A Local's Guide to New Orleans During Mardi Gras

Photos by Joel Barhamand

Let the good times roll this merry-making season with a curated list of where the locals go

Whether you want to get swept up in the celebration or duck out of the festivities and enjoy the city’s softer side, the Big Easy offers something for everyone. Lyric’s New Orleans-based operations specialist, Damion Bradley, gives us a local’s perspective on navigating Mardi Gras and offers up some suggestions for not-to-miss festivities, favorite spots for eating, drinking, and sightseeing—all in close proximity to Lyric’s French Quarter property on Girod Street.

What’s the best way to start the morning? 
Congregation Coffee located at Girod and Camp Streets is great for both coffee and food. For breakfast, my colleague, Siera, loves Surrey’s on Magazine Street—especially their Shrimp and Grits or Bananas Foster French Toast. They also have organic juices for the morning after.

Beignets are a big deal; where do you get the best?
Cafe Du Monde in Jackson Square. It’s touristy and always packed, but there is a reason it’s been in business so long. DON'T WEAR BLACK HERE! The Beignets are served under a mountain of powdered sugar that is impossible to keep off your clothes.
The National WWII Museum is down the street, and it’s an excellent museum complex that offers a ton of information. The Save Our Cemeteries tours are great and benefit the restoration of the spaces they explore.

What the heck is Muffuletta and where do you get the best? 
The Muffuletta is a pretty amazing sandwich with lots of cured meats, cheese and a jardinière (a chopped mixture of pickled vegetables and olives) on a soft round bun. Most of them are as big as your head so they’re good for sharing. Cochon Butcher has an amazing Muffuletta, but the original is said to come from Central Grocery in the French Quarter.

Hands-down the best cocktails?
Jewel of the South in the French Quarter has a great cocktail program. Cameron is a great bartender at 21st Amendment, also in the French Quarter—the bar has live music most every evening. Organic Banana has the only Daiquiri I’ll drink.

Jewel Of The South

In your opinion, what are the most visually stunning parades to attend?
The big super Krewe Parades are amazing to watch, Zulu and Rex on Mardi Gras Day are amazing spectacles. Sunday the 23rd are both the Thoth and Bacchus parades—both are great. I love the all women Krewes of Femme Fatale, Nyx (a personal favorite) and Muses. And, of course, Krewe of King Arthur on Feb 16th. For that parade I’ll be on float 15, position one, on the sidewalk side… and I have tons of beads, so be ready!

What are the best parade days to attend, and how do you prepare?
The final swing into Mardi Gras weekend is a marathon, not a sprint. There are three parades a day from Wednesday Feb. 19th - Tuesday 25th. Pace yourself and hydrate.

Overall, the food in New Orleans is amazing. What are your favorite dinner spots?
Paladar 511 in the Maringy is a great modern Italian restaurant with crispy pizza and great pastas. They also have a really good brunch with a slightly different menu from dinner. Book a reservation or expect to wait. Order the tuna crudo or arancini to start and defiantly try one of the pizzas—I love the collard green, farm egg, and bacon pizza but they’re all good! At about 15 inches you can easily share more than one! For a more upscale meal HerbSaint is pretty great. Get the spaghetti with the crispy poached egg— you won’t want to share this plate! Really, you’ll be hard pressed to make it through a visit to New Orleans without finding some good food—it’s everywhere. Blue Oak BBQ, Marjie’s Grill, Kin Ramen, and Clancy’s are some other personal favorites.

Street food is a big thing in other cities - what's the best, and where do you find it?
New Orleans doesn’t do street food—for reasons that would take too long to explain. However, we answer the call with food from “convenience stores” and food halls. Auction House Market nearby, and Elysian Seafood—a solid oyster stall among them. Pythian Market is also really good, but a little farther away. Never underestimate fried chicken from a gas station in New Orleans. I know it’s incongruous, but if you’re near Key’s on Rampart, or Brothers—just say yes.

Best gallery or museums to get culture instead of cocktails?
There are tons of galleries in New Orleans. Harouni Gallery and Galerie Vinsantos on Royal Street are both amazing. The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden is a personal favorite museum that has a very engaging collection. The Ogden Museum of Southern Art is nearby and has really interesting exhibitions as well.

Lightning Round Questions:

Throw beads or catch beads?
Throw. (That said, Krewes usually have signature “throws” —for instance, Femme Fatale tosses compacts, Nyx does purses, King Arthur chucks grails, etc. Those and glass beads are my favorites to keep.)

Jambalaya or Muffuletta?

Muffuletta (if I have to choose)

Ramos Gin Fizz or Sazerac?

Gin Fizz

Baccus, Orpheus, or Endymion?

Barkcuss (the dog parade!) and the Baccus. But really, you should have a great time wherever you go. Mardi Gras and FOMO don’t mix well.

Feathered headdress or sparkly bow tie?

I love a little showgirl headdress, and New Orleans is always good for a homemade costume.

Hoof it down Bourbon Street or take a horse drawn carriage?
Walk or take a pedicab. The carriages are more like tours and not great for reaching a destination timely.