New Orleans: Mardi Gras parties for all

New Orleans: Mardi Gras parties for all

As the sun’s reflection traveled through the swamps, I could see trawlers in the distance, no doubt calling it a day after a massive crawfish catch (they are in season during Carnival). Birds playfully flew around our plane as we prepared for our descent into the Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport. I have been to Mardi Gras, pre-Katrina, but I looked forward to round two with the bigger badder-ass NOLA just waiting below me.

We stayed at an Airbnb and our host sent a driver to pick us up at the airport. If you don’t know what Airbnb is, you will soon – I believe it will revolutionize how we stay when we travel and open up lots of doors all over the world. Our particular rental is a family mansion in Treme. I remember my first time coming to New Orleans, seeing these mansions from the street, and imagining how nice it would be to stay in one. Check that one off the bucket list. Nothing says luxury like staying in a historic mansion in ‘Nawlins.

We had lots of folks offering up recommendations in preparation for our trip. Our driver rattled off a few, “Frenchman St. not Bourbon St., Café du Monde, Fried Oysters at Acme, crawfish at Cajun Seafood, hit Babylon Parade and Endymion.” By the time we got through his list we arrived at our Aribnb, where our host had champagne, the local Abitas beer and a welcome basket waiting for us. He also had his own recommendations: Lil’ Dizzy’s, Pat O’Brien’s for Hurricanes, Willie Mae’s Scotch House, Upperline, Cochon, Commander’s Palace, Magazine St. and the Flea Market to name a few. All of this, on top of the guidance of our friends who have relocated from Columbus to New Orleans, seemed almost overwhelming. Needless to say, our choices were endless.

We wasted no time and walked over to Lil Dizzy’s for some gumbo. Either we were hungry or it was the most amazing Gumbo we have ever had. We took a picture in front of the enormous portrait of Eddie Baquet, the father of the proprietor and famous New Orleans restauranteur.

Our night began with our host picking us up with his lovely wife; we took a drive to the storied 9th Ward. The hipsters have snapped up all the houses that once had the big Xs on them indicating the house was cleared, the number of dead and the number rescued. The new inhabitants painted over them and created a cute little haven now called, Bywater – the locals call it Brooklyn South. Apparently many young professionals have bought these properties at a relatively low cost, jacked them up, added some layers of bricks to be above water and hunkered down to live a life of low real estate and high jinks. After a quick drive by the until recently clothing optional Country Club, we were released at the top of Frenchman St. to begin our maiden journey through, “The Quarters,” as the locals called it.

We begun at Marigny, with lovely salad for me and burger and sweet potato fries for my partner-in-everything. The band playing was kooky and interacting with us with humor, so of course we dropped a five spot in their tip jar.

Next, we started our stroll down Frenchman Street. Almost every club was jumping with some sort of entertainment. We popped into the Spotted Cat – a classic New Orleans Jazz spot with people swinging on the dance floor. Super high spirits abounded. This town knows how to have fun!

We walked into Yuki and a blind French-speaking accordion player was taking requests. “What a Wonderful World,” was mine. We drank sake from a box and snacked on edamame as we enjoyed the atmosphere and the strange vibe with the accordion music.

We hit some more clubs along the street, among them the famed reggae club, the Blue Nile. Eventually, we decided we had a long way yet to go before our trip was over, so called it a night once we reached the end of Frenchman Street.

The next day we took our bikes out and headed away from the French Quarter towards New Orleans City Park. The 1,300-acre park was without a doubt one of the lovelier city parks I have ever seen – a magical garden with playground structures throughout. Heading the park is a museum currently showing the work of Degas. You can even rent a paddle boat or kayak. If you know where to look, the unofficial Café du Monde is here, called The Morning Call. The beignets were classic along with the café au lait. No refills on coffee here; don’t let the waitress put powdered sugar on your pastry – she will make a holy mess. There are two pairs of very friendly swans at NOLA City Park. They are big so when they come out of the water to sidle up next to you, it can be quite intimidating.

We then biked our way back for some grub in prep for the parades. By the way, biking is far and away the best way to see New Orleans.

Back in the Quarters, we started off at Coop’s Place, a no frills southern soul food spot, with a big ass beer. Nothing here is pricey unless you want it to be. Very nice that there wasn’t much tourist-gouging going on in New Orleans, even though it was Mardi Gras season. We then walked around the water and the open air market and there were horse drawn carriage stands and tons of pedicabs. Being an animal advocate, I would personally opt for a pedicab.

Although the parades have a start time of 4pm, they don’t reach Canal St. for four hours. We were in it for the long haul, as three parades were scheduled that evening.

The nice thing about New Orleans is that you can go to the corner store, pick up some liquor or drinks and just drink openly in the street. Despite this leniency, I did not see people abusing this priveledge.

The parades arrived with float upon float of clownish characters, raining doubloons and other prizes into the throngs of screaming crowds. And although I told myself, “I don’t care,” and “I don’t need that junk,” the moment swept me away. The thrill of catching something thrown just for you is more intoxicating than the booze in your hands.

Both of us ended up stacked with row-upon-row of baubles and various light-up memorabilia and were pooped. We biked back late at night, but made a quick stop at Pat O’Brian’s for a roadie to snag the requisite hurricane. We made it back to Treme and collapsed on our mansion bed. Day two was a success.

On day three, we woke up to a parade passing by under our balcony window. Although the parade schedule listed a ton of parades in many the neighborhoods, a bunch of truly local unofficial ones popped up too. Gratefully, we enjoyed this seemingly personal parade while drinking the traditional coffee with chicory; delightful.

We headed out into the day. We biked to a New Orleans institution, Willie Mae’s. They claim to make the world’s best fried chicken, and after trying some, I would have to agree. Their green beans and rice were also yummy.

We biked to another café, Treme, and we were continually surprised with the pockets of abandoned homes and conversely, gentrification. We rolled around Louis Armstrong Park for a bit. The most impressive thing about it was the huge arch that was brightly lit up and white at night. Our butts hurt from all the miles on those bicycles, so we switched Airbnb’s to a location closer to the French Quarter, and decided to hoof it for the rest of the trip.

Then, we braved Bourbon St. It was still daylight, but the party was in full swing. It gets hard to walk around Bourbon St; so many people around and things being tossed at you from the balconies. Syringes of Jell-O shots, fish tanks of hurricanes, beers the size of your torso and various other drinks abounded.

We headed over to a lovely place called Batch to get away from the madness. Sometimes you just can’t eat any more soul food, so we go for some pricey fusion fare. After recouping, we headed back to Canal St. for the night’s parade. We witnessed Endymion, which was all sorts of awesome and then settled for a nice restaurant for our final NOLA dinner at Richard Fink’s Martini Bar – not bad at all but pricey.

We headed back for a nap before catching King Brit at the Dragon’s Den. True to our nature, we raved until dawn and called it a night. There were people still littered all over the place on our sunlit walk home.

Sunday arrived and we woke up late. All we could muster was a walk over to Buffa’s. In true New Orleans fashion, we had one too many Bloody Mary’s. All good things must come to an end; you could have stuck a fork in us, we were done.