The 2 New Orleans Churches-Turned-Bars You Can Party In On Mardi Gras

If New Orleans is one of the most exciting cities in the U.S., the "Big Easy" during Mardi Gras is the crème de la crème: bold, beautiful, and raucous. It's a one-of-a-kind city bursting with local flavor — so much that it's Sunny Anderson's favorite city for food — and an enthusiasm so great it can't help but spill out into the streets (partly thanks to the city's lenient open container laws). Renowned musician and NOLA native Trombone Shorty famously put it this way, "In New Orleans, we celebrate everything. It's probably the only place you'll see people dancing in a funeral home."

But if you're lucky enough to be in town during the most popular time of year, you're probably not looking to check out a funeral home. Fortunately, not only does the city boast tons of places to try iconic Mardi Gras foods, but also plenty of drinking holes with interesting backstories. Some of these were originally constructed as sacred places of worship — though they now welcome a different sort of congregation. While the transition from church to bar is an unexpected one, it results in architectural gems: structures with high ceilings, beautiful windows, and dramatic interiors that provide a glimpse of the fervor that helped inspire their construction. If you're making the rounds during your Fat Tuesday tour and looking to feel the spirit, these are a couple of unique bars to check out.

Non-denominational libations

Elysian Bar in New Orleans occupies the rectory of the (deconsecrated) Saints Peter and Paul Church. Built in the 1860s by an Irish-born architect in the working-class neighborhood of Marigny, the 8,900-square foot former church features soaring ceilings and gorgeous stained glass. Shuttered in 2001, the church was later converted into a boutique hotel, christened Hotel Peter and Paul. Today, the space's Elysian Bar takes full advantage of its historic charm and heavenly space. A warmly decorated interior includes liquor bottles nestled into arched openings, beautifully painted touches, and stunning fireplaces that lead the eye up toward intricate ceilings. Rattan stools lined up at a glossy bar remind you of what you're there for: the drinks, which are sophisticated, original, and not to be upstaged by their surroundings. 

But NOLA has more even in store for those searching for a place to lay down their weary burdens with a couple of cocktails amid an aura of sanctity: Mid-City's Vessel is a former Lutheran church. Built in 1914, the bar's name is a play on words: both the term for drinking glasses and the church's architecture, inspired by a ship's hull. With its curved wooden rafters and gothic arched windows, the bar manages to maintain a quiet reverence and distinctive glow, even without candlelight. 

Mardi Gras is the traditional last hurrah before the penitential season of Lent begins for Christians, so perhaps a church bar is just the right place to straddle the transition from festival to fasting.