How to celebrate Mardi Gras (yeah you) right
By Nicole Wroten
Before I wrote this piece last week, I posted the following status on my Facebook page: “Trying to write an article about Mardi Gras. How in the world am I going to explain it to Ohioans?” A college friend of mine simply said, “You can’t.” I lived in New Orleans for six years and moved to Dayton in 2009. I spent six glorious Fat Tuesdays in the Big Easy, each one better than the last.
For those of you who think Mardi Gras (aka Carnival) is just an all around crazy-ass party, you’re right. It is a good time. But Mardi Gras is also rooted deeply in New Orleans’ culture, tradition and history.
Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday” and technically officially begins on Jan. 6, Kings’ Day (or Twelfth Night), which celebrates the three wise men’s arrival at the birthplace of Christ. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII made it a Christian holiday when he placed it on the calendar the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. This quickly turned Fat Tuesday into the last day to participate in any ‘debauchery’ before it came time to pray and fast. In New Orleans especially, this trend caught on and the origins of the Mardi Gras we celebrate today – kings, Mardi Gras colors and brass bands – are traced to New Orleans.
My first Mardi Gras (2004), I’ll never forget. I was a freshman in college. After three tequila shots in my dorm room, I headed out to my first parade and learned my lesson very quickly (no, not about the tequila). I was standing in the front row of the crowd too close to the float (which is apparently Mardi Gras rule #1) and got smacked in the face with a bag of beads so hard that the Ralph Lauren sunglasses I was wearing split in two across the bridge of my nose. Needless to say, in the morning I had a black eye and a concussion.
My second Mardi Gras (2005), I learned what scotch and water tasted like and decided to earn some extra income by charging $2 per person for people to use my bathroom in my apartment along the parade route (a hot commodity). I also drunkenly gave away my favorite leather jacket to a homeless man.
My third Mardi Gras (2006, post-Katrina) was the most meaningful Mardi Gras in the history of Mardi Gras. New Orleans Magazine described that Carnival as “The Most Important Mardi Gras Ever.” And it was. New Orleans Magazine’s Editor in Chief Errol Laborde (my former boss and Mardi Gras expert) wrote, “Mardi Gras 2006 gave the world the first meaningful sign of the city’s recovery. It is not irrelevant that it also helped lift the sprits of locals badly in need of reason to believe again in their town.”
That year, I gave some beers to four National Guardsmen in a Humvee stationed outside my apartment. I also gave Dan Aykroyd the finger.
My third Mardi Gras (2007), I got whipped with a strand of Mardi Gras beads. Did you know that that gives you tiny little bruises for each individual bead? Well, it does. I drank sake for the first time and got told I was going to hell by an Evangelical Christian.
My fourth Mardi Gras (2008), I don’t really remember much of, due to copious amounts of daiquiri. What I can gather (through photographic evidence), is that this Mardi Gras involved a hefty police officer, an Elvis impersonator, fried catfish and “looking for dad” (my friends and I snuck into private parties along the parade route by walking in and yelling, “Dad? Dad, where are you?” Then would quickly get a beer and run out).
My fifth Mardi Gras (2009) I wore a purple tutu and a purple sombrero, and watched a man have a heart attack in front of me. One hand clutched his beer, the other clutched his chest (don’t worry, he lived).
Know one thing from these stories: Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the finest time you will ever have. Ever. But Mardi Gras celebrated anywhere else isn’t half bad. Here’s how to celebrate across the Miami Valley:
The new Cajun sports bar opening in place of All Star Sports & Wings, which opened last year in the former Grindstone Charley’s location on Wilmington Pike in Kettering, will be celebrating their grand opening on Fat Tuesday. Cajun band Man on a Mission will be jamming all night long as drink specials flow with New Orleans classics like Hurricanes, as well as Louie’s specialty drinks Romp in the Swamp and Shark Bite. The menu will feature a traditional New Orleans-style crawfish boil. From 3 to 7 p.m., all appetizers will be half price and all domestic beers will be $1.50. 4139 Wilmington Pike in Kettering.
At LeDoux’s Restaurant in Troy, Mardi Gras Day will be celebrated with a Mardi Gras Ball as a fundraiser for the Piqua Arts Council. Admission is $20 per person and that includes appetizers, live music and Mardi Gras beads. Be sure to wear a costume or festive mask for the best dressed will be crowned King and Queen of the ball. Guests will enjoy live Dixieland music by Different Hats Dixieland Quintet, dancing, complimentary hors d’oeuvres and more. 6-10 p.m. For reservations, call (937) 875-2000. 3006 N. County Road 25A in Troy.
Rue Dumaine in Centerville is busy celebrating Chef Anne Kearney’s nomination for the Best Chef: Great Lakes award by the James Beard Foundation, but they’re not too busy to celebrate Mardi Gras. Being that Kearney was formerly the chef/owner of famed New Orleans restaurant Peristyle, it is only fitting that Rue Dumaine celebrates Mardi Gras in style. They will be featuring a New Orleans-style menu that includes oyster, shrimp and alligator sausage gumbo; Char-grilled oysters; oysters on the half shell; a Creole braised beef and French fry po-boy; and a Bananas Fosters bread pudding. They will also feature signature drinks like New Orleans Hurricanes and beer from New Orleans brewing company Abita. For reservations, call (937) 610-1061. 1061 Miamisburg-Centerville Road in Centerville.
Reach DCP editor Nicole Wroten at email@example.com