Parties, Parades and Poboys: A Guide to Mardi Gras 2018

For an extended weekend in February, thousands gather in the streets and bars of New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras. While the original purpose of the event was indulging in one last celebratory feast before the fasting of Lent, nowadays Mardi Gras is more of an excuse to party for outsiders. However, a lot of the NOLA traditions are still going strong within the local community, making Mardi Gras an exciting mix of tradition and revelry. From Feb. 9-13, Mardi Gras weekend festivities will take over the streets of New Orleans, culminating in the party of all parties on Fat Tuesday.

One of the main draws for locals are the vast number of parades that snake through the city beginning in January. Extravagant floats created by local Krewes (Mardi Gras societies/float builders) take on various themes and cruise through the streets showing off their work. On Feb. 10-12, the main parades will kick off where various Super Krewes will showcase their floats. On Feb. 11, Krewe of Bacchus will take their innovative “animated super-floats” from Tchoupitoulas Street on the banks of the Mississippi River up through the Touro district and into the heart of New Orleans. Each year this Krewe picks a celebrity to embody Bacchus, the God of Wine. 2018’s honor goes to Academy Award winning actor J.K. Simmons. Also over the weekend, be sure to keep an eye out for the female-lead Krewe of Iris and Krewe of Athena, as well as the celebrity-ridden Krewe of Orpheus.

Capping off the parade schedule on Fat Tuesday are all the real heavy-hitters. Trotting through Uptown Nola, there are three particular Krewes to watch out for, each with a unique responsibility. Representing the African-American community over the weekend is the Krewe of Zulu. They often use important social issues to drive their thematic designs, with last year’s being “Stop the Violence.” Krewe of Rex are the very ones responsible for Mardi Gras traditional colors green, purple and gold. Similarly to Zulu, they represent community involvement by selecting an influencial local resident to portray King Rex. Krewe of Lyra too looks to creating positive change with their floats by focusing in on helping those with mental illness both within the parade and in their day-to-day lives.

And now to the parties, as there are plenty. On Feb. 10, Krewe of Armeinius will host their very own Masked Ball celebrating “300 years of fabulous.” The Gay Mardi Gras Krewe will host an extravagant costume ball at the Mardi Gras World River City Complex on the banks of the Mississippi starting at 9 p.m. Bourbon Vieux, a swanky bar in the French Quarter, will be hosting a Mardi Gras party of their own. This is your chance to drink from an open bar, feast on gourmet Creole dishes and even toss beads from a balcony. If you’re looking to witness some of the best costumes up close – or even participate yourself – look to Gay Mardi Gras’ 54th Annual Bourbon Street Awards on Feb. 13. While the Nola sun’s high at noon, costumed participants will hit the runway that is Bourbon St. to compete for cash prizes and awards like Best Drag, Best Leather, and Best Overall Costume.

While in the city, be sure to scope out some of Nola’s best eateries to offset all the copious boozing. The most enticing of which – especially while inebriated – will no doubt be a poboy, the local specialty. Killer Poboys offers two locations downtown where they serve up mouth-watering options like the Whiskey Grilled Cheese or the Black Beer Beef Debris poboy. Similarly, though with a hint of sophistication, is Bayou Wine Garden where the Garlic and Parm Fries go great with their Fried Buffalo Oysters. If you’re looking to take another step towards elegance, check out Cavan located on Magazine St. in a centuries-old New Orleans mansion. Their Seafood Court Boullion with a side Sweet Potato Dinner Rolls you will not soon forget.

For cocktails, the Catahoula Hotel houses an enthralling mixology bar where they pour varieties of Pisco drinks, Nola classics and what they call “just for fun” drinks including A Huevo with aged eggs and a “nerve-bending Amazonian flower.” Given that Pisco is a local favorite, it only makes sense that you try Pisco Bar in the heart of downtown. Not only do they make the best Pisco cocktails around, but their rooftop bar is not to be missed either. If you’re at all familiar with the Ace Hotel brand, you’re well aware of their ability to throw together one hell of a bar. Lobby Bar in Ace’s Nola property is a great example with its French Deco-influenced design, intimate music space and comfy living room.

When looking for a hotel, the aforementioned Catahoula Hotel is an excellent option. Smack in the heart of downtown, this Pinterest-inspired boutique hotel is as cozy as it is neatly appointed (Plus, the cocktail bar). For something a bit more grandiose, look to Hotel le Marais in the French District. Given its central location in the heart of Mardi Gras activity, you can walk not far from your door to the best nightlife in the city. The Hotel Modern is still centrally located too, though away from the hustle and bustle of the French Quarter. Here, the focus is on juxtaposition as each room features a unique blend of old-world furniture and eccentric artwork.

Mardi Gras weekend begins Feb. 9 with Fat Tuesday falling on Feb. 13 in New Orleans, LA. The parade schedule can be found here