On February 5, New Orleans officials announced major COVID-19 restrictions for the five days leading up to Mardi Gras on February 16. The rules, in place from 6 a.m. Friday, February 12 to 6 a.m. Wednesday, February 17, range from a citywide bar shut down and ban on to-go alcohol sales, to street closures and fines for loitering. So what can you do in New Orleans on Mardi Gras this year, and what is prohibited?
Are bars open?
Businesses licensed as bars, even those that acquired temporary restaurant conditional permits during the pandemic, are closed entirely. Bars are currently closed for indoor service, but for the five-day period, outdoor and to-go service will also be prohibited.
What about restaurants?
Restaurants are allowed to operate at full capacity outdoors — with all patrons seated, at tables spaced six feet apart, wearing masks while not eating or drinking — and serve patrons indoors at 50 percent capacity. Restaurants, along with hotels and casinos, are banned from selling alcoholic drinks to-go.
Go-cups are banned, but can I drink in the street?
While there is a citywide ban on the sale of to-go drinks, there is no change to New Orleans’s open container law that allows the consumption of alcohol in public — as long as it’s not in a glass container.
Is the French Quarter closed?
No, the French Quarter is not “closed,” but access will be limited. Between the hours of 7 p.m. and 3 a.m., NOPD will restrict pedestrians and vehicles in certain parts of the Quarter and only allow residents, employees, hotel guests, restaurant and shop patrons, and taxis or ride-share vehicles. Those checkpoints will be set up at Bourbon Street between Canal Street and Orleans Avenue and on Decatur Street between Dumaine and Toulouse Streets.
In the entirety of the French Quarter, the sale of packaged liquor — like bottles of booze from liquor stores, convenience stores, or grocery stores, is banned for the five-day period.
Where else can’t I hang out?
Frenchmen Street, New Orleans’s main music hub outside of the French Quarter, will be closed at night from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., to both vehicles and pedestrians, between Esplanade Avenue and Royal Street. Loitering is not allowed at any time, and street performers, normally ubiquitous along Frenchmen Street’s sidewalks, are prohibited in an attempt to prevent people from congregating.
The N. Claiborne underpass between Orleans Avenue and St. Bernard Avenue, a common pedestrian gathering place on holidays, for second lines, and on Sundays, will be fenced off for the duration of the five days, and loitering is prohibited along that stretch of N. Claiborne.
There are no such restrictions in place for Uptown parade routes like on Magazine Street and St. Charles Avenue. However, city officials have said there will be an increased police presence on those two streets, as well as at the above locations.
Okay, but how serious are the rules?
During the press conference announcing restrictions for the days before Mardi Gras, NOPD officials said that in terms of police presence, “All hands will be on deck.” They said $500 citations can be issued to anyone caught violating guidelines, and New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell did not rule out the possibility of arrests. Businesses caught out of compliance “will be shut down on the spot.” On February 5, four New Orleans bars were ordered closed for violating current COVID-19 restrictions, and three more have since received orders to close. The businesses will be brought before the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and must submit plans to the city outlining how they will reopen while abiding by city guidelines.
So, what can I do?
Last week, Mayor Cantrell implored visitors to the city to celebrate Mardi Gras “like a New Orleanian.” She referenced restaurants and taking in the city’s house floats, though some of their creators might respectfully point tourists to the many photo galleries available online, rather than have them show up in person. If you really want to celebrate Mardi Gras “like a New Orleanian,” may we recommend staying home? Mardi Gras in 2022 will be better than ever, rest assured.
For Eater New Orleans’s complete guide to Mardi Gras 2021, see here.