During the Mardi Gras season in New Orleans, we tend to live by the saying "Do what chu wanna," and we do just that, naturally. I can still recall early childhood memories of Mardi Gras Day. The city shuts down, and it wasn't until I moved to Atlanta that I realized that everyone else doesn't have that day off, too. It's the aroma of a fresh box of Popeye's chicken, the beat of St. Aug's drumline coming up South Rampart Street as I anxiously count the beads around my neck, the anticipation of catching even bigger ones when the next float rolls, and standing on a ladder catching Zulu coconuts over the crowd.
There can also be no mention of Mardi Gras without me having a serious craving for king cake from Gambino's, Randazzo's, and Adrian's Bakery. Locals practice the same traditions that have been passed down generation to generation: where to park, where to meet up, who's responsible for holding down the "meeting spot," and who's bringing the ice chest and the barbecue grill. It's a serious thing, and that's naturally New Orleans. My "NOLA baby" traditions have been passed down to me from my father's side, and many of my friends share the same traditions with theirs. If ya see me on the streets this Mardi Gras, let me know where y'at, baby!
My celebration starts on the Wednesday before Fat Tuesday with the superkrewe of Nyx parade on Saint Charles Avenue. Nyx is one of New Orleans's only all-female krewes, and they have some of the best throws of the season. I still have my custom-designed Nyx purse that I caught a few years back, and it's become a personal tradition to start a collection with every year's new design. Even though I keep the festivities light at the start of a long week of celebration, it's tradition to grab a margarita from Superior Grille. You know, because it's tradition. Once the parade is over, the party heads to Frenchman Street for reggae night at Dragon's Den. There's a food truck now that parks outside, called Lion Heart Catering, and their jerk chicken plate is perfect to end the night with.
On Thursday, my group of friends is summoned to "pregame" at whichever friend's house is the closest to the Krewe of Muses parade route. Muses is one of the longest-standing all-female Mardi Gras krewes in New Orleans. It is an honored tradition to collect their renowned throw: the beautifully decorated Muses shoe. After the parade is the after-party on Frenchman Street, and while there are several bars with great music, my group loves to end the night dancing our hearts out at the Blue Nile. I highly recommend either the crawfish étouffée fries from Dat Dog or the tater tachos at 13 Bar to end your late-night festivities.
Now, Friday is where the celebration steps up quite a few notches, with the world-famous Zulu Ball. There's no time for parades on Friday because the day is spent preparing for the night. There are many Mardi Gras balls to attend, and I am more than sure they are amazing, but I know they can't throw down like Zulu does in the convention center. The Zulu Ball is a members-only extravaganza that is open to guests of members. In other words, you have to be a member, know a member, or know someone who knows someone who has an extra seat at the table and is willing to sell it.
It's a great idea to start Saturday with a hearty brunch because the next few days leading up to Fat Tuesday have a way of blending into one long day of celebration. By brunch, I mean anything fried and absorbing, like a shrimp po-boy with fries and a mimosa. The weekend is jam-packed with the best parades and the best street parties that only feel this live once a year. On Saturday evening, the Krewe of Endymion rolls from City Park to the Superdome. We used to enjoy the parade while partying at my dear friend Monique's annual crawfish boil in Mid-City, but since her move, we now enjoy the parade walking alongside, all the way from Saint Charles Avenue to Canal Street, and then we end up in the French Quarter. Our first stop is Pat O's for a hurricane and then on to Bourbon Street, where it's a New Orleans tradition to grace the stages with serious "p-poppin" dance-offs.
Sunday starts with brunch at Russell's Marina Grille to fuel up for the Sunder Sunday second line at Kermit Ruffins's spot in Treme, which lasts until it's time to head to Canal Street for the Bacchus parade. Our party crew then hits Bourbon Street to continue the celebration, with a visit to Tropical Isle for a Hand Grenadeand more dancing in the street.
Monday depends on how well you handled the weekend. Half of the group will pre-game for the Endymion Ball and the Orpheus parade, while the other half takes Monday to rest. Tuesday, if we wake up early enough, or-even better-never went to sleep, we have an 8 a.m. call-time for the Zulu parade. This is the most important spot to secure all Mardi Gras season-so important that I'm not sharing where we traditionally catch the parade! A spot in front gives you a greater chance of being handed the prized Zulu coconut, Zulu arrows, or the signature Zulu bead of the year. After Zulu rolls, our party relocates to Saint Charles Avenue to catch Rex, Elks, and the Crescent City truck parades.
We walk from the bridge down Saint Charles Avenue, catching my friends all the way down on Marengo Street, and then head back while the parades roll. For 2020, I plan to ride the streetcar and start a new tradition. And since we can no longer go to Gene's for a midday po-boy like we used to, we're going to start a new tradition and visit Bourée for some Guy Fierie-approved cuisine.
The bands. The beads. The booze. Gotta enjoy every bit. As long as you make sure to eat, wear cute walking shoes, stay hydrated, and enjoy your festivities responsibly, you'll make it to Wednesday.