How to do New Orleans Mardi Gras in style
You won’t find us wandering the French Quarter amid the parade crowds. Instead, we’ll be living it up with some of the Big Easy’s best.
Cheers of "_Laissez les bons temps rouler!"_ will soon fill the streets of New Orleans, as the lively Louisiana city prepares for its biggest celebration. Mardi Gras falls on February 28 this year, and the festivities — which canvas NOLA in colourful beads and elaborate costumes of purple, green, and gold — are about to begin.
But you won't find us wandering the French Quarter amid the parade crowds. Instead, we'll be living it up with some of the Big Easy's best. From the devilishly delightful suites at the Saint Hotel to the best Sazerac in town, we've got the inside scoop on the most luxurious way to do New Orleans for Mardi Gras — or any time of year. Beads not included.
Best Place to Get a Room: The Saint Hotel
The Saint Hotel in New Orleans's French Quarter promises a restful night of sleep for sinners and saints alike with its five luxury suites, each named for an angel or saint.
Most appropriate for a Mardi Gras stay is the 186-square-metres Archangel Lucifer Suite, $US2500 (about $A3240) per night, a devilish dwelling adorned with a red-and-black colour scheme — including a black Murano chandelier and black claw-foot bathtub — and antique Victorian furnishings.
Guests feeling a bit wicked can take to the suite's small private stage, which is spotlighted by a sparkling mirrored light fixture and outfitted with a dance pole. Should the debauchery just outside in the French Quarter overwhelm, other accommodations like the Archangel Michael Suite offer more saintly interiors with sky-blue ceilings and white furniture. (thesainthotelneworleans.com) – Carolyn Meers
Best Luxury Escape: The Ritz-Carlton, New Orleans
Housed in a historic 1908 Beaux-Arts building, the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans, from $US600 (about $A775) per night, is a sumptuous place to recuperate after a wild night on Bourbon Street.
The hotel's Lundi Gras Ride of a Lifetime package $US25,000 (about $A32,400) includes a four-night stay in the Club Level Maison Orleans Suite (which overlooks the French Quarter and the Mississippi River), limousine service to and from the airport, daily breakfast in bed, and the chance to ride on a float in Harry Connick Jr.'s Krewe of Orpheus parade on Lundi Gras.
Back at the hotel, guests can moonlight as a New Orleans native by trying an indigenous voodoo ritual at the spa or taking private trumpet lessons from Grammy Award–winning jazz musician Jeremy Davenport. (ritzcarlton.com) – Rebekah Bell
Best Hangover Cure: Brunch at Balise
Recover from a wild night of partying with a hearty brunch at chef Justin Devillier's Balise. Devillier's bold version of New Orleans cooking impressed judges at _ Robb Report _ 's 2016 Culinary Masters Competition— as well as members of the James Beard Foundation and critics at numerous national magazines — and they will recognise his decadent style in hangover-busting dishes such as the blue crab omelette, pickled quail eggs with hot sauce, and French toast topped with caramel apples and spiced butter.
Hair of the dog, meanwhile, comes via Balise's extensive craft cocktail list, featuring the refreshing Methuen Treaty, composed of gin, ruby port, Williams pear liqueur, ginger, and citrus. (balisenola.com) – Michalene Busico
Best Over-the-Top Mardi Gras Package: Clandestine
The Big Easy has much more to offer than just beignets and Bourbon Street bars. New Orleans transplant Kelley Troia, who runs the local concierge company Clandestine, offers bespoke cultural packages to show clients a different side of the historic city.
The Clandestine Ultimate Mardi Gras Experience, $US10,000 (about $A12,960) per person) is her most over-the-top, including VIP parade access, a table at one of the exclusive Mardi Gras balls, and a personal brass-band parade.
Along the way, travellers will have the knowledge of a local at their fingertips, bringing NOLA's history and mystery to life at every turn. (clandestinenola.com) – Rebekah Bell
Best Upscale Southern Cuisine: La Petite Grocery
Talk of New Orleans cuisine always seems to lead to La Petite Grocery. Helmed by chef Justin Devillier—a California native with a penchant for seafood and French cuisine — the Garden District restaurant showcases Southern staples with dishes like blue crab beignets and gulf shrimp and grits.
La Petite's claim to fame, however, is its Turtle Bolognese, a rare twist on traditional beef Bolognese that adds bucatini, sherry, parsley, and fried soft-boiled egg to turtle meat. For a taste of Devillier's California roots, order the roasted yellowfin tuna, served with fennel, citrus, beets, and yogurt. (lapetitegrocery.com) – Erin Lentz
Best Booze-to-Go: Willa Jean
A staple for NOLA foodies, Willa Jean specialises in Southern favourites like biscuits and shrimp and grits. But few items on the menu have generated as much buzz as the Frosé Y'all, a frozen rosé upgrade to the traditional Hurricane that can be ordered to go.
Mardi Gras–goers who wish to stay a while can also indulge in Willa Jean's other famous offering: king cake, a sweet brioche composed of folded layers of caramelised chocolate and espresso layers and topped with chocolate shavings. (willajean.com) – Rebekah Bell
Best Spot for a Sazerac: The Polo Club Lounge at Windsor Court Hotel
A spirited night of partying in NOLA is not complete without a Sazerac in hand. Traditionally made with rye whiskey, bitters, simple syrup, Herbsaint, and lemon peel, the slightly sweet cocktail is a Crescent City twist on traditional Cognac or whiskey libations.
The Polo Club Lounge at Windsor Court Hotel offers one of the best versions in the entire city. Head bartender Roger Blais has served more than 50,000 of the cocktails in the last 20 years, a testament to their enduring popularity.
Sip a round or two while taking in one of the swanky bar's nightly jazz shows, including beloved local acts like the ragtime ensemble Meschiya Lake and the Little Big Horns and pianist John Royen. (windsorcourthotel.com) – Rebekah Bell
Best Haunt for a Thrill: LaLaurie Mansion
Located at 1140 Royal Street, the LaLaurie Mansion in New Orleans is the centrepiece of a grisly tale that began in 1832 when Dr. Louis LaLaurie and his wife Delphine moved into the house in the city's affluent French Quarter.
Two years later, a suspicious fire at the mansion (said to be set by a kitchen worker) led to authorities uncovering Delphine's chamber of horrors hidden in the attic where she would sadistically torture her slaves. A mob gathered around the mansion, demanding justice for her victims, but Delphine was nowhere to be found.
Local legend says that the screams of her servants still haunt the mansion — and although actor Nicolas Cage bought the house in 2007, he sold it soon afterward in 2009. The house was also featured in the third season of the hit television series _American Horror Story_. Guided tours are available for Mardi Gras visitors eager for a closer encounter. (viator.com) – Bekah Berge