Each year during Mardi Gras, New Orleans is flooded with visitors who inevitably misunderstand the city’s notoriously lax drinking laws and run afoul of the NOPD. But you don’t have to be a legal scholar to have a great time drinking your way through Fat Tuesday while staying on the right side of the law. If you’re planning a visit to N’awlins for the big day, just remember these drinking rules.
New Orleans is an open container oasis in the middle of a very dry desert. Like other bastions where it is legal to drink in public, the Big Easy takes advantage of the fact that Louisiana has no official law against open containers, though it is illegal to drink on the street in most of the state.
The only peccadillo of New Orleans’ lax public drinking laws is that the drink must be in a plastic container, not glass. That means you can’t simply grab a bottle of beer from the local 7-Eleven or take your coupe out of the cocktail bar. Don’t fret about downing that glass of booze before you leave a watering hole, though; most bars will happily transfer your unfinished drink to a to-go cup. Some especially pedestrian friendly establishments even serve drinks out of walk-up windows.
If you want to split hairs (as cops and lawyers occasionally do), the laws applying to open containers in New Orleans Municipal Code Sec. 54-404 technically apply only to the French Quarter, as defined by Rampart Street to the west, Canal Street to the south, Esplanade Avenue to the North and the Mississippi River to the east. While open container laws generally aren’t enforced differently elsewhere in the city, it’s best to obey any cops in other neighborhoods who order you to party your way back to the French Quarter.
Louisiana is one of 10 states that allow 18-year-olds to imbibe as long as they are accompanied by a guardian or spouse who is over 21.
While you can drink all you like in the streets of the French Quarter, you still need to keep your behavior in check. If your free boozing gets too rowdy, you’ll find yourself with a citation. (On a related note, public urination is one of the most commonly cited crimes during Mardi Gras, so even if you’re drinking outside, relieve yourself inside.)
Bourbon Street bars are famous for their open door policies, allowing drinkers to spill in and out all day long and essentially extending the party into the streets. Despite recent headlines about the city cracking down on such laissez-faire celebrations by closing bars at 3 a.m., the exact phrasing of the new security measures is a bit misleading. Bars can remain open 24 hours a day as they always have. The only difference moving forward is that the physical doors must remain closed after 3 a.m. As long as you remain sober enough to operate a door, you can still drink in any bar that remains open late, late, late into the morning.
If you are driving down to NOLA for the celebration, consider making a stop at one of the city’s iconic Frozen Daiquiri drive-thrus, which serve oversized boozy slushies on the go. Just be sure that before you dig in, you find a convenient place to park your car for the several hours it takes to drink the monstrously sized cocktail and sober up again, because the drunk driving laws in New Orleans are no joke.
Don’t be scared if you see a wave of police coming at you around midnight. You’re not seeing double. You’re seeing the ceremonial sweep of Bourbon Street, when a horde of cops clear the primary artery of the party so that street cleaners can get to work cleaning up the city for Ash Wednesday. While you should steer clear of any unlawful activity that might provoke the cops during this sweep, you needn’t worry that the party is over. After the popo pass through, most revelers return to the street or simply take midnight as their cue to move the party in-doors at one of the many bustling bars nearby.