Where to Celebrate Mardi Gras in New Orleans, According to NOLA Bartenders
If drunken debauchery and large crowds aren’t your thing, you may want to avoid Mardi Gras altogether. But, if you’re up for some tipsy good times and lively groups, you could skip the tourist zones and experience the festival from the locals’ perspective. By avoiding Bourbon Street altogether, you can imbibe your way through local neighborhoods while enjoying some of the lesser known parades. Here, four NOLA bartenders reveal their favorite under-the-radar bars to celebrate Mardi Gras.
Helmed by luminary bartender Chris McMillian—who co-founded the Museum of the American Cocktail—this must-visit New Orleans bar happens to be conveniently located right off of the main parade route. With a dense list of classic cocktails, including a fernet-heavy Brandy Alexander and a rum-based Old Fashioned, it’s the perfect place to set up camp and watch the revelers roll by outside. According to Bryson Downham, the beverage director of Toups South, the bar is “welcoming, comforting and enlightening all at once.”
133 N Carrollton Ave., New Orleans, LA
Despite the fact that this much-adored, family-owned bar is just off Bourbon Street, it has managed to resist any overly touristy vibes. With a great jukebox, strong cocktails, and a selection of wines and beers starting at only four bucks, this dark and atmospheric haunt is the kind of bar you can hide away in all day. “It’s a welcome respite from the Bourbon Street madness,” Downham says. “The bartenders are great, the regulars are welcoming, and it’s got an amazing courtyard.” Just remember to bring cash. There is no ATM and the bar does not take plastic.
819 St. Louis St., New Orleans, LA
With an extensive list of wines by the bottle, a rotating tap list of local beers and inventive cocktails featuring a unique variety of homemade bitters, this bar located inside St. Roch Market is a true gem. It’s the perfect spot to wait with a cocktail in hand as you “gather your gang if you get lost during the Chewbacchus or Krewe Du Vieux parades,” says Abigail Gullo, the head bartender at Compère Lapin.
2381 St Claude, New Orleans, LA
If you’re in need of a bit of a nosh to curb the effects of your boozy Mardi Gras escapades, head over to SoBou in the French Quarter. With some truly tasty treats on the menu, including a burger topped with foie gras and a whole fried egg, along with an impressive cocktail menu (try the Waiting Room with rice gin, Lillet Rose, orgeat and orange cream citrate), SoBou is Gullo’s favorite bar for simultaneous recuperation and pregaming.
310 Chartres St., New Orleans, LA
If you’re a beer lover, this shabby-chic, almost medieval bar is your go-to. With over 100 beers on their list—most of which are from Louisiana or nearby Southern states—Black Penny has one of the largest beer selections in the French Quarter. With cans of beer starting at only $4, it’s a welcome relief from the expensive tourist traps nearby. Bonus: It’s dog-friendly, making it the perfect spot for before or after Barkus, the popular dog-filled parade.
700 N. Rampart St., New Orleans, LA
This cozy bar on Rampart Street in the French Quarter features daily specials (like $5 Mai Tais and $5 Bacon Bloody Marys), a diverse array of classic cocktails (including many New Orleans favorites like the Sazerac), wine and beer, Bar Tonique literally has something for everyone. If you’re in need of something lighter (yes, you are allowed to take a break from Hurricanes during Mardi Gras), the bar also has an entire menu dedicated to lower ABV aperitifs.
820 N Rampart St., New Orleans, LA
With cheap, stiff drinks, an epic craft beer menu, friendly bartenders, a cozy atmosphere (including an upstairs bar with a balcony) and awesome pub grub (the dump truck fries are a must) The Avenue Pub is a favorite amongst locals and tourists alike. Conveniently located on St. Charles Avenue—which is on the parade route—The Avenue Pub runs 24 hours a day during Mardi Gras. “It’s always fun to go there before, during and after the parades—especially if you can get up to the balcony where you get a really great view of all that’s happening on the street below,” says Tim Webb, the head bartender at DTB. Best of all: They serve Jello Shots.
1732 St. Charles Ave, New Orleans, LA
This dark, boozy hideaway is close enough to the French Quarter that you can dip in and out of the parade. With literally hundreds of whiskies (288, to be exact—mainly American-made) on the menu, Barrel Proof is essential drinking for any fans of the golden dram. If straight whiskey isn’t your thing, there are a number of great beers and cocktails—try the Topo Chino with bourbon, cold brew coffee, vanilla, walnut bitters and soda water. Just be careful. “It’s is easy to rack up a giant tab if you're not paying attention to what you're buying—I always get into trouble,” Webb says.
1201 Magazine St, New Orleans, LA
A funky little local bar located in the Bayou St. John area, Pal’s features both craft cocktails and Boilermakers, vintage porn-themed bathrooms (if that’s your thing), and an air hockey table in the back—you can also find a variety of vintage board games if the table is taken. Pro tip: Order the Gingerita and make it a double—you’ll get an 16-oz to-go cup made of hard plastic (instead of those clear, soft plastic cups).
949 N Rendon St., New Orleans, LA
According to Norton Christopher, the head bartender at Sac-a-Lait, Markey’s is the perfect starting point for the Society of Saint Anne parade on Fat Tuesday itself. “Everyone lines up along the parade route here to kick off the trek through the Quarter,” he says. With a great beer selection, lots of cheap booze, exuberant, friendly bartenders, and a shuffleboard table (one of the best in the city), this gloriously divey spot is a destination worth seeking out. After a few rounds, “definitely get the nachos,” Christopher says.
640 Louisa St., New Orleans, LA
Located in Mid-City, this Irish bar is the real deal. While you’re likely to find more locals than tourists here, you’re more than welcome to join the party. More like a living room with a bar (and possibly a live band) The Holy Ground has a great selection of beers, lots of whiskey, and bartenders that keep people coming back (Christopher wants to personally give a shout out to bartenders Dave and Cheryl). And, with a permanent food pop-up in the back, you can get yourself a snack if you have one too many at the bar. Christopher adamantly recommends their shrimp snack (fried shrimp and fries with a house sauce for $6) as well as the PB&J. “Pabst Blue Ribbon and a pour of Jameson,” he adds.
106 S Jefferson Davis Pkwy, New Orleans, LA