Q: We want to be in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. How should we best celebrate?
Like many great destinations, New Orleans offers us specific forms of heaven—food, people, music—and specific forms of hell, which can, also, be the food, people, and music. The point is that you can easily go wrong in this town. At no time is going wrong in New Orleans more possible than in the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday.
Your main sport will be avoiding huge logjams of nutballs with altered states of consciousness. I’m not using the word sport lightly. The Mardi Gras season is a highly athletic endeavor and will test your stamina, your character, and your wallet. It’s a nonstop Toolean universe, a confederacy of dunces jumpin’ right out atcha.
The strategy is to dart in and out of the madness, taking the best bits. You will need to do research. Learn the deeper meaning of the verb to roll. The Mardi Gras social organizations—the krewes—will roll, or stage their parades, all over town in the two weeks prior to the actual Fat Tuesday. This year it’s late—March 4—so the parades will roll starting February 15.
1. Practice party self-defense. Strap on your best walking boots—there won’t be many cabs anyway. Pick the places where you’ll eat and drink within reasonable distances—say twenty blocks—of what it is that you want to accomplish. Let’s say you want to catch the Zulu parade, or more specifically, the parade staged by the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, the largest and most glorious of the African American krewes. I highly recommend this parade, rolling this year at 8:00 a.m. on Mardi Gras day. Study the damn map, please! Station yourself in Treme-Lafitte, around Kermit Ruffin’s Speakeasy on
Basin and North Robertson. When you’ve had enough parade, walk up Ramparts, take a right on Esplanade, then dive left on Royal into any of the Marigny’s lovely joints for a restorative lunch.
2. If you must attend a Mardi Gras ball, you have no choice. New Orleans is built on music. Orpheus, the “superkrewe” of musicians founded by the Harry Connicks Sr. and Jr. in 1993, puts on a superb parade and stages the rowdiest bands at their ball on Lundi Gras, Fat Monday night. The ball, called the “Orpheuscapade,” is held at the Convention Center. Past performers include Stevie Wonder, Branford Marsalis, and of course the junior Connick tickling the ivories.
3. Rock on through. Given the proximity of Orpheus (Lundi p.m.) to Zulu (Mardi a.m.), one could restrict one’s sojourn to a tidy, twenty-four-hour Bataan Death March—minus the death—attending the Orpheus parade and ball, rolling through the night to the Zulu parade, and leaving Mardi Gras day after lunch. It might require considerable drinking discipline—or a couple of perfectly legal B-12 injections. Just don’t pull over on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway for a nap on your way out of town. The Slidell police really don’t like that.
Q. Ice in bourbon, or not?
A load of ice is comforting, in the boat, in the truck, in chests in the garage, in freezers, sitting around in buckets in the living room. Ice in this way is possibility.
Bourbon is fire. For different reasons, there’s something comforting about having large quantities of that on hand, too.
Combining these two staples of life is a delicate business. After long consideration, I think the general rule is seasonal, not so much about the make or age of the whiskey. Go for the pure burn in the fall and winter: Watching the SEC games. Standing around at the back of the truck after the hunt. Surveying a plowed cornfield for dove. If you really want to feel the South in the summer, pull out a bucket of rocks, stuff your glass with both things, and feel the pleasant trickle down the palm of your hand as your glass starts to sweat and everything, including the very prettiest people around you, starts to melt.