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GoNOLA Guide to Carnival’s Best-Kept Secrets

Mardi Gras events and activities off the beaten, beaded path.

“Greasing of The Poles" at the Royal Sonesta. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

Each year, Krewe du Vieux and krewedelusion kick off the Carnival parade season with clever (and naughty) themes, floats, marching groups, and costumes. Everyone loves the Krewe of Goddesses and the Merry Antoinettes – the newer ladies marching clubs are having a serious moment. The fun has just begun! With two more weeks of Mardi Gras madness, there are tons of lesser-known but totally amazing parades, events, and things to tap into all over New Orleans. Here, a glimpse behind the mask of Mardi Gras:

Look and Play the Part

The “Majorette” costume is one of local artist Ellen Macomber’s many designs. (Photo via

All dressed up. There’s nothing better than having a great costume during Carnival. Prior to Fat Tuesday, beloved local artist Ellen Macomber stocks her gallery and shop (1720 St. Charles Ave.) with beautiful costumes of her own design and more casual but equally colorful leggings, tanks, etc. from Lauren of Ludasigns.

Eat all the king cakes (French, traditional and twisted). Not eating king cake, but don’t want to miss out? Grab K & G king cake-scented candles and bath bombs.

Cute kitsch. Purple, green, and gold tchotchkes are required during Mardi Gras. Masks and t-shirts can be had inexpensively from local shops and grocery stores (yes, grocery stores!).  A little fancier and very hip, Loomed has great Mardi Gras-colored Turkish woven scarves. While in The Rink, Loomed’s Garden District location, check out Judy’s for all kinds of Mardi Gras-inspired accessories. It’s also worth seeking out handcrafted jewelry from Lizano’s Glass Haus, Miette, and Fleurty Girl.

Find a Mardi Gras Indian. The New Orleans tradition of masking indian culminates on Mardi Gras Indian Super Sunday in March, but often you can find tribes showing off their creations a bit early on Mardi Gras Day.

Parades and Parties

Chewy poses with another member of The Krewe of Chewbacchus. (Courtesy photo)

tit RəxFor those who grew up in New Orleans, tit Rəx is a nod to the childhood tradition of transforming a shoe box (at home or in school) into a float decorated with toys aplenty and old Mardi Gras beads. This parade, however, moves beyond amateur artistry for a mini Mardi Gras featuring meticulously decorated floats often with satirical themes. Feb. 18, 5 p.m.

Chewbacchus and its fabulous subkrewes. The organization says it best themselves… “The mission of the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus is to save the galaxy by bringing the magical revelry of Mardi Gras to the poor, disenfranchised, socially awkward, and generally weird masses who may have never had the opportunity to participate in a Mardi Gras Parade Organization. Through our works, we hope to elevate all aspects of Fandom and celebrate Carnival in our own unique way.” Feb. 18, 7 p.m.

The Mystic Krewe of Barkus. The only official “Mardi Gras krewe for canines,” this year’s Barkus parade carries the theme “Pirates of the Crescent City: Barkus Tells Tales of Jean Lafleabag.” The parade follows a 15-block route through the French Quarter, stopping at Good Friends Bar (Dauphine & St. Ann), the VIP reviewing stand and where the Royal Court is toasted. Feb. 19, 2 p.m. 

A dog dressed as beloved local character Mr. Okra at a recent Barkus parade. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

Royal Sonesta’s “Greasing of The Poles.” About 42 years ago, the Royal Sonesta Hotel, which enjoys a coveted Mardi Gras people-watching spot on Bourbon Street, began coating its balcony supports with petroleum jelly to keep revelers from shimmying their way up. Never a city to waste a perfectly good opportunity to squeeze every ounce of party potential out of any situation, the annual “Greasing of the Poles” was born. Feb. 24, 10 a.m. 

See the intricate and tiny floats of tit Rex. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

Jerk Chicken Festival. For those not hitting the Endymion parade, there is this rad Reggae event showcasing a jerk chicken competition between some great NOLA restaurants (Juan’s Flying Burrito, Crepes a la Carte, Central City BBQ). Celebrity judges taste each dish, as New Orleans brass bands cover Bob Marley songs. There will be other Reggae bands and DJs on-hand, too. At Central City BBQ. Tickets are $10 plus tax. Feb. 11, 4 p.m. 

Flambeaux light the way for night parades. (Photo: Cheryl Gerber)

Flambeaux. One of the most striking sites at Mardi Gras is the flambeaux who lead the way during night parades. Carrying heavy, blazing torches, flambeaux were established by the Mistick Krewe of Comus, founded in 1856. Historically, flambeaux were enslaved African-Americans and free men of color. Crowd members tossed coins to these men for their efforts. Today, the coin tradition still continues — hand a flambeaux some change and marvel at the intersection of history and performance art.

Krewe of St. Anne Mardi Gras Parade. Founded in 1969, The “Secret” Society of St. Anne parades Mardi Gras Day. Starting at Bud Rip’s (900 Piety Street at Burgundy), this is a beautifully costumed marching group that features music from Storyville Stompers Brass Band and special guests. Watch as they march, or file in from the back of the parade. Feb. 28, 10 a.m. 

A costume from the Krewe of Armeinius ball. (Courtesy photo)

The Bourbon Street Awards. For LGBT Mardi Gras krewes, it’s all about the costume. There are LGBT Mardi Gras balls throughout the season, but the real fun takes place on Mardi Gras Day at the Bourbon Street Awards. See who wins for best costume, and definitely have your camera ready for some awesome photo opps. Feb. 28, 12 p.m.

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