By Greg Holman
This year Mardi Gras comes about as early in the year as it possibly can, and a while back I noted on my blog (EatDallas) that Dallasites can’t seem to wrap their heads around the concept of Mardi Gras. For a number of years Dallas tried in vain to get a Mardi Gras-style parade going. I understand that we get the “drinking” part of it, and I know that everyone likes the beads and “throws” tossed from the floats; that’s painfully obvious by all of the scrambling for the “CHEAP-ASS” tiny beads that the St.Patty’s day floats throw – Yeah, I’m talking to you Greenville Avenue Parade! Get some freakin’ “deluxes” to throw this year! But why can’t we loosen up our tight asses (and tops) and flash and schlog like a tourist on Bourbon Street? After all, it’s the Mardi Gras spirit!
And while we’re talking about the spirit of Mardi Gras, just so you know the rules, there’s no fighting (stop one if you see it staring), no jealousy (your girlfriend’s just showing her boobs, not giving them away, and your boyfriend is just letting it breathe, it’s not detachable… I hope), there’s no crap! It’s just friends partying with friends that may not have met yet. There’s this whole cool and friendly vibe that’s created when like-minded people set out to attend the world’s largest party!
Now I can’t say that all of this naiveté is Dallas’ fault, as Mardi Gras has never been a big tradition here in Big D. The Mardi Gras parade push began in part as a response to the influx of former New Orleans natives into the Dallas area, via the Katrina exodus.
OK, now I’m talking to the NOLA transplants… You’ve brought your wonderful history, traditions, and world class food and recipes with you, but these Dallasites need your guidance when it comes to the ways of Mardi Gras; they need help, they need lagniappe (a little something extra). Lend a friend a hand here! Throw me somethin’ Mista!
Let me help by starting with the basics; the term “Mardi Gras” refers to a Catholic celebration beginning on or after Epiphany and culminating on the day before Ash Wednesday, or Mardi gras (French for “Fat Tuesday”). This refers to the practice of eating rich, fatty foods before fasting for the Lenten (Lent) season, which begins on Ash Wednesday. Many of the Mardi Gras traditions include the wearing of masks and costumes, King Cakes – the yellow/purple/green (the official colors of Mardi Gras) sugar-covered cakes with a small plastic baby baked inside), huge social events, drinking, dancing, concerts, parades, and fancy dress balls held by “Krewes.”
A Krewe (pronounced “crew”) is a privately funded organization that puts on a parade or ball for the Carnival (Mardi Gras) season. Krewe members pay fees in order to cover the parade and/or ball costs and fees can range from thousands of dollars a year, for the most elaborate Krewes, to as little as $20, for the smaller marching clubs. Some of the more notable Krewes are the Mistick Krewe of Comus, the Krewe of Proteus, Rex, the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, and the Krewe of Momus. Krewes toss beads and other “throws” such as cups, coins, and the most prized of all throws, hand-decorated coconuts (typically just seen at the Zulu parade).
Flashing (for girls), shlogging (for guys), and passing out (for everyone) are actually a relatively recent developments in the Mardi Gras tradition, brought on largely by the location and reputation of New Orleans’ French Quarter and Bourbon Street, a rather bawdy section of town (pirates used to hang out there), and by the steadily decreasing age of “spring break-ers” that have discovered Mardi Gras. This type of behavior doesn’t occur everywhere in New Orleans, primarily just in the French Quarter. The smaller parish parades are more neighborly and kid-friendly events.
My wife and I have been to N’awlins many times and we attended Dallas’ 2009 “Mystiqal” parade, which wrapped around Victory Park. We also attended the 2010 “Mardi Gras Texas Style” parade that traveled down Main Street and ended up in the West End. The latter seemed to have a looser structure and felt more like a New Orleans event than the first, but that was the end of the Dallas parades! What the hell people? Even Galveston does a better job at Mardi Gras than we do!
Well, at least that’s what I thought until I stumbled upon the Oak Cliff Mardi Gras Parade in 2011. Since Dallas was paradeless that year, my Krewe was looking for something fun to do, without fighting the crowds at some of the more popular bar destinations, and had heard about the OCMGP. We ventured over to Davis St. to check it out and were very pleasantly surprised. This cool parade invokes the feeling of those local Louisiana parish parades that involve the community, have a sort of small hometown feel, and are a bit more kid and family friendly (just a bit more!). We had such a blast that we went again last year and the parade had built up some steam. It was much larger than in previous years, with a mini-bike-riding Elvis’, a number of bands (rock and marching), tons of beads (more than you’ll ever catch at a New Orleans parade), more floats (over 50), and this year (the fifth annual) they’re expecting more than 20,000 people in attendance, making it one of the largest Mardi Gras parades in Texas. This year’s parade will be on Sunday February 10th from 4:00 to 6:00 PM on West Davis St. and will end in the Bishop Arts district, followed by large parties and lots of crawfish eatin’. Check out the website for more info – http://mardigrasoakcliff.com/. If you do make it to the parade, my crew, “The Tradewinds Social Aid and Pleasure Club Krewe”, and I will be on the Tradewinds Social Club Float!
If you like your “Party” Gras indoors, just a little naughtier, or are just too scared to venture south of I-30 to the hood (you’ll be missing out on a great street party though!), here are about a dozen other Mardi Gras alternatives for you…
Alligator Café – 9540 Garland Road Dallas, TX 75218 – Chef Ivan Pugh, a New Orleans transplant has a homey, funky little gem of a Cajun restaurant, with the best alligator I’ve had in Dallas. The vibe is cool, the live blues is hot, and the beer is freezing! (I actually had ice chips floating in my beer last time I was there! Perfect with my gator and red beans and rice). http://www.eatgator.com/
The Boudin Ball – Krewe de Roux hosts the traditional Mardi Gras Boudin Ball and brings the tradition and revelry of Louisiana Mardi Gras to Dallas. More than 400 people will attend a formal night of food, open bar, music, and dancing at The Old Red Courthouse in Downtown Dallas. Proceeds benefit the North Texas Food Bank. Costumes and masks are invited. The affair is cocktail attire – black tie optional. It’s about $80 per person which includes complimentary drinks, heavy hors d’eourves and live music from the David Whiteman Experience. Tickets are only available at www.krewederoux.com.
Dallas Mardi Gras Erotique Art Show at the Velvet Curtain – 1825 S. Good Latimer – February 12th come prepared to party and to be entertained! The evening will include burlesque dancers, a jazz singer, and a DJ. Cocktail hour begins at 8:00 pm and performances begin at 9:00. Buttery Nipples will be the specialty complimentary drink and wine, to whet your appetite, will also be complimentary! Cost: $10 online, $20 at the door. This is a swinger’s club, just so you know…
Dodie’s – A few years ago the Greenville Ave. location was your only option, but Dodie’s is thriving and has taken over the old Hurricane Grill spot and they have several other locations in North Texas, serving up authentic Cajun food and some of the best mud-bugs in the DFW area. They’re always having a good time during Mardi Gras! http://www.dodiestexas.com/index.htm
House of Blues Mardi Gras Celebration – February 8th – 12th – HOB is hosting a week of Mardi Gras events beginning on the 8th with the “Ninjapalooza Party Gras”, starring the Graceland Ninjas and culminating with Cowboy Mouth’s “Mardi Gras Extravaganza” with Derek Evans and Back To Blue. http://www.houseofblues.com/venues/clubvenues/dallas/promo/mardigras/
KNON’s 12th Annual Mardi Gras Gumbo Party – Sunday February 10th from 5-9 pm at Poor David’s Pub 1313 South Lamar St. A traditional gumbo cook-off with this year’s participants including The Alligator Cafe and DJ Louisiana Red, Crawdad’s, newcomers David’s Seafood Grill, The Free Man Cajun Café, and Jack’s Southern Comfort. Each will be doling out samples, and then YOU will decide who has the “Best Gumbo” in Dallas. The tasting goes from 5-7 pm or ‘til the gumbo runs out. Live music by the world renowned Papa LeBeaux’s Jazz Gumbo Band. Advance tickets available online and at Bill’s Records and Forever Young Records. http://www.knon.org/events/12th-annual-knon-mardi-gras-gumbo-party-sunday-february-10th
Krewe of Barkus – Dress up your pooch and head to historic Downtown McKinney for an afternoon of Mardi Gras fun. Patterned after the legendary Mystic Krewe of Barkus in New Orleans, which helps abused and abandoned dogs. There is a dog parade, a costume contest, canine training, exercise demonstrations and more. Owners and their canine companions dress according to the theme each year (this year it’s animated characters). Kids can enter “Animated” floats and join the parade. For more info call the McKinney Main Street Office at 972-547-2660.
Lake Dallas Mardi Gras – This years’ Lake Dallas Mardi Gras celebration is set for Fat Tuesday, February 12th on Main Street from 5 to 9 pm. The parade rolls at 5:30 pm — it’s the Greatest Free Event… in Denton County. The “Nawlin’s Gumbo Kings” will be the headline entertainment with their New Orleans jazz . www.lakedallas.com/mardigras.html
Mardi Gras Texas Style – Held on February 16th from noon ‘til midnight in the Automobile building at Fair Park, this country music-themed Mardi Gras Party goes on rain or shine. There are four stages with a huge number of acts throughout the day (28 bands total!). The Randy Rogers and Josh Abbot Bands will end the night. Tickets are $35-40. Their somewhat lame website is http://mardigrasdfw.com/home-page.
Nate’s – 14951 Midway Rd. Addison, TX 75001 – February 21, 2012 – Nate’s has been one of our Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday headquarters for many years. It’s crowded, loud, there’s live music, beads, booze, an occasional boob, and it’s a lot like the French Quarter! Get there very early for a seat. http://www.natesseafood.com/index.html
The Quarter – 15201 Addison Rd. Addison, TX 75001 – Just North of Belt Line. Mardi Gras party on the 12th. Full menu served until 1:30 am. This is a French Quarter themed bar and restaurant. With a nice patio.
With all of these new MG options popping up, Dallasites should be able to get a hint of the infectious spirit that is Mardi Gras. So get out there and start a Krewe, have some drinks, party with friends and strangers, flash your things, get some beads, stop a fight, get a King Cake, share a slice, and make the one who gets the little plastic baby pay for the drinks! Aieeeeeee! Laissez les bons temps rouler (let the good times roll)!