Whether it's the spicy food, the funky beats or the free pass for weeknight buffoonery, it's tough to resist the allure of a traditional New Orleans–style Mardi Gras celebration. And whether you want to gorge on Creole and Cajun cuisine—from andouille sausage and crawfish to jambalaya and king cake—swing with live blues and jazz music, or down rounds of Hurricanes and Abita beers, NYC can satisfy your craving for Louisiana fun. (The festivities peak on Fat Tuesday, February 12—but most of these places fete the NOLA spirit all year round.) Our list starts with Mardi Gras events around Manhattan that rival New Orleans’ grand traditions, then notes Southern-themed spots to visit all year round. Read on to find the perfect Mardi Gras masquerade that fits you and laissez les bons temps rouler!
A Mardi Gras Weekend Celebration: Louis Armstrong Tribute at B.B. Kings Blues Club & Grill
Before the Big Easy's biggest day, see acclaimed trumpet player “Hot Lips” Joey Morant headline a festive concert at B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, accompanied by the band Catfish Stew. Morant honors jazz legend Louis Armstrong through trumpet playing and scat singing (Armstrong was among the first musicians to popularize this vocal style). $22 in advance; $27 the day of the show. The event starts at 8pm. For more information, visit bbkingblues.com.
The Fourth-Annual Two Boots Mardi Gras Ball at (Le) Poisson Rouge
Two Boots celebrates Mardi Gras with live music, dancing, stilt walking, hat making and even body painting. Actress Rosario Dawson will host the event, and musicians ?uestlove and Cyndi Lauper will be crowned king and queen. The fun begins at 7pm; tickets are $25 for general admission or $125 for the VIP treatment (including an open bar, dinner and reserved seating). Proceeds benefit The Lower Eastside Girls Club. For more information, visit lepoissonrouge.com.
Mardi Gras – All Day Long Extravaganza at Bourbon Street Bar & Grille
Nothing says Mardi Gras quite like po'boys, Hurricanes and lots of beads—and you can find all that and much more here. Beginning at 5pm, partygoers will enjoy music, giveaways and food and drink specials, including a $20 all-you-can-eat Cajun buffet. For more information, visit facebook.com.
Mardi Gras Party at The Delta Grill
Step into The Delta Grill for a bayou blowout: the $25 cover grants you access to unlimited amounts of Cajun food, one free Hurricane and the Southern styles of the musicians in Citigrass. The buffet opens at 6pm; the music starts at 7pm. For more information, visit thedeltagrill.com.
40-12 Bell Blvd., 718-224-2200, Bayside, Queens
An easygoing way to celebrate the Big Easy: authentic Louisiana cooking made with locally sourced ingredients at Bayside's Bourbon Street, located along the bustling Bell Boulevard. Here, you can whet your appetite with the complimentary fresh bread and homemade pecan butter, but be sure to leave room for the seriously spicy stuff. On-fire fare includes Almost Cajun Sushi (flash-fried tortilla-wrapped rare tuna with cream cheese and shredded carrots, served with chipotle mayo and soy sauce), Lucifer's Mussels (whose andouille sausage, jalapeños and habaneros make it “hotter than hell”) and farm-raised Louisiana Delta blackened catfish with molasses–roasted red pepper glaze. For dessert, treat yourself to homemade chocolate mud pie gelato.
Bourbon Street Bar & Grille
346 W. 46th St., 212-245-2030, Midtown West, Manhattan
With its gas-burning lanterns, wrought-iron railings and second-floor balcony seating, Bourbon Street Bar & Grille will transport you from Midtown to the storied French Quarter. Food options include alligator sausage with apple, cheddar and smoked bacon in a flaky pastry dough, served with Creole honey mustard; corn and crawfish chowder with smoked bacon; and country fried steak smothered in andouille sausage gravy, served with garlic mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach. Pair your dish with a red velvet cake martini, a mint julep or New Orleans' own Dixie Blackened Voodoo beer.
Creole Restaurant & Music Supper Club
2167 Third Ave., 212-876-8838, Harlem, Manhattan
This swanky spot in Harlem boasts a menu of Creole cuisine that includes plenty of veggie-friendly options and a variety of gumbos (chicken and andouille sausage; shrimp; chicken, andouille sausage and shrimp; and vegetable—available in either mild or spicy, with okra or without). Suiting its supper-club appellation, the venue features live jazz, soul or R&B almost every night of the week, with world music presented by DJs and open-mic sessions for the musicians in the crowd.
The Delta Grill
700 Ninth Ave., 212-956-0934, Midtown West, Manhattan
Thoughtfully designed to evoke the humble cheer of a Louisiana roadhouse, The Delta Grill is a homey venue praised for great service and delicious eats prepared by a chef native to Louisiana. Precede classics like muffuletta, po'boys (eight varieties!), gumbo and étouffé with appetizers that have a Delta Grill spin, like crawfish popcorn with rémoulade sauce and jambalaya wontons. Wash everything down with a Cajun martini, an “Extreme Hurricane” (with Meyers's Rum and Captain Morgan Black Cask 100 Proof Spiced Rum) or an Abita brew.
424 E. 9th St., 212-228-8525, East Village, Manhattan
Exchange Alley is an East Village hideaway that works as both a romantic date spot and a cozy venue for a group of friends. It's New York with a touch of New Orleans, thanks to chef and partner Paul Gerard, who grew up in Brooklyn and spent 13 years in Louisiana (Exchange Alley is the name of a charming side street in the French Quarter). The menu features items meant to be shared, including fried pickled okra with rémoulade, barbecue shrimp, steamed clams casino and jambalaya balls with dirty gravy. Billy Gilroy of Employees Only is a partner and also designed the space, lending it an upscale old-school vibe.
365 Van Brunt St., 347-453-6672, Red Hook, Brooklyn
This casual café-bar's menu stands out for its French fare and New Orleans–style drinks. (Owner-bartender St. John Frizell spent eight years there.) During weekend brunch, enjoy the Creole red beans on toast, with andouille sausage, fried eggs and pickled onions. At dinnertime, savor the vegetable cassoulet with a Sazerac or Vieux Carré.
Great Jones Cafe
54 Great Jones St., 212-674-9304, NoHo, Manhattan
The casual Great Jones Cafe serves Creole-inspired favorites, like jalapeño cornbread and Louisiana jambalaya. A chalkboard menu and the vinyl-playing jukebox—which is stocked with blues, jazz, soul and Creole classics—add to the eatery's cozy ambience. The NoHo spot, which downtown artist Jean-Michel Basquiat is said to have frequented in the '80s, serves a seriously spicy Cajun Mary, a take on the Bloody Mary with jalapeño-infused vodka, and traditionally has king cake on offer during Mardi Gras.
180 Second Ave., 212-979-9273, East Village, Manhattan
Ninth Ward aims to bring a bit of New Orleans' charm and sass to New York. The venue serves Southern-skewed bar food to soak up the specialty cocktails, including Sazerac, and local beers (Abita!). To start are “Gators on Horseback” (bacon-wrapped jalapeños stuffed with shrimp and cheese), “Plantain-tions” (roasted plantains filled with braised beef and potato strings), and a popular entrée option is the Bleu Bayou Burger (with spicy praline chocolate bacon and melted blue cheese). An inconspicuous location, deep dark wood decor and tchotchkes straight from NOLA set the scene for a night of serious imbibing. Don't miss the lovely backyard patio.