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GoNOLA Guide to Carnival’s Best-Kept Secrets

Experience Mardi Gras like a local.

The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus (Photo: Rebecca Todd)

Every year, Mardi Gras never fails to amaze us – between the costumes, elaborate floats, satire, and revelry, each parade plays a unique role. Locals know that there is so much more to Mardi Gras than Bourbon Street and beads. There’s a whole other world for you to explore. Learn about some of the hidden gems of Carnival season, and make sure to catch these events that fall off the beaten, beaded path.

Look and play the part. 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.

Randazzo’s King Cake is a local’s favorite. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

Eat all of the king cakes. One of our favorite ways to celebrate carnival season is to indulge in King Cake. There are a variety to try with new flavors and takes popping up each season. From traditional (our favorite) to creative and sippable to savory – see our guide to All Things King Cake and get your fix now.

Get your 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!). If you’re in need of a sparkly accessory, check out handcrafted jewelry from Lizano’s Glass Haus, Miette, and Fleurty Girl.

Spot 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. Learn about the tradition of creating a costume at the New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians Sip & Sew.

Parades and Parties

The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus is a walking parade. (Photo: Rebecca Todd)

Catch 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. The out of this world krewe’s mission is to “elevate all aspects of Fandom and celebrate Carnival in our own unique way.” Catch these krewes this Mardi Gras on Feb. 9, rolls at 7 p.m.

See the tiny floats at 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. 17, rolls at 4:30 p.m.

The Krewe of Barkus is a walking parade for pets. (Photo: Paul Broussard)

Catch The Mystic Krewe of Barkus. The only official “Mardi Gras krewe for canines,” this year’s Barkus parade carries the theme “The Big Bark Theory: Barkus Goes to Comic Con.” The parade follows a 15-block route through the French Quarter, stopping at Good Friends Bar (Dauphine & St. Ann) along the way. Feb. 24, rolls 2 p.m. 

Watch the Royal Sonesta’s “Greasing of The Poles.” About 49 years ago, the Royal Sonesta Hotel, which enjoys a coveted Mardi Gras people-watching spot on Bourbon Street, began coating its balcony columns 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, “Greasing of the Poles” was born. See the tradition come to life with this annual event. March 1, 10 a.m. 

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

See the 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 would toss coins to these men for their efforts. Today, the tradition still continues. Hand a flambeaux some change and marvel at the intersection of history and performance art.

The Society of St. Anne is a walking parade on Mardi Gras Day. (Paul Broussard)

Revel in the Krewe of St. Anne on Mardi Gras Day. Founded in 1969, The “Secret” Society of St. Anne parades on Mardi Gras Day. You likely won’t see more fantastical costumes all carnival season than at this creative, walking parade. 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. Mardi Gras Day, March 5, 10 a.m. 

Take your pick in the Bourbon Street AwardsFor LGBT Mardi Gras krewes, it’s all about the costumes. There are loads of LGBT Mardi Gras balls that take place throughout the season, but the big show takes place on Mardi Gras Day at the Bourbon Street Awards. See who takes the award for best costume, and have your camera ready to capture the extravaganza. Mardi Gras Day, March 5, noon.

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