Spring Flings, Festivals, and Fun!

February 03, 2017
The “Greatest Show on Earth,” otherwise known as Mardi Gras will be celebrated this year on February 28th. The biggest free party thrown in North America always falls 46 days before Easter and is the city's most popular attraction. Visitors and locals alike love the party atmosphere, the crowds, costumed revelers, and the camaraderie.

While the large motorized floats of the big parades have been prohibited since the early 1970s from going down the Quarter's narrow streets due to size restrictions, a short jaunt to Canal Street takes you to see the big parades of the grandest krewes. However, there are many wonderful walking krewes to be found in the Quarter that may have mule or man-powered small floats. There are numerous parties, costume contests, small marching krewes, parading jazz bands, and groups of revelers converging on the streets of the French Quarter on Mardi Gras Day, known as “Fat Tuesday.”

Mardi Gras parades are organized by Carnival Krewes that begin parading at least two weeks before Fat Tuesday. The float riders toss throws to the crowd who often yell, “Throw me something, Mister!” The most common throws are strings of colorful plastic beads, aluminum or wooden doubloons usually impressed with krewe logos, decorated plastic throw cups, and small inexpensive toys. Major krewes follow the same parade schedule and route each year, mostly along St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street on the upriver side of the French Quarter. The traditional colors of Mardi Gras are purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power.

Before the big day of Carnival, one of the marching krewes to catch if you love wine is the Krewe of Cork, founded in 2000. “We celebrate Wine! Food! Fun!” says King Patrick van Hoorebeek. This Bacchanalian group strolls down Royal and Bourbon Streets on January 17th. They begin on Royal Street between St. Peter and Toulouse at 3 p.m. The 400 members parade through the French Quarter donning wine and grape related costumes. There will be wine, of course, a brass band…and more wine!

Royal Sonesta's 47th annual “Greasing of the Poles” is a spectacle that takes place Friday, February 24th at 10 a.m. sharp! A celebrity Judges Panel rates greasing competitors with trophies for the winners. Competitors grease the poles to deter over-zealous Mardi Gras revelers from shimmying up to the coveted balconies and they compete to the tunes of a live jazz ensemble. 300 Bourbon Street.

Friday night, February 24th, features the large Krewe of Hermes and satirical Krewe D’Etat parades, ending with one of the most beautiful and premier parades, the Krewe of Morpheus, named for the Greek God of Dreams and seeking to give onlookers an “old school” parade experience.

On Sunday, February 26th, the Krewe of Bacchus, the God of Wine, will parade; this “Super Krewe” is a highlight of the Carnival season. Its floats are bigger and more spectacular than most, and they always have a national celebrity as King leading their parade. With more than one thousand members, and over thirty animated floats, the Krewe of Bacchus is revered as one the most spectacular krewes in Carnival history. Signature floats, such as the Bacchagator, a 105-foot three-piece float that accommodates 86 riders, are among the many striking and eye-catching floats.

On Lundi Gras, February 27th, the Zulu Lundi Gras Festival is a fun-filled day allowing locals and visitors to get a close-up look at the characters who will parade down St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street on Fat Tuesday. The festival is free and the six hundred members of the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club welcome all to enjoy an exciting day of food, music, arts, and crafts along the beautiful riverfront of Woldenberg Park from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. The festival features local, world renowned, and Grammy Award winning entertainers performing Cajun and brass band genres on three stages. The Zulu King and Queen will arrive at 5 p.m. Later on Lundi Gras evening, the Krewe of Orpheus will stun revelers with one of the most eagerly anticipated parades of the season. It was founded by our local singer, Harry Connick, Jr., and is inspired by music. Orpheus flaunts signature floats such as Leviathan, a smoke-breathing sea monster, and Smokey Mary, a multi-float locomotive with train cars.

Finally, Fat Tuesday arrives on February 28th - Be ready for a fun-filled day of Bacchanalian revelry! Don a costume to become a part of the party rather than just a spectator! One of the first marching krewes you will see coming down Canal Street and rolling into the French Quarter around 9 a.m. is Pete Fountain’s Half-Fast Marching Club together with other local jazz musicians playing through most of the parade. After a brief interlude on Canal Street, the Club enters the French Quarter at Bourbon Street and wanders through the French Quarter, eventually ending at the Riverfront Hilton in the early afternoon.

Following Pete Fountain’s Half Fast Marching Club, Mondo Kayo Social and Marching Club triumphantly dances down Canal Street with the color and joy of Caribbean Carnival, then continues on to Jackson Square. Finally, they wind their way over to Chartres at Frenchmen Street where they dance and play until dark.

The old-line krewes of Zulu, Rex, and Proteus will stage high-quality, all-original parades down St. Charles Avenue to Canal Street, as they have every Fat Tuesday since the mid-19th century.

If you are lucky enough to be in the French Quarter for Valentine’s Day or just want a nice evening out with your sweetie at a fantastically romantic restaurant housed in an 1834 mansion, Broussard’s offers great romantic ambiance and classic French Creole cuisine since the 1920’s, perfect for those wanting to experience the “real” New Orleans. With an elegant, secret, lush courtyard, this restaurant is the perfect choice for romance and, not surprisingly, a venue for many New Orleans weddings. Start with Turtle Soup and then Oysters Broussard, which is crabmeat baked in artichoke-brie bechamel surrounded by Herbsaint spinach - it will make your heart melt! Save room for Bananas Foster! On Sundays, they offer a delightful jazz brunch with bottomless mimosas! 819 Rue Conti at Dauphine, 504-581-3866.

Another romantic little oasis is Patrick’s Bar Vin where you and your sweetheart can disappear into a little alcove and feel like you've been transported to wine country. If the lush patio with soothing fountain is not your scene, go inside to the cozy couches that will make you want to settle in for the evening. Treat yourselves to the cheese platter to set off the wine. Named a top ten wine bar in the U.S., it is managed by New Orleans’ own bon vivant, Patrick Van Hoorebeek. You will discover the warm and relaxed yet elegant gathering place full of locals and wine enthusiasts from around the world. For Valentine’s Day or any romantic experience, try Lisa’s Temptation made with moscato, Mathilde Cassis, and fresh lemon; or the Bar Vin Kiss, a shot of bubbles of your choice! 730 Bienville St., 504-200-3180.

Snuggled together and feeling the afterglow of all the joy and love of Valentine’s Day, another romantic outing would include touring the French Quarter in a warm embrace while clip-clopping along in a mule-drawn carriage. A simply magical end to an enchanted evening can be sealed with a kiss and a buggy ride. Carriages are easily found on Decatur Street in front of Jackson Square. Royal Carriages (504) 943-8820.

Consider a cruise on the last authentic steamboat on the Mississippi River, the Steamboat Natchez. They run daily, year round, and feature dinner and daytime live jazz cruises. The daytime cruise includes a jazz pianist or trio along with live narration of the river sites and history. The 7p.m. dinner cruise features live jazz by the Grammy nominated “Dukes of Dixieland.” Enjoy a little romance with your favorite Valentine aboard the Steamboat Natchez Dinner Jazz cruise. A delicious buffet made for Valentine’s Day includes items such as Potage de Tortue, snapping turtle soup with sherry and chopped egg; Pork Shank Osso Bucco, slow braised pork shanks in hearty glace de veaux; Salmon Florentine, fresh side of salmon roasted with creamed baby spinach and wrapped in a puff pastry crust; Natchez Bread Pudding, a New Orleans soufflé of French bread in rich custard with white chocolate chips and vanilla Bourbon milk punch. Boarding begins at 6:00pm. Come aboard and enjoy New Orleans hospitality… Steamboat style! 600 Decatur Street, 504-569-1401.

Just when your head stops spinning from Mardi Gras and Valentine’s Day, don some green clothing and claim to be Irish because St. Patrick's Day is celebrated in the French Quarter in the form of more parades! It's always the perfect season for another celebration ... after all, it's New Orleans, and we love to parade and party in the streets! Men and women in walking groups from various Irish marching clubs in the city dress in tuxedoes and costumes of green to give out white and green flowers and beads, drink green beer or Guinness Stout, and kissing lucky parade goers along the route - all to the music of bagpipers and drummers. The parade's most famous throws are cabbages, carrots, onions, potatoes - everything needed for a hearty Irish Stew - and Moonpies!

On St. Patrick’s Day or any time you want the Luck of the Irish, Erin Rose is a neighborhood watering hole that is always newcomer friendly. Out-of-town regulars and residents mingle easily in this cozy nook that feels like Dublin. Bartenders serve frozen Irish coffees and from-scratch Bloody Marys with Guinness! Killer Poboys, a pop-up sandwich shop in the back, dishes out cheeky sandwiches like rum-braised pork belly, blackened Gulf shrimp, and whiskey-spiked grilled cheese, just in case you get hungry! 811 Rue Conti, 504-522-3573.

On March 10th, Molly's at the Market Irish parade rolls at 6 p.m. from 1107 Decatur Street. Arrive early and imbibe in an Irish Coffee, a Guiness or a Harp, and mingle with the many kissing, tuxedoed marching groups and riders in horse-drawn carriages. 1107 Decatur St, 504-525-5169.

On March 17th, the Downtown Irish Club Parade begins in the nearby Bywater neighborhood at 6 p.m., and proceeds up Royal to Decatur, then up Bienville to Bourbon. The parade makes several French Quarter "pit stops" on its way, so be patient and hang out at either Tujague’s at 823 Decatur Street or Ryan’s Irish Pub at 241 Decatur Street and let them stroll to you!

Pace yourself because the next evening, March 18th, the 47th annual Italian-American St. Joseph's Parade begins to float down Royal and Chartres Streets. Though it includes sixteen floats, marching bands and a whole lot of guys with puckered lips dressed in tuxedos, only the marchers and bands are allowed to venture deep into the French Quarter. Ryan’s Irish Pub at 241 Decatur Street is a sure pit stop.

Just when you catch your breath from all the street parties and parades and get your beads packed away, it’s festival season! French Quarter Festival, April 6th through 9th, is the largest free music festival in the United States. Twenty-one stages throughout the French Quarter celebrate local music and represent every genre from traditional and contemporary jazz to R&B, New Orleans funk, brass bands, folk, gospel, Latin, Zydeco, classical, cabaret, and international music, as well as a music stage for children. Our best restaurants create “The World’s Largest Jazz Brunch” in Jackson Square, the Louisiana State Museum’s Old U.S. Mint, Decatur Street, and Woldenberg Riverfront Park. This signature event features authentic local cuisine from over one hundred renowned area restaurants. French Quarter Festival has been consistently voted “Favorite festival,” “favorite food festival,” and “favorite event open to the public” by locals.

We love our street parades, block parties, and festivals here in the French Quarter! There’s never a dull moment and we live to celebrate life and our cultural heritage. Join us and “Laissez les bon temps rouler!” …a Cajun expression meaning "Let the good times roll!" It strongly conveys our "joie de vivre" or "joy of living" attitude that pervades all who come to revel in the magical festivities in the Vieux Carre!