When planning a trip to New Orleans, it is standard that you will probably somehow at some point end up on Bourbon Street. We had specifically planned our trip to catch only the LAST day of the Mardi Gras season, and then having several days to explore New Orleans without the mayhem. I recommend this, but maybe come in one day earlier than we did to catch a couple more of the big parades!
Best Times to Visit
Step number 1: Get to Bourbon Street early! The bars are open, the streets are clean(ish), the sun is shining and there’s room to explore!
Bourbon Street first called our name by 10am, to secure a drink before we found a spot to watch the Zulu parade. We walked right into a bar, paid for our drink and walked right back out out, drinks in hand. Upon leaving the bar, we accidentally stumbled right into a mini-parade going down Bourbon St, where we scored 50% of our days worth of beads! (No flashing necessary!)
As the days goes on, the crowds grow and the street becomes elbow to elbow. So I suggest if you have any sort of social or crowd anxiety, get out to Bourbon early and get the hell out by night fall!
Rules of Drinking
There are literally no rules. You can walk into any bar, anywhere on Bourbon, with or without a full drink, buy a drink or 3, and then leave with said drink and move on to your next destination. Us New England-ers could NOT get used to this!
I’d suggest avoiding the sugar filled drinks like Hurricanes, Grenades and the common daiquiri bars and stick to your go-to cocktail, or a solid beer. Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras is a marathon, not a sprint. Throwing some sugary,mystery liquor drink in to the mix is not going to end well.
If you’d like to try one, go back on a separate occasion. You can find them everywhere and they wont destroy you!
I found that drink prices were surprisingly reasonable down there. If you want the BEST bang for your buck, go grab a mixed drink from Bourbon Cowboy. HUGE cups and low prices.
And for the love of god, please drink some water once in a while!
Bourbon Street Destinations
I will not say that we went into every bar possible but we did hit a decent amount that I can touch on!
Huge Ass Beer: Big, annoying beer cups that make for a good instagram photo and that’s about it. We did not go back later in the day to see what it was like with a crowd.
Bourbon Cowboy: We spent a decent amount of time here thanks to the cheap drinks, good DJ and mechanical bull! The wall of bras alludes to this place being a interesting scene come night fall! We also ran into a group of dancing lobsters there, so that was entertaining! Do not fall for their “pay to get on the balcony” scheme. It’s free at other places!
Fat Catz Music Club: We spent some time here during the day where we enjoyed a jazz band. We also came back there later than night for DJ and dancing which was a blast and a good way to burn off some of the alcohol! I will warn you that they have an in-house body painter in the back, so prepare to see topless females wandering around.
Big Easy Daiquiris: Just no.
Bourbon O Bar: Part of the Bourbon Orleans Hotel and it’s right up the street from “Touchdown Jesus” statue. We ended here on a cocktail tour and loved sitting in the lounge area listening to the blues band play. DISCLAIMER: We did not do this on Mardi Gras Day so I don’t know how the vibe was during the chaos.
The World Famous Cats Meow: We ended our night here and had a great time. Found a spot on the second floor to watch the karaoke from above and also had direct access to the balcony overlooking Bourbon Street. (Which is quite the people watching experience at night!) I don’t remember what drink prices were like but we enjoyed our time here for several hours!
Where to Eat
We did not attempt any sit down meals on Bourbon Street. Find a hot dog stand and keep yourself well fed in the meantime. If you want a nice dinner, I’d suggest venturing off of Bourbon and finding a good restaurant. We ate at both Pat O’Briens and Crescent City Brewhouse, which both had fantastic food and atmosphere. Pat O’Briens was PACKED with drinkers on Mardi Gras day but beyond that, it’s a cool place to grab a drink and hang out in the courtyard.
You’ll find Crescent City Brewhouse down by the river, but it’s worth the walk. We were even able to be seated almost right away when we got there! We all treated ourselves to some good old fashioned New Orleans meals and rested our feet and souls. Taking a break from the Mardi Gras mayhem is important if you want to survive the night! Highly recommend this restaurant for any time of year.
The Infamous Beads
NEWS FLASH: You don’t have to expose yourself to get beads!! Yes, plenty of people were taking the opportunity to do so, but you do not have to. I had probably 30 bead necklaces by the end of the day only by looking up at the balconies and waving at people!
Don’t pick them up off the ground, it’s bad luck, and just plain gross. There are plenty to go around!
If you get a chance, get up to a balcony and throw some of the beads that you’ve worked so hard to receive! It’s fun to experience both sides of the bead throwing! (And watching drunk people stumble around is just plain fun!)
Keep your Belongings Safe!
New Orleans is known for pickpockets! We were lucky not to have it happen to any of us, but I know a friend who had her wallet stolen on a previous trip, so it does happen!
Do whatever it takes to keep your valuables double zipped in your purse. If possible, a cross-body bag is your best bet so they would literally have to wrangle it off of you. For men, it’s best to keep the wallet anywhere than your back pocket! Do not carry everything of value with you at all times. Keep some money and a copy of your ID at your hotel. And you’re going to want to have your phone out often to take photos but put it away when you’re done with it to avoid someone grabbing it out of your hand!
Common sense stuff, but important to keep in mind!
One Day is Enough!
My best advice for doing Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street, is to only do it once! Yes, I do think that you should experience it at least once in your life time, but the city of New Orleans has SO MUCH ELSE to see and do than Bourbon Street Mardi Gras. Catch some amazing bands on Frenchman, explore the beautiful mansions of the Garden District, hop on a ghost tour or two, and definitely venture out to catch one of the big parades. We made the mistake of thinking we could casually walk up to a parade route in the prime area, and couldn’t see a thing. The routes are long and there are plenty of places to try to get a better spot then on Canal Street through the center of the city.
New Orleans has so much to offer and we all left feeling like we had only skimmed the surface of things that we wanted to see and do! With a culture so unique and vibrant, you’ll want to experience the chaos of Bourbon Street Mardi Gras, and then get out and do other things! Follow that advice, and you can’t go wrong!
Have you ever experience Mardi Gras on Bourbon Street? Have any great advice that I missed? Leave it in the comments below! And until next time…