Great Experience

The Glory That Is New Orleans Peak Mardi Gras

by Alex Pincus
It's also peak King Cake season. Photos courtesy of Crew unless otherwise noted.

Mardi Gras season officially starts on the 6th of January and ends on Fat Tuesday, about a month and a half later. In New Orleans, you can get your fill of local parades, slices of king cake, and costuming shenanigans for most of January and February; the celebrations really ramp up two weeks before Fat Tuesday. NYC restaurateur Alex Pincus, who runs a mini empire of nautical-themed drinking establishments, including the Louisiana-accented Holywater in NYC and the Ace Hotel NOLA's Seaworthy, is a New Orleans native who wouldn’t dare miss a season of Crescent City revelry. He shares his personal parade itinerary below. (Good luck keeping up.)

NEW ORLEANS – Mardi Gras is an affirmation of life through the lens of the culture I grew up in. I try to go every year, sometimes twice. This year we’ll be celebrating daily at our restaurants Holywater in New York and Seaworthy in New Orleans, with many escapades mixed in.

Welcome home. Photo courtesy of Hotel Monteleone.
A bold place to park between parades. Photo courtesy of Columns.
The bar before the storm. Photo courtesy of Columns.
Alex and Beau in party mode.

Thursday: Into the Fire

After spending a week in NOLA earlier in the season, my family and I fly back into the brand-new Louis Armstrong New Orleans “International” Airport. Somehow they forgot to build a highway that connects the airport to the city, so we take the back roads all the way to the French Quarter, which is actually an incredible way to arrive at a place totally unlike the rest of America. We check into the Monteleone, the oldest hotel in New Orleans, which my father has run for the last 35 years. I immediately order a Sazerac (to go) at the Carousel Bar from Parker, who has not aged since I was drinking here at 15.

We arrive in time for a late lunch at Casamentos, an old-school eatery serving perfectly shucked Gulf oysters on Magazine St. After a couple dozen, we walk down the block to The Club Ms. Maes for an afternoon drink. For most of my life their cocktails were 50 cents and we’d go there at all hours of the night. With inflation they might be a few bucks now. Still worth it!

Eventually we walk to St. Charles and make our way to Columns, a hotel with a great porch and courtyard bar that overlooks the St. Charles parade route. We hang out there, watching a night full of parades pass, awaiting Muses, the evening's grand finale. It’s a women-only parade that puts on a fantastic show. We have a few beers at Fat Harry's, order chili-cheese fries, hang until the traffic starts flowing again, then head home for the night.

Friday: Reuniting with Bosom Buddies

We have a light coffee and king cake for breakfast at my parents house in the French Quarter, then head outside in the late morning to catch the Krewe of Bosom Buddies. They are a lingerie-clad marching parade that passes through the Quarter, putting everyone in a good mood. From there, we head into Mid City to visit with Bob and Jeanne Tannen, artists and old friends with one of the most spectacular and out-there houses in New Orleans. They have a giant gold swordfish hanging from the front balcony. I try to catch up with them every time I’m home.

Next: We head to the lakefront for lunch at Russell's Marina Grill. It’s a nostalgia-inducing diner near the lake that has been there as long as I can remember. The onion mumm is a classic and will carry us through the day.

From there, we meet up with friends from high school and go “fishing.” Really, we just go out on a boat and drink beer in the sun…and it's a totally worthwhile afternoon. Eventually we come to shore and head to Liuzza’s by the Track. It’s a divey little restaurant and bar with the best BBQ shrimp po'boy on Earth. This is undisputed. We have the po'boy, some gumbo, and a few beers. It’s well into the night by now and we’re in Mid City, so we head to Pal’s Lounge. It’s a perfect neighborhood bar where I usually find some old friends. We catch up here until we run out of steam. Need to conserve some energy…

Wild — living his best life — on a parade ladder.

The best boiled crawfish from Clesi’s (left); Stein's Reubens for the road.
Always have a cocktail at the ready.

Saturday: Big Edemyon Energy

The Saturday of Mardi Gras weekend is a big day, so we lay the groundwork for success by eating an early breakfast at Surrey’s. Their shrimp and grits is heaven. We walk straight from there to St. Charles Ave. to catch my brother’s wife Julie in Iris, the city's oldest women-only parade. They wear masks but we try to spot her to get the good beads!

Another great parade follows, but we head to Mid City to pregame with my cousin for Endymion, picking up the city’s best boiled crawfish from Clesi’s on the way. We walk with the crawfish and a few coolers of beer to the route and set up shop. My son Wild says Endymion is the best parade of Mardi Gras, and it’s hard to disagree. We hang on the street all day, eating and drinking and taking in the crowds until the parade finally kicks in late afternoon. In this time we have found a number of friends, new and old. The parade itself is magnificent and a true joy to behold. When the parade ends, and we’re able to drive off, we head back to our hotel in the French Quarter, put the kids to bed, and enjoy a rotation or two at the Monteleone’s Carousel Bar. We are cooked at this point.

Prime Seaworthy seating.
Photo by Chelsea Audibert / Unsplash.

Sunday: Bacchus and the Uptown Parades

The Sunday before Mardi Gras is the big day for me. Bacchus has always been my favorite parade, and the Krewes that roll before it create a great build up. Back in high school, everyone I knew would go to the corner of 7th St. and St. Charles at 10 a.m. with an igloo filled with beer and celebrate from morning through night while eating (where did the food come from?) and drinking and dancing and falling in love (multiple times over). Oh, and taking in the various parades that culminate in Bacchus, which as its name suggests, is the debaucherous climax — glory days!

For a slightly more adult take, we have an early breakfast at Cafe Du Monde before everyone arrives, then spend a little time just walking around the French Quarter. Everyone is out in some degree of Mardi Gras regalia. You see the full spectrum of humanity out here. We slowly make our way through the Quarter towards the Central Business District, at some point grabbing to-go beers, eventually arriving at a 1970s-era sandwich shop called Serio’s po'boys. We grew up knowing the proprietor, Mitch Serio, a true specimen of New Orleans, also known as the Mouth of the South. He hosted wild parties on a make-shift balcony overlooking the parades below. We hang out here to watch the early parades, drink Budweiser, and eat one of their world-famous muffuletta sandwiches. One sandwich can easily feed four.

In the afternoon, we head over to Seaworthy for a little downtime, have a drink or two at the bar, and catch a ride uptown. We meet up at a friend's house on Napoleon Ave. along the parade route. We have boiled crawfish, beer, king cake, and more beer. Endless amounts of beer. We party in the streets until Bacchus arrives, then do our best to enjoy it in the moment. The parade comes just as the sun sets and we revel in the glory that is New Orleans peak Mardi Gras. At the moment it feels like it will never end. Afterwards, we make our way back through streets that look like Armageddon to the French Quarter and join what has become blocks and blocks of revelers. We ride the wave of people to Frenchman St. in the Marigny and eat in the streets when we’re hungry and wander in and out of the music clubs. We end the night at the legendary Irish pub Mollies at the Market.

Holywater seafood tower done right.
The full spread at Holywater.

Monday: The Escape

It’s always sad to leave New Orleans, and we are surely in poor shape. We have breakfast with my parents, swing by Stein's Market & Deli to get pastrami Reubens for the road (better than anywhere in NYC), and head to the airport. We have a good night's sleep back home in NYC and prepare for our own Mardi Gras Celebration at Holywater.

Tuesday: Mardi Gras Day

By the time Fat Tuesday arrives, everyone in New Orleans is a zombie. It’s a challenge to get up to go to Zulu or Rex, although culturally, they are considered the most important parades. If you’re able to make it through those, you’re done. Some die-hards continue on, but things progressively dissolve as the day proceeds. I’m always happy to leave Monday in one piece knowing that I’ve seen the best of Mardi Gras.

Back in Manhattan, we host our own party at Holywater and know we can make it out in one piece. Oysters, Hurricanes, Sazeracs, king cake, caviar. We do it right.

Spend More Time in NOLA

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