If you’ve never been, everyone dresses up on Mardi Gras Day, and the best way to celebrate is by signing up to show off your costume. This annual costume contest on Dauphine and St. Ann streets is for anyone who wants to participate, but prizes are awarded for Best Drag, Best Group, Best Leather, and Best Overall Costume. Plus, you’ll get to see many of the costumes from the Gay Balls if you missed them.
King cake is a sweet and doughy dessert, often decorated purple, yellow, and green, that is a New Orleans staple during the Mardi Gras season. These cakes are made by almost every bakery and supermarket in town, and can be found throughout the city. Some of the most popular ones to try are Don Phuong, Manny Randazzo’s, Haydel’s, and Caluda’s! While many of them have similar flavors, there have been some recent savory spin-offs with crawfish, bacon, salty caramelized bananas and much more!
During Mardi Gras parades, riders throw a lot more than just beads. Two of these coveted items from the most prominent all-female krewes are the creme de la creme of gay throws. Both the shoes and purses are decorated to the nines by the parade riders with glitter, feathers, and much more!
Dance your way through the Mardi Gras weekend at NOLA’s two biggest gay dance clubs. Both clubs are located on the corner of Bourbon and St. Ann streets, the center of LGBT nightlife in the city. Expect the bars to have plenty of DJs, dancers, and drag queens performing at all hours of the day.
A tradition since 1949, the Fat Monday Luncheon is the oldest organized activity in all of Louisiana LGBT history, and predates Stonewall. Today the lunch is celebrated at Arnaud’s restaurant in the heart of the French Quarter and is a gathering place for all members of the LGBT community to share their Mardi Gras memories and have one last hoorah of the season. The luncheon ends with a second line through the Quarter.
Take in the scenes of Mardi Gras from the balcony at Cafe Lafitte in Exile - the oldest continuously-operating gay bar in the United States. The huge balcony offers fantastic people watching on both Bourbon and Dumaine streets. If you get hungry, grab a bite to eat across the street at Clover Grill - a local diner very involved in the LGBT community.
As fun as catching beads on a parade route is, throwing beads from a balcony to people below is even more exciting. After you’ve caught your fair share of beaded necklaces at the parades, make your way to a balcony along the parade route or in the French Quarter and toss your own beads into the crowd!
Costume culture is huge in New Orleans, and wigs and masks play huge parts in creating that perfect look. Check out Fifi Mahony’s for hundreds of wigs and custom headwear - their selection will surely not disappoint! For a beautifully decorated Venetian mask, head to Maskarade (also in the French Quarter) for masks in any shape, decoration and color. Not only will these pieces be great to flaunt around while in town, they’ll make even greater souvenirs.
Attending a Mardi Gras ball is a great way to experience the season like a true LGBT (or ally) local. Balls are fantastic for seeing some of the best costuming in the world and making new friends. Some krewes that sell tickets to the public are Armeinius, Stars, Mwindo, and Lords of Leather.