The Complete Guide to throwing a NOLA-themed party
A little search engine told us you are thinking of throwing a New Orleans inspired party. Bien joue! You’ve made a fantastic decision! New Orleans-themed parties are chock full of rich culture, amazing food, rockin’ music, vibrant costumes, and an air of celebration and festivity. Sounds like the perfect recipe for a great time in our book.
There are so many ideas though, that your head might be spinning before you’ve even taken your first sip of bourbon. One of the great things about a NOLA-themed party is that you can choose which direction you want it to take and yet still keep true to that fabulous New Orleans style.
For instance, feel free to choose the level of fanciness and formality you want your party to have. You can hold a glamorous and courtly ball-like affair complete with hand-delivered invitations or host a backyard crawfish boil in cutoffs and a tank top (flip flops optional). There are also a variety of themes that will keep your party within the realms of New Orleans.
It doesn’t really matter the reason for hosting the party—birthday, anniversary, Mardi Gras, bachelor/bachelorette parties, or just because you love throwing kick-ass parties that people talk about for years—we’ve got some work to do to help you throw a NOLA-themed party like a true New Orleanian.
1. NOLA Inspired Desserts
Guess what party people, you can have your cake and drink it, too. A traditional part of Carnevale and Mardi Gras festivities, King Cakes are sweet, doughy cakes covered in brightly colored sugar and cinnamon and have a hollow center (where little trinkets like plastic babies are placed). This is not only a classic NOLA-themed party dessert, but at some point a genius also invented the King Cake signature cocktail to help wash down all that cake.
Along the same lines, the traditional drink of NOLA parties is the Hurricane—a brightly colored juice cocktail combined with light and dark rums to create a fruity bomb of deliciousness in a glass. It’s the perfect drink to chase down colorfully sprinkled hurricane rum balls (hide them from the kids). You can also find quite a number of bourbon-infused desserts that can be served with—well, bourbon. Just bourbon. Check out the link for other New Orleans-y desserts like bananas foster, beignets, and pralines.
2. Traditional New Orleans Foods
We may have gotten a little excited about the desserts and in our sugar rush, skipped right past the whole dinner/”real” food part (our moms would be so disappointed in us). But if you are planning on serving more than just dessert and cocktails, there are plenty of foods traditional to a New Orleans party.
The people of New Orleans make up a rich and vibrant cultural mosaic—diverse and colorful pieces that work together to create an entire picture (or in this case, menu). Spanish, French, African, and German cultures have each contributed traditional food that gives us buffet-like diversity of typical New Orleans fare. Sure, you can make just one, but New Orleans style is about going all out, so try not to restrain yourself.
Traditional food ideas:
- Crawfish (boiled or etouffee)
- Red Beans and Rice or Dirty Rice
- Po’ Boy Sandwiches
3. New Orleans Music is a Must
The answer is no, it’s not a real NOLA party if there isn’t music. Consider this part non-optional when it comes to this type of event. Music is a key part of the whole experience and it’s definitely not something you’ll want to skip.
Just like New Orleans, cultural variety has contributed to its unique food scene, and those same cultures have also contributed to the city’s lively and exuberant music traditions. So, what kind of music makes a NOLA party a NOLA party?
- Brass Band/Jazz
—New Orleans is probably best known for its jazz music, most often performed by talented brass band musicians. If you want to add an extra element of awesomeness to your party, hiring a brass band is the way to go. Great brass bands don’t just have jazz in their playlist repertoire, some are able to perform other types of music (like dance and hip-hop) with a jazzy flair. The highlight of a NOLA party is a brass band that gets the party rolling with a second line parade or —a sure bet for creating a memorable time.
—It may be a lesser known genre of music to many, but this springy piano-centric sound actually made its way onto the late 19th-early 20th-century party scene before jazz.
—Another energy-infused style of music, bounce is New Orleans’s own indigenous version of hip-hop, originating in the city in the late 1980s.
—A Cajun version of the blues mixed with some gospel, accordion music, and Afro-Caribbean rhythms, Zydeco takes an unlikely mash-up of sounds and turns it into something totally danceable.
If you want to go the extra extra mile, a live band to greet your guests with music is the perfect way to start your party with footsteps that dance through the doorway. But no matter when you choose to get the music going, it’s just important that it’s part of the party.
4. What kind of décor is right for a NOLA party?
NOLA-inspired décor can vary widely, so the answer to that all depends on the type of party you want to throw. Courtly affairs might include elements of bayou-inspired driftwood as decoration or to go beneath serving dishes. Brightly colored flowers like larkspurs and tulips can be used as centerpieces (add some gold accents). Gold flatware, plates, and napkin rings (super fancy!) plus fleur-de-lis table runners can all be part of the setting.
Less formal party décor elements might include bowls or hurricane vases filled with gold doubloon, colorful beads, and or music notes. Use gold, green, and or purple glitter around candle votives. Green, purple, and gold-fringed curtains can serve as backdrops or be hung in doorways.
The thing is, though, that informal and fancy can be somewhat subjective. There are so many décor ideas that we could fill a hundred pages with all of them, but we just wanted to give you a quick idea of some of the elements that would go into a NOLA party. So, mix and match the elements that you love to create your own unique party décor.
5. Party favors!
Who doesn’t love coming home from a party with a bit of swag? Again, there are a million and one ideas for favors and it can get downright overwhelming. We’ll just talk about some of our favorite favors or things that give you a general idea of where your creativity can take you.
- If your soiree is taking on a more French-inspired flavor, you might look for favor-sized delightfully aromatic French soaps. You can also choose from an abundance of fleur-de-lis favors like fleur-de-lis lollipops or choose gift bags that sport this iconic symbol of French royalty.
- If crawfish are the highlight or theme of your bash, there are so many adorable crawfish-inspired favors like tiny plastic crawfish throw toys (the ones you’ll find in the link are also good for Mardi Gras themed parties), soaps, balloons, and bottle openers.
If your party has more of a Mardi Gras flair, there is definitely no shortage of great ideas here. Masks, beads, and doubloon coins for tossing are just the tiniest tip of the iceberg. Personally, we love to really turn the party up with LED flashing light masks and glasses.
If you want your party costume to be whatever is decent enough to wear in your backyard without getting arrested, just do you! But if you are looking for some costume ideas with NOLA flavor, these are some of the main staples.
- Mardi Gras is known for its vast and undoubtedly fun array of wild outfits. Costumes range from skeleton-inspired to African face paint to outfits made completely of peacock feathers. You’ll find no shortage of feather boas, wigs, light-up bracelets and other accessories, stove pipe or top hats, and long top coats.
- If you want to do color-themed costumes, go with traditional combinations of gold, green, and purple (though other vibrant colors are not excluded).
- Harlequin styles are also popular on the NOLA/Mardi Gras scene and often include masks or face paints that play on caricatured and often somewhat darker images of court jesters and circus clowns.
- If you’re going glam with your party, elegant and stylish masks along with baroque-inspired attire add a classically French touch to it all.
If there is one city that knows how to throw a party, it’s New Orleans (after all, their motto is “Let the good times roll). Take some cues from their legendary party scene and it’s hard to go wrong when planning your own. Music and great food are must-haves while NOLA inspired décor, party favors, and costumes can take your party to the next (unforgettable) level of good times. Happy partying and we hope the good times roll for you, too.