New Orleans embraces its own. Running of the Bulls, for example, started out as a handful of friends with a hankerin’ to declare superiority over Spain and spank people in the streets. Today thousands participate. Po-Boy Fest, Red Dress Run, even Jazz Fest all had similarly humble origins. New Orleans is the city where we see the unique and raise you some.
Which brings us to a long-standing Mardi Gras tradition for New Orleanians in the know: The Mardi Gras Bourbon Street Awards. That’s right. We said Bourbon Street. What started out as a one-off to promote Clover Grill, a famous New Orleans hamburger joint at the corner of Bourbon and Dumaine, has evolved into one of the best-known events of Mardi Gras weekend, sometimes called “the most famous drag-queen contest in America.”
There’s nothing New Orleans folk love better than an excuse to don a costume and be fabulous, so Arthur Jacobs, the then-Clover Grill owner, decided to harness that to sell burgers. Initially, he thought to hold a costume contest once a year in his restaurant. Instead people swarmed in and now the contest, held on the corner of Bourbon and Saint Ann, includes visitors from across the world, all dressed to the nines in their most daring and dazzling Mardi Gras attire.
Awards now include first, second and third place in multiple categories: Best Drag, Best Leather, Best Group and Best of Show, complete with celebrity hostesses in drag, of course. Beloved by the city’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community, the contest whips out costumes as flamboyant, lovingly-prepared and eye-stopping as even the traditional Mardi Gras Indian costumes, although perhaps with a lot less covered up.
The show begins at noon on Feb. 21, which leaves you plenty of time to rise early and beg for coconuts downtown at ZULU, or start your day in the Marigny with the costumed walking parade led by the Krewe of St. Anne, who snake their way through the streets into the French Quarter.