Mardi Gras Like a New Orleanian

A look at local businesses that help make the experience more authentic.

Parades, costumes, music, dinner specials, neighborhood celebrations and after parties all allow for different ways of exploring the magic of Mardi Gras. With a direct economic impact of $164 million, according to a 2015 Tulane University study, one way visitors can ensure an authentic visit — and locals can strengthen their own economy — is to use local businesses when possible.

Stay Local

For lodging, bed-and-breakfast offerings are a wonderful choice. The website is a good resource with an interactive map of the city’s neighborhood offerings. With the rise of non-traditional (and so far, non-taxed) vacation lodgings, the bed-and-breakfast industry has taken a hit. Staying at an established bed-and-breakfast provides access to some of NOLA’s most interesting neighborhoods and some of the city’s most knowledgeable innkeepers.

For those looking to forgo on a hotel or traditional bed-and-breakfast in favor of a platform like Airbnb, try to book with a host who only has one or two properties to offer. Those hosts are more likely to be locals who are using it as a source of extra income, and less likely to be “entrepreneurs” who have evicted longtime tenants in order to make more money with vacation rentals.

Wear Local

Costumes aren’t for everyone, but not everyone decides to visit New Orleans during Carnival. I recommend to any visitor, or local, to get into the costuming spirit because it’s part of the fun and fantasy of the season. Pretending to be a book character or alien or unicorn can give you freedom to be something other than yourself for a day. It also invites conversations with strangers which otherwise wouldn’t happen. Those conversations often lead to local suggestions of the hidden non-guidebook places to see during a stay.

The best wig shop in town is FiFi Mahony’s in the French Quarter at 934 Royal Street. It will be incredibly busy for Mardi Gras and probably can’t offer any custom work, but its stock wigs are high quality and you can always embellish them yourself.

For costumes and other wig needs, New Orleans Party & Costume at 705 Camp Street is a great place to start. New Orleans has so many costume shops that it’s easy to buy from a local business and avoid the national chains. Other suggestions are Carl Mack Presents, Uptown Costume and Southern Costume Co.

For those who don’t want to costume, showing a little NOLA or Mardi Gras spirit is still achievable with some of our witty and artistic local T-shirt purveyors. Defend New Orleans at 1101 First Street offers NOLA-themed attire and books, and shops like Dirty Coast and Fleurty Girl have multiple locations around the city.

Self-Care Local

Carnival is a time of excess. Even for locals who are used to cocktails at children’s’ birthday parties and butter on nearly every entrée at a restaurant, the indulgences around Mardi Gras can make your pants too tight and the ibuprofen bottle your best friend. For visitors and locals alike, self-care is important to remember.

“Hydration is key!” says New Orleans massage therapist and owner of Pura Vida Massage, Amy Robertson. “Drink water before you leave your hotel room. Buy water to bring with you and drink it throughout the day as you drink alcohol. Ask yourself, ‘Have I had my water course lately?’”

Robertson also advises to care for your body and mind through yoga. “Try to take a yoga class at least once. We have so many great studios! My favorites are Swan River and Balance. Even just one class can be a complete reset, and all studios that I know of do drop-in classes.”

Another suggestion is body work, especially for visitors not used to walking and standing for long periods of time. “Of course, a massage is a great idea, too,” says Robertson. “Just be sure you drink extra water if you do yoga or get a massage. It’s all about the water, y’all!”

Happy Mardi Gras and laissez les bon temps rouler like a local!

Jennifer Gibson Schecter was once a tourist in New Orleans herself and is now proud to call NOLA home. Prior to New Orleans, she wrote for publications in the Midwest and New York City.


Categories: Hospitality, The Magazine