There are two kinds of people in the world: those who revere the season and revel in Carnival, and everyone else.
There is no in-between. Either you get it, or you leave town. For those who don’t know, which includes most of the population of the United States, they do not come close to comprehending the breadth, the depth, the length and the intensity of the season. They have never properly experienced what it means to give it all up to joy, laughter and a couple of drinks. They do not realize what it means to party with about a million of your best friends, getting into costume, and following long traditions of seasonal adult diversions.
This city, which built its reputation on amazing cuisine, suddenly becomes ordinary in that respect. During the Carnival season (sometimes referred to mistakenly as Mardi Gras) a good meal is secondary to music, dancing, and meeting friends to catch a parade or just people-watch.
And all along the way, adult beverages are very much in vogue. There are interesting challenges that comes with enjoyment, however. Veteran parade goers know the drill. You can bring drinks to a parade but then you have weight and you have no place to go to take care of “business.”
Bar and restaurant people all post signs on their door noting restrooms are for customers. If you decide to save a few nickels and haul your own, they don’t want you in their establishment taking advantage of their facilities. And the NO Police tolerate absolutely no “funny” business in public. Sure, a lot of people, mostly guys, get away with this approach but really, people, it’s gross.
So plan on spending a few bucks on beverage purchases and then make use of the secondary privilege your purchase has earned. Another hint: go to a restaurant or bar not on the parade route. Walk a block or two away from the parade. Most folks won’t and you will have an easier time of it. Just plan a bit further ahead.
And that situation usually means that fine wine is not in the equation. Beer is the best answer to the "what-to-drink" question at the parades. The issue with beer is that unless you are happy to carry around a suitcase full of the stuff, you are mostly limited to the Big Beer companies. Nothing wrong with that, but not terribly sexy or statement-making.
If you are not a beer lover, default to a really easy to make cocktail, like a gin and tonic. You may want to forego any cocktail that has in excess of three ingredients. Way too much trouble, plus there is going to be too much ice in the drink and not enough drink as a result. Oh, did I mention that during parades and Carnival festivities they are expensive.
I love Champagne at a parade but the bottles are not light and they seem to disappear very fast. You can surprise yourself at how much you can drink during the course of a Carnival parade. Seems like one would be way too busy catching throws and finding friends on floats rather than drinking. But, no, a standard 750-ml. bottle of wine just evaporates right before your eyes.
The same thing happens to those spirit flasks. We all have them because we formerly could smuggle them into the Dome but since that facility has clamped down on outside beverages in sensible containers, now what do we do with the apparatus? While filling them up with a good Bourbon seems logical, the whiskey goes down us way too easily during the festivities and so does the volume in the flask.
The general rule is keep it simple, and keep it light. Patronize merchants in the area and enjoy spending time with your parade route neighbors. If you must eat, do it before you get on the parade route, or plan on dining afterwards. Street food is fine but those rigs that pile in here and take up space on the parade route don’t strike me as the safest bet. I know they are just folks not-from-here trying to make a living but the look of the environment inside the food storage/cooking/service rig does not scream sanitary. Patronize local merchants who, by the way will extend bathroom privileges (see above).
Importantly, be kind to those around you and obey everyone in authority. Don’t fight over throws. My rule here is that once any item has passed the elbow of my extended arm, it’s not mine.
Let me share with you another bonus of our Carnival celebration: parades are really beautiful and bands are really good. Sit back. You likely don’t need all of that stuff coming off the floats. Enjoy the parade for what it is, a great spectacle unique to our community that no one else in America can enjoy like you can. I’ll drink to that.
Read Happy Hour here on www.myneworleans.com every Wednesday, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed at www.wgso.com.