Crowds packed the streets of New Orleans over the weekend, mobilized by the first major parade weekend of Carnival 2022 and saturating the Marigny and French Quarter neighborhoods with pre-pandemic levels of visitors. For a number of bars and restaurants along the parade routes, it was also the first time it felt like business as usual since COVID-19 descended in full force almost two years ago.
That’s true for famed French Quarter bar Molly’s at the Market, which owner Trey Monaghan said has had its best two weekends “since Mardi Gras 2020.” In 2021, official Mardi Gras parades and events were prohibited and bars were ordered closed, even for to-go drinks. But with bars open this year, Monaghan said, “between Chewbacchus, TSS [the Treme Sidewalk Steppers], Krewe du Vieux, Delusion [Krewe Delusion], and people looking for a place to watch the Super Bowl, it’s felt like a partial return to [where we were] pre-pandemic.”
The first float parade of the year, the Krewe of Nefertiti, rolled at the end of January, but the past two weekends brought the return of parades that many neighborhood bars have historically relied on for big business. It hasn’t been the boon expected across the board, though — when the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus cut its February 5 parade route short due to too few voluntary NOPD staff, at least one Marigny bar owner said the last-minute route change was a major blow since it was previously expected to pass right in front of his two St. Claude Avenue businesses, Kajun’s Pub and Arabella Casa Di Pasta. There are similar implications for Uptown parade route changes, particularly for Magazine Street bars and restaurants that are now left off the route.
Paraders, parade-goers, and businesses held their breath for last-minute route cuts this past weekend, but parades like Krewe Boheme and Krewe du Vieux rolled their (previously shortened) routes as expected, bringing with them a spike in business. Annene Kaye-Berry, co-owner of the French Quarter’s acclaimed Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29, said it was an “amazing” weekend for the longtime N. Peters Street bar and restaurant, which sits in the direct path of tourist foot traffic heading into the French Quarter from the CBD and Warehouse District (and serves some of the city’s favorite to-go drinks). It was the same for R Bar, a Marigny bar that has long served as a Mardi Gras gathering place for revelers on the other side of the French Quarter. Adam Boltuch, the bar’s general manager, called the last two weekends “fantastic,” saying “the vibe and energy in the area felt like previous years.”
For newer restaurants, the difference may have been even more noticeable. “This weekend felt like pretty much the first time our restaurant has been able to operate the way it was conceptualized to for consecutive days,” said Amarys Koenig-Herndon, the owner of Palm & Pine in the French Quarter. That restaurant opened in July 2019, which was followed not long after by the Hard Rock Hotel collapse, shutting down the surrounding streets for the next two years. “We never really got to see our business potential pre-Covid,” Koenig-Herndon said. “This weekend left me feeling hopeful for the future.”
“It was amazing to watch the French Quarter come back to life,” said local chef Eric Cook, who owns Saint John, a new restaurant in the heart of the action on Decatur Street. “The crowds were great. The business was great. Most of all, the sounds of music and revelry filled our streets again,” Cook said.
Bars and restaurants are subject to New Orleans’s indoor mask mandate through Mardi Gras; the mandate was issued for the third time in early 2022 during the city’s fifth COVID surge. While cases have been trending downward, New Orleans health director Dr. Jennifer Avegno said over the weekend, the mandate will remain in place, as will the city’s policy requiring proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test to dine or drink indoors. (On Friday, February 11, the Louisiana Supreme Court denied requests for a temporary restraining order against the city’s mandates and rescheduled the first hearing on a lawsuit challenging them for March 3 — two days after Mardi Gras.)
Despite the dual mandates, the parades that draw crowds all over town are outside and restriction-free, though parade participants and float riders must be vaccinated. There are more than 35 parades remaining this Carnival season, a weeks-long time period that can bring up to one million visitors to town, according to New Orleans and Company, the city’s convention and visitors bureau. New Orleans and Company recently said that local hotels are reporting 80 percent occupancy the weekend before Mardi Gras.
During a press conference Monday afternoon about Mardi Gras safety and the impact of visitors on local COVID rates, health officials said that vaccine and test sites run by the state health department will remain open except on Lundi Gras and Fat Tuesday (February 28 and March 1). They also said they are working to set up a rapid test site for arriving travelers at the Louis Armstrong International Airport, though there was no mention of compulsory testing for visitors to the city.
“The anticipation for this Mardi Gras has obviously been building for a while now,” Boltuch said. “As a staff and a business, being able to welcome people back to the joyful madness is a really good feeling.”
- As Mardi Gras parade routes shorten at last minute, some New Orleans businesses lose out [WWNO]
- New Orleans’ COVID-19 mandates stay at least through Mardi Gras, after state Supreme Court denies restraining order, direct lawsuit hearing [WAFB]