I know what you’re thinking, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, who needs a review, I know what to expect. But do you really? I thought I did but I was way off. I decided that my girlfriend and I needed a weekend off and bought us tickets down to the Crescent City. Unfortunately, we rented a hotel room a little late. Although our hotel was picturesque and perfect, the location was not ideal for a couple of seasoned drinkers, but right up our alley in the price department – about $80/night. The Olde Town Inn on Marigny Street was our choice. (www.oldetowninn.com) Situated in the residential area just past the historic French Quarter, it was filled with a surreal experience. Even though the city is considered rebuilt and flourishing, our area was anything but. Every other house was abandoned and marked from the last time it was searched by the Coast Guard after Hurricane Katrina. Our hotel had recently been revitalized, just as the city had been, and really had the feeling of what this city was supposed to feel like during the Mardi Gras celebrations. The lounge chair filled courtyard was lined with day glo beads, flags and posters along with a free breakfast and kitchen/lounge area.
Immediately after dropping off our bags, we set out on our journey to the notorious French Quarter. After crossing Elysian Fields Road (an appropriately named street) and Esplanade Road, we started on the end of the famed Bourbon Street. The end of the street is covered with Spanish style homes and beautiful trees, all leading up to the ever growing noise and ambiance of the center of the French Quarter.
It being 1pm and a Thursday, it seemed like a good as time as any to start drinking. But not just any drink; a New Orleans drink. Our first stop was The Beach Club. The rustic styled bar with a small, offset stage, Zydeco music blasting out of the jut box and drunken people on (or under) every available barstool. The drink that the Beach Club claimed to be famous for was The Hand Grenade, a full on concoction of liquor and sweet juices. The cups are plastic (as all cups in the French Quarter are since no glass is allowed) tubes with the base shaped like a grenade and an actual plastic grenade floating on the top. The idea is to finish the drink (duh) and then take the plastic grenade toy and throw it up into a basket hanging from the ceiling filled with these remnants of drinkers past. Sounds like an easy enough thing to do, but after a Hand Grenade, that basket seems as big as the top of a nail.
The Hand Grenade was great but why stop there, right? So we packed up our livers and stumbled down to the next bar, which was only across the street. We were brought in by the live music pouring out the doors like a cartoon hand luring our floating bodies through the masses of drunkards. On the stage, a local band was playing every song you could every think of, from Jimi Hendrix to Nirvana to Britney Spears. And all of the songs sounded like someone just put these records on through the speaker system. It was here that we discovered the dreaded drink that New Orleans is famous for, The Hurricane. Never In all my life have I ever had a mixed drink that made me forget so much. I remember leaving the bar after a jug of The Hurricane, and then walking around but not making it far. After what only seemed like a minute, we were back on our voyage back to The Olde Town Inn.
The evening seemed to be where most of the action that you have seen on television, or heard about from friends, is. And man is it there. Walking down Bourbon Street after the sun has fully set is an experience all in its own. The streets are packed with people, drinks, music, boobs and cops. At every corner there are groups of police wishing a happy Mardi Gras and beads come flying from the heavens as if it were raining cheap plastic. It’s kind of strange to see grown adults reduced to bead junkies, willing to stab their fellow man for these shining, flimsy necklaces.
One of our greatest experiences was while walking down Bourbon Street and dead center on the horizon was a sign that had me stop dead in my tracks; Huge Ass Beers To Go. And were they ever! After that, we headed to Canal Street to watch the Mardi Gras parade festivities.
Giant, elaborate floats cruised by with jesters, knights, and children throwing beads and other Mardi Gras peripheral at the ever growing crowd of onlookers. On Canal, the city’s true artists come out. On the corner of Bourbon and Canal, a face painter stood covered in tie-dyed robes offering free face paintings in return for tips and a picture for his collection. A horn blower sat on the adjacent corner blasting the hypnotic sounds of Miles Davis. It was a truly unique place to be at that time.
The next day, to help quell our hangover, we decided that a gingerly walk into the French Quarter was a good idea and walk along the river to the aquarium. Our first stop was the highly regarded Café Du Monde (800 Decatur St.) for some coffee and beignets (French doughnuts). If you have the chance, I highly recommend a visit to the café, not only for the beignets, but also for the ambiance. An esoteric group of musicians and artists surround themselves outside the café and entertain the dining room.
While walking along the river bend, you realize how the city got its nickname of the Crescent City. Also, the muddy waters of the mighty Mississippi are extremely calming to view. If you planning on going to the aquarium during the weekend, do not go during the day, thinking that you will beat the crowds. All schools in the surrounding areas take their students there, so you will inundated with screaming kids all day. Not an ideal situation for a hangover. However, the beauty and wonder of the aquarium is worth the hectic students. There is a combo package that I would recommend that includes admission to the aquarium as well as an IMAX movie that is playing next door. We were lucky enough to see a documentary about the Wetlands and the hurricanes. It was extremely moving and very intense.
With our headaches still in tact, we headed over to the French Market on the opposite end of the cable car line near Café Du Monde. The arc doorway leads you into the outdoor commerce of the French Market. Anything, I mean anything, that you are looking for can be found there. But bring your bargaining mind, because you can talk anybody down in price. If a price doesn’t work for you, start to walk away and they come after you and offer a better price.
One of our last stops, before leaving New Orleans was an intimate dinner at the Red Fish Grill (www.redfishgrill.com) on Bourbon and Iberville streets. The two of us sat down to a romantic seafood dinner and a bottle of wine. I have never had such mouth watering, delectable food. Our hotel recommended this place and it was to die for. If you are a seafood lover and are in the neighborhood of the French Quarter, the Red Fish Grill should be one of your stops.
Full and satiated, we headed back out into the raucous of Bourbon Street for one more boob flashing night filled with intense drinking. We went to a place whose slogan is “Turning one drink into 4am.” Pat O’Brian’s was our destination for our last hooray, and what a hooray. Outdoor patio’s, heat lamps, music, and Hurricanes as far as the eye could see. There could have not been a better way to finish up our trip and I recommend it all to everyone.
For all of you who plan on visiting the Crescent City during Mardi Gras, have the time of your lives. But pack Advil, Alka-Seltzer and condoms. If I have to explain why to bring these, New Orleans isn’t for you. Enjoy! Bon Chance!