Remember when you were in kindergarten and your mom pinned a note to your lapel, informing anyone who found you who you were and where you belonged? That’s what this article is, the digital equivalent of a “pinned note” that will point you in the right direction in case you (hic!) happen to quaff just a few too many hurricanes during this year’s Carnival season.
Yes, it’s February, which means it’s time to get yourself to New Orleans as fast and as expeditiously as possible. Last year, the Big Easy played host to more than 1 million Mardis Gras revelers and there’s no reason to think this year is going to be any different.
So let me be your designated driver with these eight tips for making the most of the best party of the year.
1. Position yourself carefully You want to book a room that’s right in the center of the action and one that won’t suck up extra cash. The French Quarter’s Hotel Le Marais, is stumbling distance from Bourbon Street and even though it recently underwent a major renovation, it’s still reasonably priced, leaving plenty of dinero for several night’s worth of Hand Grenades. The 64-room boutique hotel is stylish, slick and even throws in a decent hangover-relieving breakfast next to its brick courtyard.
2. Fill your “tank” first. Speaking of hangovers, it’s imperative to get a good dinner in before wandering the streets in search of frivolity. Arnauds, a legendary New Orleans restaurant, will pamper you in turn-of-the-century dining rooms with white tablecloths, tuxedoed waiters and Dixieland troubadours. Started in 1918 by French wine salesman Arnaud Cazenave, Arnaud’s specializes in such Creole dishes as crabmeat ravigotte (sweet lump crabmeat with a Creole-mustard sauce) and shrimp Arnuad (this specialty appetizer features boiled shrimp with tangy remoulade). Upstairs is an official Mardis Gras museum with more than two dozen lavish costumes — including 13 worn by Arnaud’s daughter and successor of the restaurant, Germaine Cazenave Wells, who holds the record (22) for most reigns as queen of a Mardis Gras ball.
3. Bring an extra bag. You’ll need it for all the beads, doubloons, cups (known as New Orleans dinnerware), toys and other assorted treasures that masked riders on Mardis Gras floats throw out to crowds along the parade route. The throwing of trinkets started in the 1870s by the Twelfth Night Revelers, one of the oldest Krewes.
4. Think “hair of the dog.” At Brennan’s, another long-standing New Orleans restaurant where breakfast has been turned into an art form, you can ward of evil spirits of the night before with their famous Brandy Milk Punch which according to long-time resident Bonnie Warren, is the best hangover cure in town. You’ll probably have to wait to get in (Brennan’s starts filling up at daybreak), but it’s so worth it with such signature dishes as Eggs Hussarde, Eggs Sardou and bananas Foster that was invented here in 1951 and named for Richard Foster, a friend of Owen Brennan, the original owner who opened his now famous French restaurant on a dare from the above-mentioned Count Arnaud. Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper once claimed to be on a three-week diet after a three-hour breakfast at this venerable institution.
5. Get out of the French Quarter. But not too far. At The Palace Café, around the corner on Canal Street, you can dine outside in what feels like an outdoor Parisian café. This elegant bistro, named best new restaurant by both Esquire and USA Today when in opened in 1991, is a popular place for locals to celebrate birthdays, wedding anniversaries and other special occasions such as “Yea! I made it to Mardis Gras this year!” Don’t miss the crabmeat cheesecake.
6. Soak up some fresh air. Before the Court of Two Sisters offered its popular jazz brunch, this block of the French Quarter was home to five governors, a future justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, a future president of the United States and Marquis de Vaudreuil, the colonial royal governor who transformed the marshland village known as New Orleans into a “petit Paris.” Now, this New Orleans hotspot offers the largest outdoor courtyard in the city and a daily brunch with more than 90 items, hot and cold.
7. Remember you’re in a port city. And that means seafood. Chef Tenney Flynn, co-owner of GW Fins and the guy the Wall Street Journal calls “the fishmonger czar of the Gulf,” prints a different menu each day. That way he’s guaranteed of getting the freshest, most delectable seafood available for that day. And you’re guaranteed to enjoy it. Flynn’s weekly cooking segments on the nationally-syndicated fishing “The Big Fish” reels in customers from around the world.
8. Make a sign. It’s tradition to hold up signs telling the world where you’re from. And while you’re at it, add a “Hi Mom! Thanks for all the pinned notes.”