesting things. Those are PG versions of the truth but it’s the truth nonetheless. Clubs are fun, parades are rowdy and there are some crazy bars to check out, but take your friend to your favorite dive bar so they can get a feel for the city. Mardi Gras is fun, but it’s the people you can sit down and have a beer with at 5 AM that bring people back in my opinion. There is The Saint and Snake & Jake’s Christmas Club Lounge if you are Uptown or the Garden District, or venture someplace exotic downtown like Saturn Bar.