NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) – The go-cup is a big part of our culture and a must have for many during Mardi Gras, but how did it come to be? And why are go-cups legal here and illegal elsewhere?
We spoke with Drink and Learn Historian Elizabeth Pearce about the history of the go-cup.
“We’re used to having go cups year round. But everybody really appreciates it most during Mardi Gras,” Pearce said.
And it’s a privilege we sometimes take for granted. Now, most of the country has open container laws.
“For most of American history, it was completely legal to drink on the street. The only thing that was illegal was being drunk on the street. Starting in the 1960s, these laws started to be declared unconstitutional. The police would just kind of decide, ‘you’re drunk’ – arrest you. ‘You’re not – you can go home.’ They were arbitrary and subjective,” said Pearce.
In the 80s and 90s, cities and states started outlawing public drinking. But not New Orleans.
“We have Bourbon Street to thank. Starting in the 1960s, clubs on Bourbon Street were a little seedy and they were getting a little rundown, and frankly people were not always going into them. What they discovered is that if they had a little window and sold the drink through the window, that was a way of creating commerce. And with the advent of the plastic cup, it made it very easy, so Bourbon Street which initially was a place where people would go inside to hear music and see a show – eventually the show makes its way onto the street – and it becomes this pedestrian corridor, right around the same time that the rest of the United States is saying ‘no drinking in public,” said Pearce. “In 2001, the City Council actually contemplated making it only legal to drink on the street in the French Quarter and illegal in the rest of the city, but it was so confusing to tourists, that they decided to just keep it legal throughout the whole city.”
New Orleanians, who tend to be a little dismissive of Bourbon Street, should think twice.
“If you like going to a Mardi Gras parade, whether it’s Uptown or in Mid City or on the West Bank – and holding a drink in your hand, we can thank for Bourbon Street for that,” said Pearce.