Mardi Gras is our most un-American of holidays, which is why it is the best of our holidays. America has a long history of being uptight and too proper. It’s a Puritan hangover that has lasted for 400 years, the legacy of the religious extremists who settled in the cold misery of New England and gave us a guilt-laden view of life. That is, when they weren’t burning women for being witches.
Enter the Gulf Coast, where the white settlers came from France, not dreary England, and had party in their DNA. They brought Mardi Gras to the New World – by way of Mobile, Ala. Yes, Alabama brought you Mardi Gras. Let the irony of that reality sink in.
We know, you’re in shock. It’s like finding out Billy Graham created halter tops. While New Orleans has the most famous Mardi Gras, it did not have the first. Little ol’ Mobile (pronounced MO-beel), a seaport settled by the French more than three centuries ago, held the first Mardi Gras parade in the New World in 1703, 15 years before New Orleans.
Understand, Mardi Gras is a Christian holiday. It’s about getting your ya-yas out before the deprivation of Lent. But while Puritans thought ya-yas were the devil’s work, the French believed them to be part of being human.
Fast forward to 2018. Mardi Gras consists of approximately two months of parades, King Cakes, second-line bands, drum lines, “Throw Me Something Mister,” beads, MoonPies and booze, from New Orleans to Pensacola. Fun fact: The boobs-for-beads aspect of Mardi Gras that you’ve probably heard about is about one percent of the celebration.
It’s not a drunken swarm of vomiting tourists unless you go to Bourbon Street. Everywhere else, it’s a street party where families are out, people are in costumes, and everybody’s drinking. Put Mardi Gras on your bucket list. You haven’t lived until you’ve danced in the street with a pound of plastic beads on your neck.
Until you can get there, celebrate Mardi Gras with a traditional Mardi Gras drink. Wherever you are, the toast will taste better if you order some proper beads and wear them while drinking.
This classic whiskey cocktail has been around since 1838, when a New Orleans guy who owned the 19th-century version of a drug store – a pharmacist – formulated the recipe (you know, medicine was questionable in an earlier age, but a lot more fun). A sazerac is not for amateurs. It has absinthe in it, for God’s sake, the stuff that in large quantities makes you see iguanas on the ceiling. Van Gogh, perhaps the most famous absinthe drinker, whacked off his own ear while under the influence of the Green Fairy. The sazerac is a drink for pros who have perfected the art of keeping their liver’s age within 10 years of their chronological age. Here’s a modern recipe that takes a lighter touch with the absinthe. Because you need both of your ears.
This potent tropical concoction is the touristy essence of the French Quarter and a staple at Pat O’Brien’s. There, Ohio bankers on holiday and moms on girls’ weekends gleefully chug Hurricanes, as they cannot taste the four ounces of rum the drink contains (it’s 50-percent alcohol, folks). Two hours and four Hurricanes later, those same bankers and moms, now knee-walking, New-Orleans-tourist drunk, tend to shatter their souvenir glasses. All that said, it’s a fun drink and so very Mardi Gras. Here’s a Hurricane recipe from Liquor.com. Use high-quality rum to give it some brow. And have just one. Remember, two of them will put 1 cup of rum into your body.
The classic hair-of-the-dog hangover cure. This is what those Ohio bankers should be drinking after a night at Pat O’s. It has vegetables in it, tomato juice, celery, olives, maybe even a bean, so it’s almost nutritious. This one calls for a crawfish-tail garnish, because protein. It will be just fine crawfish-tail-less, but go for it if you’re into authentic Gulf Coast.
Brandy Milk Punch
Gulf Coast locals make it through a couple of parades a week for nearly two months, and they still make it to work the next day. As the marathon-runners of party, they get a little boost with this New Orleans punch that mixes milk with brandy. Think of it as the Mardi Gras equivalent of a breakfast smoothie.
There you go. Give your soul some Mardi Gras, cher (it’s a Creole term meaning “darling,” not a reference to Sonny’s better half). Laissez les bons temps rouler!