Mardi Gras Survival Guide

Nine tips for celebrating like a local

Photo: Rush Jagoe

We polled a crew of New Orleans insiders for their secrets to making the most of Mardi Gras. From how to avoid arrests and hangovers to where to find under-the-radar parade routes, here are 9 tourist-busting tips, starting with one fundamental rule from veteran Crescent City bartender Alan Walter: Leave your everyday self at home.

1. Embrace the Crazy
“Leave your everyday self at home; it’s your alter ego that goes into town that day. You are not due back in your own skin until Tuesday midnight sharp.”—Alan Walter, bartender, Loa at International House Hotel

2. Seize the Day
“Wake up and get out early. Bring snacks for you and any friends you may run into or make.” —Rush Jagoe,  G&G contributing photographer

3. Plan Ahead
“If you’re making a day of it, map your plan. No doubt, like the Zulu Parade, you will veer off route but having some pit stops planned is critical. Are you walking down St. Charles Avenue and stopping in at Delachaise? Or, are you going early in the morning to Faubourg Marigny to see the unbelievable costumes?” If you’re going to the Marigny, go early because the drag queens are dragging (looking a little less fresh) after noon.”—Ti Martin and Lally Brennan, Proprietors at Commander’s Palace

4. Stake a Spot
“It’s very important to pick out the right spot for parade viewing. Access to a bathroom is very high priority. (Do not pee in public, you will get arrested.) The columns on St. Charles are a great home base for uptown parade watching, although it could get very crowded during the big parades. Finding a hotel to stay in for Mardi Gras that is located on the parade route will make your life a lot easier as you will always have a home base on the route. If you need to cross a barricade or the parade route, be sure to ask permission from the police on the corner. Very politely. Do not go over the barricades to get beads. The police do not like this and may arrest you.”—Donald Link, executive chef and owner at Link Restaurant Group

5. Dress Up
“It’s essential to costume, so that you are a participant and not just a spectator. My advice is to just hit a good thrift store and create your own—start with the basics. Purple, Green, and Gold.”—Susan Spicer, chef/owner at Bayona

6. Beware of Hurricanes
“Never drink a Hurricane before noon. It’s the sugar—not the alcohol—that you need to worry about. Also, carry a koozie at all times. You never know when you might need one.”—Dave Thier, G&G contributing writer

7. Venture Beyond the Quarter
“Bypass the big parades and head to Frenchmen Street on the other side of the French Quarter. You will see diversity celebrated on a level you cannot imagine. It’s the most magical day of the year in NOLA.”—Lu Brow, bartender at Café Adelaide

8. Go with the Flow
“My advice for Mardi Gras survival is simple: hydrate, eat food, wear close-toed shoes, and roll with the punches. Also, keep your underpants on.”—T. Cole Newton, bartender at Twelve Mile Limit

9. Avoid Bourbon Street
“A nighttime visit to Bourbon Street might seem like a good idea, but it’s the same idea that 100,000 other folks had at the same moment, and MANY of them are drunker than you. Expect a scrum and act accordingly. At parades, it helps to know the rhythms—up for the floats, back for the bands. Better to hang back than accidentally catch a trombone slide to the side of the head.”—Pableaux Johnson, G&G contributing writer