Music exploded from the yard of a French Quarter restaurant on Mardi Gras morning but no one was there to hear it until Tom Gibson and Sheila Wheeler from Philadelphia walked out of the hotel’s almost empty lobby.
“We were expecting a slightly lower key than the regular Mardi Gras,” Wheeler said. But empty Bourbon Street was a shock.
Coronavirus-related restrictions in New Orleans included interrupted parades, closed bars and a close closure of rowdy Bourbon Street. That and the unusually cold weather prevented what New Orleans usually longs for at the end of the Mardi Gras season: streets and businesses full of parties.
To be sure, some seasonal lovers of the season thought the cold. Knots of people, some in suits and others with cups of hot coffee (selling alcohol to go was forbidden) wandered in the French Quarter.
At St. Charles Avenue, houses decorated as stagnant “house flows” with giant mythical figures, circus animals or dinosaurs, drew a handful of people who snapped photographs. WDSU-TV caught a group of Mardi Gras Indians – African American organizations that for generations marched in brilliantly dressed hand pearls and plumage – on a short march through a block.
And the satire survived. A group of masked partygoers in a block, joking about the strict restrictions, pulled around a giant voodoo doll with Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s face and christened her “Queen Destroya” in photos taken by The Times-Picayune The New Orleans Advocate.
But in any case, it was a sharply reduced Mardi Gras.
Bourbon Street was eerily quiet unlike previous years. Police barricades were set at the end of each block and officers were told to allow access only to residents, people working in local businesses or hotel guests. St. The Charles Avenue median, usually full of parade lovers, was empty but for occasional joggers or trams.
A group founded by the late jazz clarinetist Pete Fountain, Half Fast Walking Club, gathered as usual outside Commander’s Palace restaurant, but they did not march. Souvenir shops in the French Quarter were largely empty and staff at some restaurants eagerly let passers-by in.
Gibson had been to Mardi Gras before and remembered what it was like. “The whole street – you could barely move,” he said.
To the east, Mobile, Alabama, which boasts the country’s oldest Mardi Gras celebration, had also canceled parades. The city was not locked as tightly as New Orleans. Bars were allowed to open. However, some downtown streets were closed to allow for additional outdoor seating and more space for social distancing. Strong temperatures that caused snow patches in the morning helped keep large crowds down in the early afternoon.
There was no snow in New Orleans but at 10 o’clock in the morning the temperature was 27 degrees Fahrenheit (-3 Celsius), with wind cooling making it feel like 19 (-7.2), said National Weather Service meteorologist Phil Grigsby.
Dave Lanser, trying to get into the spirit of the season, put on a luminous green coat and a black mask with a sharply curved nose before going to the neighborhood with some friends.
“I go for the ‘plague doctor’ look,” he said.
“It’s hard to wrap my head around it,” the New Orleans lawyer said as he looked up and down an almost empty Bourbon Street.
He deplored the impact of virus restrictions on companies and workers. But he said restrictions were necessary.
“I do not think there is a way to make it safe this year,” he said. “So, I support interrupting the parades, closing the bars, all that. It’s just a kind of reality. ”
Earlier, Michael Bill received a fast food breakfast from a skylight just off Canal Street on the edge of the French Quarter. He examined the empty street.
“The cold does not bother anyone. It’s COVID, says Bill. He said he has been a ghost travel guide for ten years, but he was due to business slowed down by the coronavirus pandemic.
He did not accuse Cantrell.
“The mayor is doing the best she can,” Bill said.
Cantrell recently ordered bars closed. Even bars that had been allowed to function as restaurants with “conditional” food permits were closed for five days, starting on Friday.
Various estimates showed that hotels were probably well below 90% occupancy for most years. And city and state officials warned except tourists.
“If people think they’re coming to Louisiana, anywhere or New Orleans and engaging in the kind of activities they would have before the pandemic, then they are wrong and frankly they are not welcome here to do so,” Gov. Said John Bel Edwards at a new press conference.
Mardi Gras crowds last year who were later accused of an early Louisiana outbreak of COVID-19.