5 Mardi Gras Festivities Outside New Orleans
Why should New Orleans have all the fun? Famous for its booze and beads, the Big Easy may be Mardi Gras central, but other communities in Louisiana offer the costumes and cocktails emblematic of Carnival season, minus the crazy crowds. Stretching from the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6 until its completion on Mardi Gras, February 9, 2016, Carnival season in Louisiana runs the gamut from family-focused pageantry to rustic affairs celebrating hundreds of years of local tradition. Here are our picks for the top Mardi Gras experiences you can’t find on Bourbon Street.
The kid-friendly Carnival in Lake Charles includes parades from about 60 local krewes whose members don glitzy costumes and march on various routes throughout the city (download the free Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras app for detailed parade information).
Come hungry the weekend before Mardi Gras for the Gumbo Cook-Off at the Lake Charles Civic Center on February 6, followed by the Krewe of Barkus parade (yes, with canines in costumes) and a community-wide Zydeco dance. Sunday, February 7 is Children’s Day, boasting educational, kid-friendly activities followed by a children’s parade. On Lundi Gras, February 8, the public is invited to see the royalty from all the local krewes at the Royal Gala—a great time to take in each krewe’s elaborate costuming. End your Mardi Gras in Lake Charles at the Krewe of Krewes Parade, claimed to be the world’s largest tailgate party.
Where to Drink: Directly on the parade route in downtown Lake Charles, Pujo Street Café has a pet-friendly patio, 35 selections of wine by the bottle, and fantastic drink deals.
Lafayette’s Carnival includes nine major parades and the five-day Le Festival de Mardi Gras a Lafayette. Expect rides, local delicacies, an outstanding lineup of live music and krewes that roll right through the festival grounds.
Head downtown to catch some of the city’s top celebrations in the days leading up to Mardi Gras, including the Krewe of Bonaparte (February 6) and Queen Evangeline’s Parade (February 8). On February 9, multiple krewes entertain downtown, but stop by Clark Field Stadium for the Mardi Gras Show. The event brings together some of the city’s coolest costumes alongside live music and local bites, highlighting the area’s cultural diversity and shining a spotlight on African-American Mardi Gras traditions.
Insider tip: Bars around town will be serving the white-rum-based Rouler (the official cocktail of Lafayette Parish). It’s made with Sweet Crude Rum that’s distilled locally from Acadiana-grown sugarcane.
Where to Drink: Part roadhouse, part hostel, and located just a short walk from the parade route, the artsy Blue Moon Saloon is hard to beat for live, local music, Louisiana craft beer and a welcoming porch complete with rocking chairs.
With its fancy soirées, traditional floats and spirited marching bands, Louisiana’s capital city plays host to thousands for its Mardi Gras celebrations that reach a fever pitch the week leading up to Fat Tuesday.
On January 31, bust out a lawn chair like a true local and scope out three parades in one day: Krewe of Addis, Krewe of Mutts (this year’s theme is Paw Wars: The Furs Unleashed) and Krewe of Comogo. The Krewe of Southdowns parades on February 5, followed by the can’t-miss Krewe of Spanish Town Parade beginning at noon on February 6.
Also on February 6: the third-annual Baton Rouge Mardi Gras Festival. Held at North Boulevard Town Square, it’s another must for visitors. The free outdoor event draws together some of the South’s top R&B, hip hop and soul acts, and also features an artists’ village and food booths.
Where to Drink: The sophisticated Lock and Key Whiskey Bar has a staggering 240 whiskey selections from around the world, plus a baby grand piano for live jazz weekly.
The Tee Mamou-Iota Mardi Gras Folklife Festival provides a glimpse into Carnival’s past, but plan to get up early if you want to appreciate Mardi Gras deep in Cajun country.
Kicking off at 9 am on February 9 in downtown Iota, you’ll hear Cajun and Zydeco bands, eat traditional delicacies like boudin sausage (made with pork and rice), fried alligator, bread pudding with rum sauce, and syrup pies. Plan to hear groups singing 400-year-old French chants passed down from their Acadian ancestors.
The main parade starts at 2:30 pm, and is notable for distinctive Cajun costuming. Keep an eye out for hand-painted wire-screen masks and capuchons—pointed hats these said to have medieval ties. Thinking of getting unruly? Watch out for the capitaine: the parade leader carries a whip made from braided burlap designed to keep Mardi Gras revelers in check.
Where to Drink: Red Dog’s Bar in nearby Egan, Louisiana has a honky-tonk feel with live country and Cajun music, nightly drink specials and a pool table.
Most of North Louisiana’s largest celebrations happen over the weekends leading up to Mardi Gras. Highlights include the Krewe of Centaur (January 30), the Krewe of Gemini (February 6), and Krewe of Highland (February 7).
Staying for Fat Tuesday? Opt to experience something out-of-towners rarely get to see: the official end of Carnival.
“We have a bizarre and wonderful event, the ceremonial Blessing of the Texas Street Bridge,” says Chris Jay of the Shreveport-Bossier Convention & Tourist Bureau. Held at the center of the bridge in downtown Shreveport at 11:30 pm on February 9, visitors can see a local priest blessing the crowds and declaring Carnival season officially over.
But don’t miss the pre-party at ArtSpace before the Mardi Gras finale; the $10 admission gets you gumbo and red beans and rice, while an extra $10 yields a bottomless cup for beer, wine or Mardi Gras punch. According to tradition, it’s your last chance to live it up before Lent begins.
Where to Drink: A Chinese restaurant located in a hotel lobby seems like an unlikely spot to find a carefully curated wine list, but Lucky Palace proprietor Kuan Lim is a passionate enophile. You’ll find 17 options by the glass and 120-plus bottle picks from some of the world’s top producers.
- 1Lake Charles
- 3Baton Rouge
- 5Shreveport – Bossier City