Architect, restaurateur, and preservationist Alex Pincus is a New Orleans native living in NYC who returns every year for Mardi Gras (sometimes twice in a season). He shared his jam-packed parade plan with us, but many of his recommendations can be experienced all year long. Great for the novice and the pro party goer alike. Here’s how a local handles a few days in Crescent City.
Step 1: Get (Re)acquainted With Old Favorites
For the last 35 years, my father has been running the Monteleone, a classic French Quarter hotel and home to the legendary Carousel Bar (ed note: it actually provides a subtle and, depending on how many drinks you’ve had, disorienting rotation every 15 minutes). We check in, drop our stuff, and walk down Royal St. past all of the antique stores (filled with gorgeous things I wish I needed) towards my parents' house at the edge of the French Quarter and the Marigny.
We stop by Verdi Mart to pick up two roast beef po’boys, “dressed” (with all the toppings) and two six-packs of Miller High Life, then walk around the corner to my folks’ place. We sit by the pool, take a swim with the kids, and enjoy the special feeling of being home in New Orleans. During Mardi Gras season, the house is usually stocked with Manny Randazzo king cake. We’ll have a slice after our swim and just hang with the family.
As night sets in, we walk over to Seaworthy, our restaurant in the Ace Hotel Nola, say our hellos, and meet up with friends to share some Gulf oysters, a burger, and a McKittrick Old Fashioned or two — they’re just so good. Once we’ve got a nice foundation, we’ll take a cab to Fat Harry's. It's a nondescript, yet wildly famous college bar we’d frequent in high school. I cannot tell you the redeeming qualities, but I do love it. We’ll have a few beers and kill time until it gets busy, then head over to the Maple Leaf. Ever since I can remember, Tuesday nights would consist of back to back Rebirth Brass Band sets. But now they feature an incredible young band I recently discovered, TBC Brass Band. They play a wild, boundary pushing brass band jazz, a uniquely local style, in one of the most intimate, sweaty, and authentic live music settings in America. We’ll stay here until temporary deafness sets in, head home, and pass out.
Step 2: Glide Through Arnauds and the Bayou
With kids, there is no option to sleep in, so we just wake up and make it happen. Going to Horn's Eatery for breakfast is always good for recovery. It is a simple neighborhood breakfast spot in the Marigny that makes the best possible version of each of its humble offerings. We share pancakes and eggs, coffee, and a beer. The kids pass on the beer. We take a nice long walk along the river and feel nostalgic.
For lunch we drive to Mid City, pick up some oyster po’boys from Parkway Bakery and Tavern, and head to Bayou St. John to eat outside along the water. We take a walk along the bayou and try to avoid the alligators. Morning Call nearby has the best beignet in the city, and we stop in and share an order on our way back to the hotel.
For dinner, we meet up with family and go to Arnaud’s, a classic restaurant in the Quarter that my dad’s best friend, Archie Casbarian, ran for 50 years; his wife and daughter now run the place. I always start with an Arnaud's Special Cocktail (we borrowed the recipe to serve at Holywater) and order a few appetizers, shrimp Arnaud, turtle soup, and frog legs, followed by trout amandine and a perfect crème brûlée. I consider Arnaud’s the height of fine dining in New Orleans, with its impeccably designed room, old-school hospitality, and traditional New Orleans menu. After dinner, we grab a cocktail or two at Arnaud’s French 75 Bar next door and get home in one piece.
Step 3: Think Uptown Thoughts, Camellia Grill, and Daiquiris
We wake up and get coffee to go from Cafe Beignet, a little spot next to the Monteleone opened by the proprietors of Moss Antiques, certainly the best antique store in the city (with pretty good coffee, too), and then take the streetcar from the Quarter to Camellia Grill uptown. This is a classic counter service diner where everything is cooked in butter on the griddle. They cook the burgers in the grease of the bacon and they reheat pecan pie face down in butter. The folks here have a warmth like few other places in the world and I would put this up for consideration for my last meal. Definitely my last breakfast. I like to get a mushroom omelet and fries and add syrup and Tabasco. My wife thinks this is appalling. She gets red beans and rice with fries, which always makes me jealous. The kids get the waffles.
After breakfast my buddy Supa Saint, New Orleans’s most revered Saints fan and one of my oldest friends, meets us for a walk across the street to New Orleans Original Daiquiris where we buy the largest drinks available. I think they are 72 ounces. We take these to the lakefront and play football and feel good about being alive. Afterwards, we meet up with more friends for an afternoon drink at the Southern Yacht Club and enjoy the views over the lake. By this point, a taxi back to the hotel and an afternoon nap is in order. When we are revived, we walk over to the Erin Rose, a bar off of Bourbon St., to get some Killer Poboys (tucked in the back of the bar). It’s a short walk home and there is always music and something to celebrate in the streets.
Step 4: Dining Room Theatrics and Jazz
The French Quarter early in the morning is a bit of a no-man's land. There are some folks still hanging on from the night before and a few others cleaning up and getting ready to make it all happen again. It’s also a time when you can really see everything without distraction and enjoy the beauty of it all. We take a little stroll through the Quarter to Cafe Du Monde for coffee and beignets. We skip the long line and walk around to the back entrance. It’s fair game. We pretend to exercise by swimming at the pool on the roof of the Monteleone. Unfortunately, they have a nice little bar up there — at some point we get a drink to enjoy in the pool.
For lunch, we join my parents at Galatoire’s. It’s a gorgeous dining room, and for many locals, the place to see and be seen, particularly for lunch on Friday. Patrick, the maitre’d, used to run the room at my dad’s old restaurant, the Rib Room, which in the ‘80s was my favorite place on Earth; it’s always a treat to see him. I order a very good gumbo and a stiff drink, usually the Galatoire’s Specialty Cocktail (yes, they have their own) and say hello to the many people my folks know there.
To burn off lunch, we stroll the quiet streets of the French Quarter fantasizing about what it would be like to live in the old houses there. We stop by Dirty Coast, the local T-shirt joint run by my childhood friend Blake Haney, and buy shirts for the kids. Then we catch a late afternoon jazz show at Preservation Hall. The epicenter of jazz features a crew of the best musicians in the country playing in a tiny and dimly lit room. I love it. My wife loves it. And so do our kids. Sandra Jaffe, who started Pres Hall with her husband in the early ‘60s, was always incredibly kind to me as a kid, and I’ve become great friends with her son Ben who now runs the show.
After the band, we get together with Ben and walk down St. Peters, where I lived as a baby, and head over to his new club, the Toulouse Theater. In the evening, we tuck the kids in and head to Port of Call, an old-school maritime bar with tiki punches and my favorite burger in New Orleans.
Step 5: Brunch and Beers
I love a Saturday morning brunch at Brennan’s. The room is stunning and the food is authentically New Orleans without being overbearing. When longtime proprietor Ralph Brennan sent me a congratulatory note about [my NYC bar on a boat] Grand Banks, I felt like I’d made it. I have an omelet and a side of gumbo, arguably the best in New Orleans. My wife always gets the turtle soup. Brennan’s has a pond with a family of friendly turtles that roam around, but we’ve been assured that the soup is made from spiteful snapping turtles from elsewhere. We share Bloody Mary’s.
If it’s early enough in Mardi Gras season, we pre-game at my family's house before Krewe du Vieux, which fortuitously passes right by us. This is a parade of the people, started mostly as a joke, and is completely wild. The action starts well before the parade, with people out cooking in the streets, drinking in the streets, dancing in the streets, etc. We get to-go beers from the Golden Lantern, a 24-hour bar next door and walk to Frenchman St. to enjoy the crowds and get some street food, preferably crawfish. The parade eventually arrives and it never disappoints. It’s cartoonishly sexual and my 8-year-old son thinks it's hilarious. The ball afterwards is out of control, and if we’re in condition to go, we do.
On our last day in town, we try to pack in a few good bites before heading to the airport. We hit Clover Grill, a nearly century-old diner churning out a mean breakfast. Chicken fried steak and eggs with a few cups of coffee can cure any hangover. (Sorely needed.)
Again, if we are there in early Mardi Gras season, we walk over to the Marigny to meet up with friends and lock down a little spot on the sidewalk to watch Tit Rex. It’s a charming, ad-hoc parade of micro floats on wagons that people cart through a residential section of New Orleans. Families hang out in the street and have a few beers and socialize as the parade rolls on by.
From here we head to the airport and sleep the whole way home.