f you find yourself standing amidst the fetid quiet of Bourbon St. after the last Mardi Gras parade has passed and the last tune has played, you will look down and think, “Oh hell, my shoes are ruined.” So vile is the slush of discarded cannikins, broken beads and human ejecta that one could be forgiven for writing off the Crescent City’s spring as the dominion of college Greeks, nomad bikers and those who’ve long since watched the wagon roll over the horizon. But hold, as the vibrant visage of booze, bared skin and no bathrooms is not the only face of the fête. There are craft cocktails, luxe luncheons and black tie balls in the heart of the action—but not covered in the action—and it’s in this realm that the Kingdom Krewe of Golfus likes to play. Here’s how to keep your shirt on, your shoes clean and your cup filled. Allons-y to a five-star Mardi Gras.
Four Seasons New Orleans. More than just a superlative five-star accommodation, the luxury hotel and private residences housed in the city’s former World Trade Center (previously home to foreign consulates and the Port of New Orleans HQ) is well-sited only a few blocks from the madness. The parade route is just blocks away, so getting to the revelry is easy enough. Likewise, when you’re ready for some peace and quiet or a [clean] bathroom break, your luxury oasis is at hand. The Four Seasons offers Mardi Gras-specific touches as well, and staff are always ready to help with a friendly recommendation for where to go (or not go). The 34th floor features incredible city viewing, as does the outdoor resort pool, which is a great place to gather for an afternoon cocktail or two. Get a river-view suite, start (or end) your evenings in the brilliant Chandelier Bar in the lobby, and this aspect of your trip will be well sorted. Also, the hotel can arrange private tours and special experiences to suit any taste, making this an ideal home base from which to laissez les bons temps rouler.
Just blocks from the action, the Four Seasons offers a relaxing oasis amidst the madness of Mardi Gras
There’s nothing wrong with “winging it,” walking the town, viewing floats and catching beads as they fall from anywhere along the parade route, but if you’d rather have a dedicated viewing area, seating and, crucially, private restrooms, book VIP grandstand seating with a service such as NewOrleansParadeTickets.com. Reserved grandstand seating is available at various points along the route, and a VIP tent option adds shelter and facilities. This option is particularly good for families as one can still get right up to the floats, catch beads and so on, but you’re far less likely to be bumped-into (and spilled on) by someone who’s over-indulged.
Gents press your suits and ladies grab your fancy hats: lunch at Galatoire’s on the Friday before Mardi Gras is the place to be. Trouble is, Friday lunch here is popular any time of year, and during the festival the premium on seating goes to another level. Upstairs seats at the 1905 tony eatery are offered to guests who dined here the year before, and a Galatoire’s attendant assures us that patrons rarely give up their tables, with some groups and families making it an annual tradition. Short of having a friend with a standing reservation and spare chairs, your best bet is to attend the Galatoire Foundation’s annual charity auction, at which pre-festival Friday lunch seating for the entire first floor is auctioned off. This year’s auction looks to be scheduled for the end of January, it takes place in the restaurant, and it’s a festive affair in its own right. If that won’t work but you still want to dress up, Commander’s Palace in the Garden District has been a go-to since 1893, with an enforced dress code and an alumni list of chefs (including Emeril Lagasse, Paul Prudhomme, Jamie Shannon and others) that underscores its quality. More casually but still upscale, it’s hard to go wrong at Pêche, the James Beard award-winning seafood staple that brings live-fire cooking techniques to South American, Spanish and Gulf Coast cuisine, while the recently opened Margot’s is the new spot for wood-fired pizza, natural wine and Italian cocktails. If it all seems exhausting, the Four Seasons has two excellent eateries as well.
For those who don’t know, Mardi Gras primarily is driven by “krewes,” organizations or groups of friends who create a float, host a party of some kind, help the community throughout the year and so on. There’s more to it, but that’s the gist. Of the 50 + krewes in existence, the oldest is the Mistick Krewe of Comus, which has been participating in Mardi Gras since 1856. We’re partial to the Krewe of Orpheus, founded in 1993 by musician/actor Harry Connick, Jr., and his father, a former city District Attorney. While most krewes’ activities involve some sort of membership, the Krewe of Orpheus hosts an annual ticketed black-tie ball that’s open to the public. Called the Orpheuscapade, past events have featured Connick, Jr., Nicole Scherzinger, Finn Jones from Game of Thrones and other celebs alongside fantastic musical entertainment and dancing. In the evening, amidst the merriment, the floats roll into the center where the celebration is held, beads and dubloons fly, and the party keeps going until you’ve had enough. It’s a great way to celebrate the week, and an experience not necessarily had by many among the French quarter throng.
If you have an early flight out of Louis Armstrong International the next morning, stop by the airport location of Café du Monde and cap your trip with a beignet and café du lait. If it’s an afternoon or evening flight, make it the airport Bar Sazerac in Concourse B. Either way it’s New Orleans in style—and Mardi Gras with your reputation, and your shoes, intact.