Mardi Gras! A time to eat king cake, drink beer, go to parades, drink beer, catch beads, drink beer, go to more parades, eat more king cake and then drink more beer. Just because it's Carnival time doesn't mean your beer selection has to be swill.
I blog about local beer on my website, The Beer Buddha (www.thebeerbuddha.com), and I'll give you a full beer geek's breakdown of the best bars and stores for good beer near the Mardi Gras parade routes — as well as some stores where you'll find beer to bring to your parade spot.
FRENCH QUARTER/FAUBOURG MARIGNY
It's the French Quarter: land of cheap beer, boozy concoctions in grenade-shaped plastic cups and dudes flipping signs that read "Big Ass Beers". Your choices are somewhat limited, but there are outposts of beer civilization — and there's always the Marigny. Here are my picks:
1) d.b.a. (618 Frenchmen St., 942-3731, www.drinkgoodstuff.com) — d.b.a. is owned by the same guy as the one in New York. The New Orleans branch focuses more on music than beer — but still has a great selection of brews.
2) Mimi's in the Marigny (2601 Royal St., 872-9868) — A great bar with a good local beer selection and a nice variety of locals. Catch DJ Soul Sister on Saturday nights.
3) Club Decatur (240 Decatur St., 581-6969) — Club Decatur has a nice tap list with beers like Stone, Sierra Nevada, NOLA and Abita. The bar also has a decent bottle list.
4) Rouses (701 Royal St., 523-1353, www.rouses.com) — Yes, it's a grocery store but they've got a great selection of beer: Stone, Bayou Teche, Abita, etc. Their cheap canned selection is good as well: PBR, Miller High Life and others. Remember: Just 'cause it's cheap doesn't make it bad.
5) Crescent City Brewhouse (527 Decatur St., 522-0571, www.crescentcitybrewhouse.com) — The oldest brewpub in the city celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. Decent local craft beers and a nice food selection.
Like the French Quarter, there isn't much going on here in terms of better beer, but here are three from that area that I recommend:
1) Gordon Biersch (200 Poydras St., 552-2739, www.gordonbiersch.com) — A lot of locals think of Biersch only as a tourist destination, but it's actually a hangout for many local home brewers, and head brewer Tom Conklin makes a mean beer.
2) Ugly Dog Saloon (401 Andrew Higgins Blvd., 569- 8459, www.uglydogsaloon.net) — Beer and barbecue. How could you go wrong?
3) Rusty Nail (1100 Constance St., 525-5515, www.therustynail.biz) — A little bar off the beaten path that has live music. Known mostly for its incredible selection of Scotches, the Rusty Nail also has a nice selection of beers.
We're just going to use the general term Uptown here. Yeah, yeah, I know there is more to Uptown than just Uptown, but let's make it easy.
1) Avenue Pub (1732 St. Charles Ave., 586-9243, www.avenuepub.com) — There is no better place to go beer-wise. You can catch almost all the parades from right here and choose from the best beers in the city. Check the Pub's website, because it will list special tappings of certain beers during the parades, including NOLA cask, Abita cask, St. Arnold's and Sierra Nevada's new Hoptimum. And make sure to try the Buddha's Temptations when you're there.
2) Stein's Deli (2207 Magazine St., 527-0771, www.steinsdeli.net) — If you've gone here for the incredible sandwiches and didn't notice the beer selection, you should see your optometrist. Dan Stein is the godfather of the better beer movement here in New Orleans and his selection reflects that. Get a sandwich and tell Dan the Eagles suck — he might give you a discount.
3) Slice (1513 St. Charles Ave., 525-7437; 5538 Magazine St., 897-4800; www.slicepizzeria.com) — Damn good beer selection and even better pizza, located right on the parade route.
4) Squeal (8400 Oak St., 302-7370, www.squeal-nola.com) — This barbecue joint has a very nice selection of craft beers while also making some kick-ass barbecue — and the barbecue tacos pair well with the Bayou Teche Biere Pale.
5) Whole Foods (5600 Magazine St., 899-9119, www.wholefoods.com) — It's Whole Foods. You've been to Whole Foods. We've all been to Whole Foods. The one on Magazine Street has a great beer selection.
6) Breaux Mart (3233 Magazine St., 262-6019, www.breauxmart.com) — This small, locally owned grocery store has a diverse selection of craft and imports. It even has a section devoted solely to local beers.
7) Cooter Brown's (509 S. Carrollton Ave., 866-9104, www.cooterbrowns.com) — A legend in New Orleans, with a great beer selection on tap and a huge bottle selection. Do not go by its online beer list, as it hasn't been updated in a long time. Cooter's has beers that aren't even distributed in New Orleans.
8) The Bulldog (3236 Magazine St., 891-1516, www.bulldog.draftfreak.com) — Large selection of beers on tap and very good bottle selection.
9) Le Bon Temps Rouler (4801 Magazine St., 897-3448) —Where else can you go and drink great beer and listen to the Soul Rebels?
10) The Delachaise (3442 St. Charles Ave., 895-0858, www.thedelachaise.com) — The Delachaise is known mostly as a wine destination, but it has a nice, small tap list and even better bottled beer list to accompany its incredible food menu.
If you're in Mid-City to see Endymion you must be a serious parade-goer — or else you live there. Here's where to go.
1) Cork & Bottle (3700 Orleans Ave., 483-6314, www.cbwines.com) — Disclaimer: I work at Cork & Bottle as the beer guy. But since I'm the Beer Buddha, make the trek and find out what I'm up to. Great beer selection and I even carry the cheap yet good stuff, like PBR and High Life.
2) The Bulldog Mid-City (5135 Canal Blvd., 488-4191, www.bulldog-midcity.draftfreak.com) — Like the Uptown version of the Bulldog; the difference is there's a lot more space at this location.
1) Martin Wine Cellar (714 Elmeer Ave., 896-7300, www.martinwine.com) — With one of the better retail selections in Metairie, the store practically sits on the Veterans Memorial Boulevard parade route. Check its hours on parade days so you can stock up on your beer needs.
2) Lager's (3501 Veterans Memorial Blvd., 887-9923, www.lagersmetairie.draftfreak.com) — Lager's is the red-headed stepchild of The Bulldog. Great beer selection, same food selection as the New Orleans Bulldogs, and it sits right on the parade route.
3) Phil's Grill (3020 Severn Ave., 324-9080, www.phils-grill.com) — What could possibly go better with the Beer Buddha Burger than some locally brewed craft beer from NOLA Brewing? (OK, so there isn't a Beer Buddha Burger, but I can hope.) Great local beer selection and some of the best burgers in the metro New Orleans area.
There you have it: my favorite stores, bars and beers for Mardi Gras. In the end, what you like is all that matters, but I hope my list will introduce you to some new places or new beers to try. Right now the beer scene in New Orleans is burgeoning. Searching out new beers and drinking establishments can be quite the adventure, so have fun! Cheers and Happy Mardi Gras!