How to Throw an Authentic Mardi Gras Party at Your Bar, Anywhere In the World

Want to host a Mardi Gras event at your bar that goes beyond the same old beads 'n booze formula? Here's your guide to nailing the music, food, drinks and fun extras for an authentic, NOLA-worthy fête.
Bottles of liquor, king cake, beads and beer on a bar top.
Throwing an authentic Mardi Gras party at your bar is all about capturing the spirit of the event through distinctly New Orleans food, drinks and music. Photo by Grace Birch.

"Mardi Gras is not a parade. Mardi Gras is not girls flashing on French Quarter balconies. Mardi Gras is not an alcoholic binge." — Chris Rose

When most people think of Mardi Gras, they think of Bourbon Street, boobs, plastic beads, boobs, three day benders and boobs. (Admittedly, at any given time, half of the world's population is thinking about boobs.) While Carnival season means many things to all different folks, those in-the-know can tell you a true New Orleans Mardi Gras looks nothing like a frat party.

"People often miss the mark when they think of New Orleans," said Kellie Thorn, bar manager at Empire State South in Atlanta. "When hosting a New Orleans party, it's all about curating the vibe."

Music and food are a must for Thorn, who has deep New Orleans ties. She takes a cue from Pableaux Johnson's Red Beans Road Show and finds her way into patrons' hearts by digging out her own favorite Louisiana recipes like gumbo and roast beef with spicy horseradish sauce. She brings out her old Dr. John "gris gris" albums and fires up Rebirth Brass Band.

"Mardi Gras isn't about flashing ta-tas," said Thorn. "It's about music, food and an overall joviality. It's regal, enchanting and if you do it right, your party will capture the vibe of the people of New Orleans."

Mardi Gras spread with king cakes, beads, and Louisiana liquorOne way to add New Orleans flair to your Mardi Gras party? Order a king cake from a NOLA bakery—several of them deliver around the country. Photo: Grace Birch

Of course, you can't capture Mardi Gras merriment without the most important B-word: booze.

"New Orleans is so important to cocktail history," said Jerry Slater, owner of H. Harper Station. "It's hard to go the Ramos Gin Fizz route when you are working with big crowds, so we lean on our friends at Abita Beer and mix Vieux Carres during our Mardi Gras parties."

Slater also hunts down bánh mì bread from a local Vietnamese bakery in Atlanta and makes his own shrimp po-boys for the bar and brings in a local brass band. "You gotta have a tuba," Slater said.

How else can you create an authentic Louisiana Mardi Gras celebration at your out-of-state bar or house party?

Delicious ideas immediately spring to mind: Order a few huge boxes of Popeye's Fried Chicken or a tray of Cane's chicken fingers. Have a couple of King Cakes delivered to your venue, or make your own. Stock your bar with booze and brews made in New Orleans like NOLA Brewing beers, Aterier Vie's Absinthe, Euphrosine Gin, Crescent Vodka El Guapo Bitters and Old New Orleans Rum. South Louisiana is enjoying a distillery boom. Drink up.

For music, tune into WWOZ or make a Professor Longhair radio station on Pandora. Fire up the projector and share the streaming videos of live parades as they roll through New Orleans. Order some glass Mardi Gras beads. Glitter a few shoes or a coconut or two to pay homage to Muses and Zulu. Stick an ostrich feather in your hair or hat.

Most of all, celebrate what New Orleans means to you. And remember, as Chris Rose once wrote: "Mardi Gras is the love of life. It is the harmonic convergence of our food, our music, our creativity, our eccentricity, our neighborhoods, and our joy of living. All at once.”

Below, check out three simple, delicious cocktails in festive Mardi Gras colors, from Kent Westmoreland at the Windsor Court Hotel:

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