when is not a good time to visit New Orleans?
Your Set of Drifters have been lucky enough to pop down into NOLA during many of the city’s most spectacular celebrations. We’ve “let the good times roll” during Halloween, New Years, Oktoberfest, and oddly even a world-renown Plastic Surgery convention! That being said, we’ve never been to New Orleans during what are arguably the biggest annual events: Mardi Gras and April’s Heritage and Jazz music fest.
While the latter certainly intrigues, the idea of coming to the “Big Easy” during Mardi Gras has always seemed somewhat daunting. New Orleans is a party no matter when you visit - just see what happens to Bourbon Street after the Saints win an important game! With so many bars, cocktails and, yes, half-naked people running around the streets, the French Quarter can get downright debaucherous at times. Would your Set of Drifters be able to handle it during Mardi Gras? Could you?
To be honest, from what we’ve heard over the years, there is nothing quite like visiting New Orleans during this special time, when krewes from all different communities and walks of life join together to celebrate their cherished city! We imagine that with parades (and copious amounts of beads) clogging city streets, there would be little point in attempting anything else on our list other than Fat Tuesday indulgence! If taking the plunge yourself, may we recommend a trip to Carl Mack Presents for your costume? This robust rental shop up on Dauphine impresses with a glittery warehouse that would make any Hollywood wardrobe mistress froth at the mouth! Elsewhere, keep an eye out for the incredibly festooned “Mardi Gras Indians,” really no Indians at all. Members from these African-American “tribes” have been paying homage, through costume, to the Native Americans who assisted their descendants during times of slavery.
We vow to make a Mardi Gras trip at some point in the near future, but in the meantime, we hereby reveal other hits (and a few misses) that are bound to make your NOLA experience a more memorable one:
DO visit during October. Our first trip together in 2003 culminated on Oktoberfest weekend at the beginning of the month, when temperatures were still cozy enough to walk around freely in shorts and a T-shirt. In 2012, we returned for Halloween week, and had the best time ever! While other cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York offer large costumed street fairs, none of them do it with as much piquancy as New Orleans. Sure, you’re bound to see a bunch of guys walking around sans pants, but you can see that anywhere! What makes Halloween in New Orleans so special are the impromptu big band parades and cumulative drumming circles that erupt in street intersections when you least expect them!
We loved the rowdy dance party over in the Marigny that damaged more than a few cars by the end of the evening, yet still cite the poignant memorial service over at Voodoo Authentica as our favorite memory from the trip. Where else but in New Orleans can you so effortlessly touch down on, and be welcomed into, a world that you never thought you’d cross paths with?
October also plays host to the increasingly-popular Voodoo Music + Arts Experience and the annual New Orleans Witches Ball! Set of Drifters tip: NOLA residents go all out with their Halloween displays. Make sure to spend one of your evenings simply walking the Quarter to photograph their inventive hauntings.
DON’T visit in the summer... unless you like taking three showers a day. Set of Drifter Brady’s very first impression of New Orleans (all the way back in 1992) came via a hot and sticky week in August. Rumors suggest he even signed a pact to never again return to the pungent humidity present during this time.
DO visit around the holidays. Just as in the weeks leading up to Halloween, New Orleans explodes in decorative finery during late November all the way through New Years. We think Christmastime in New Orleans is just as charming as it is in New York, and with such superb shopping found throughout the Quarter (see “goodies”), you may just end up impressing your friends and family with unique finds they can’t get anywhere else!
In 2008, we joined the throngs who rang in the New Year from the middle of Jackson Square! Certainly a blast, but we do remember some rather chilly temps! If visiting in the winter, make sure to pack jackets, scarves and even mittens!
AVOID the Bayou Classic! Yikes. During our November 2009 Thanksgiving sojourn, we ran smack dab into the so-called “Bayou Classic,” a football game that pits the Southern University Jaguars against the Grambling State Tigers! UGH. During the game, and particularly afterward, when spectators flood out from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome into the French Quarter, Bourbon Street (and surrounding environs) turn into virtual mayhem! Apparently, the rivalry between these two teams is quite heated, as exemplified by their loud, obnoxious and often crude fans. If the last weekend of November just happens to be your first impression of New Orleans, you’ll probably never return. (Thank God that our run-in with the Bayou Classic happened during out 6th!)
With so much convention activity, and handfuls of festivals peppered through the calendar, you’re bound to have a blast all year long, and with others visiting from every pocket of the world. Our advice overall is to just check your calendar before you book any flight. (Labor Day’s “Southern Decadence” fest may not be for the bluenose, or at the very least, children.)
Official New Orleans Mardi Gras - http://www.mardigrasneworleans.com/
Carl Mack Presents - 223 Dauphine Street, New Orleans, LA 70112, (504) 949-4009, http://www.carlmack.com/index.php
New Orleans Heritage and Jazz Fest - http://www.nojazzfest.com/
Voodoo Authentica - 612 Dumaine Street, New Orleans, LA 70116, http://www.voodooshop.com/
Voodoo Music + Arts Experience - http://thevoodooexperience.com/
New Orleans Witches Ball - http://www.neworleanswitchesball.com/
Bayou Classic - http://www.mybayouclassic.com/
Southern Decadence - http://www.southerndecadence.net/
the bare necessities
While in New Orleans, and specifically the French Quarter, travelers will have little difficulty finding a spot in which to sample spicy jambalaya or a strong hurricane cocktail. That being said, should you need to follow up such indulgences with an antacid tablet or some Ibuprofen, you may just have a little search on your hands. Locals we’ve met throughout the years have confirmed what experience had already warned us: there’s a real dearth of genuine grocery stores in/ and around the Vieux Carré. (If you know anyone who works for Trader Joe’s, send ‘em down to Louisiana. They could make a killing here!)
But if you’ve run out of contact lens solution, or find yourself desperate at 2:00 AM for some pre-hangover eats, we have a few solutions that may just come to your rescue...
Rouses Market: Often dubbed “Louisiana’s Best,” Rouse’s Market really will satisfy any last-minute craving you may have. We’ve snuck in here a number of times to quickly fill our stomachs before heading out on nights of non-stop boozing. Special shout-outs go to Rouse’s selection of gourmet meats and cheeses, and their mouth-watering array of Cajun-inspired potato chips. (It was here where we also came across the special “Pepper Jack” variety of Cheez-Its for the very first time!)
Centrally-located within the French Quarter, Rouse’s is always packed with locals and visitors alike. There’s a reason why. The store is clean, brightly-lit and efficiently well-packed with necessities both familiar and extraordinary. Set of Drifters tip: Be on the lookout for frozen pints from the New Orleans Ice Cream Company. Dressed up in handsome yellow fleur-de-lys packaging, these delicacies come in such inventive flavors as “Creole Cream Cheese,” “Lemon Doberge Cake” and “Bananas Foster,” a sinful blend of rum, nutmeg, banana slices and rich caramel ice cream! Dang, wish they delivered cross-country!
Rouses Market - 701 Royal Street, New Orleans, LA 70116, (504) 523-1353, http://www.rouses.com
New Orleans Ice Cream Company - http://neworleansicecreamco.com/
Royal Pharmacy: Interested in some history to go along with that new overpriced tube of toothpaste? Why not head on down to the Royal Pharmacy (located at Royal and Ursulines) and take some snapshots of their vintage pharmacy equipment and old-school soda fountain! We were instantly attracted to this century-old storefront on our 2003 visit to NOLA, but alas, it was closed. A revisit on our next sojourn was well worth the second look. Beyond its friendly family-run vibe, Royal Pharmacy also acts as a one-stop shop for any notions you might need during your French Quarter visit. The only downside here is that they seem to keep strange hours. Duck in when you can - or you just might miss its 1930s-era charm!
Royal Pharmacy - 1101 Royal Street, New Orleans, LA 70116, (504) 523-5401
Quarter Master: Still awake in the wee hours of morn, you’ll no doubt notice droves of drunken revelers heading to the corner of Bourbon and Ursulines. What’s so special about the nondescript intersection? It’s home to the Quarter Master Deli where, according to their website, “nothing beats a good 10 inches.” Of course, management is referring to their humongous sandwiches, my friends.
From classic NYC deli faves to the traditional New Orleans muffaletta (and everything in between), this lively French Quarter mainstay churns out tasty, hangover-busting food 24/7! We poked our costumed heads in early AM following a ribald Halloween celebration to sample some rather hearty breakfast sandwiches served on warm French Bread! Don’t expect too many frills here - just quick and easy takes on old-standbys like beef brisket BBQ, Italian subs and chicken-fried steak. Set of Drifters tip: Into the spicier side of life? The Quarter Master’s stuffed jalapeno peppers are sure to pack a punch. We saw a 7’ tall drag queen order some up in queue just before us!
Quarter Master Deli - 1100 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, LA 70116, (504) 529-1416, http://www.quartermasterdeli.net/
Your trusty drifter Brady has a special tradition every time he comes to New Orleans: he must get his hair cut at Head Quarters by favorite stylist Jessica. She is a total groove, and with her fellow colleagues, will keep you in stitches while you finally get that mohawk you've always wanted!
Have a special event to attend while in town? This full-service salon can perform anything from basic clipper cuts all the way up to perms, updos, and other designer haircuts. Got grey? No worries. Head Quarters features a staff of three color and highlight experts that will give you a whole new lease on life! And the best part is... located right in the French Quarter at the corner of Dauphine and Dumain, you can stop off in between cocktails! Set of Drifters tip: If you are a fan of old Hollywood, Marilyn Monroe or cats, you’ll be in very good company here. Be sure to ask for Jessica and tell her that Brady from "Set of Drifters" sent you!
Head Quarters - 900 Dauphine Street, New Orleans, LA 70116, (504) 522-2666