The Pre-Lent Vent
The noise! The colors! The debauchery! Mardi Gras is known far and wide as a day of indulgence, with New Orleans as party central. French for “Fat Tuesday,” Mardi Gras marks the end of the Carnival season in the city and has broader significance as a last hurrah for Christians who observe Lent, a period of fasting and self-denial. This year Mardi Gras falls on Tuesday, Feb. 12, with Ash Wednesday the following day.
Mardi Gras has always been a life fixture for Briana Prevost, an arts journalism graduate student at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications who hails from New Orleans. This time of year, Prevost’s hometown is usually steeped in the revelry that leads up to Mardi Gras. “It’s the strangest thing in the world to be up here where no one is celebrating it” in the way that she is accustomed to, she says. So it came as a surprise when Prevost heard the “Mardi Gras Mambo” booming through a Wegmans supermarket and saw King Cake for sale during a recent trip.
King Cake is a key tradition, Prevost explains. True to New Orleans’ Catholic roots, the Carnival season begins on Jan. 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. At that time, bakeries begin to sell King Cakes, which are decorated with Mardi Gras colors—purple, green and gold to represent justice, faith and power, respectively—and have a tiny plastic baby inside. The cakes are served at parties throughout the season, and whoever gets the slice with the baby traditionally provides the next King Cake.
Beads thrown to revelers along parade routes are another iconic Mardi Gras tradition. But a common misconception has to do with how attendees get those beads. “No one flashes who is from New Orleans,” Prevost says of the practice of women baring their breasts to get beads. “They’re tourists, because that’s what tourists hear, that the city’s all crazy and that’s what you’ve got to do to get beads, but that’s the furthest thing from the truth.”
Another false impression is that Mardi Gras is not family-friendly. Prevost rejects that notion, citing the large number of children’s and daytime parades. “I don’t like how a lot of people are like, ‘Oh, I can’t go down there with my kids,’” she says. “Of course you can go down there with your kids. It’s not specifically geared toward nakedness and drunkenness.”
Dressing up, however, is an essential part of Mardi Gras. “You can’t show up on Mardi Gras Day dressed as yourself,” Prevost explains. “You have to have a costume, crazy makeup, anything that resembles purple, green and gold.” Even though she won’t be in New Orleans, Prevost plans to keep the Mardi Gras spirit alive by dressing up on Fat Tuesday. “It’s a celebration like no other. Nowhere else are we so rooted in French tradition that we’re still continuing with the Carnival season. . . but I’m bringing a little bit to Syracuse,” she said. “Just a little.”
Those looking to find a bit of Mardi Gras spirit of their own in Central New York have a few options. In the two weeks leading up to Mardi Gras, Wegmans stores throughout the area have decorated and are offering a range of Cajun- and Creole-inspired cuisine, as well as the traditional King Cake.
Interested in more than a taste of Mardi Gras flavor? Here are a few events to get you started.
Turning Stone Resort and Casino
Turning Stone begins its series of Mardi Gras-themed activities with Show Me Your Beads!, an 18-and-older nighttime party at the Verona resort’s Lava Nightclub on Thursday, Feb. 7. Masks and costumes are encouraged, and there will be bead giveaways. The 21-and-over crowd can return to Lava on Saturday night, Feb. 9, for Mardi Gras Carnival, featuring more beads, masks and New Orleans-style street performers. Cover charge for each party is $20. Fat Tuesday itself will feature Mardi Gras Mayhem giveaways and drawings between 1 and 4 p.m. in the casino. For more information, visit turningstone.com.
A Weekend of Wine
Wine enthusiasts, prepare yourselves for grapevine gusto on Saturday, Feb. 9, and Sunday, Feb. 10, when the Cayuga Lake Wine Trail hosts its 11th annual Mardi Gras. All of the trail’s 16 wineries are participating, with four serving as starting points: Americana Vineyards, 4367 E. Covert Road, Interlaken; King Ferry Winery, 658 Lake Road, King Ferry; Long Point Winery, 1485 Lake Road, Aurora; and Swedish Hill Vineyard, 4565 Route 414, Romulus. Participants will receive beads and recipe cards at each winery, as well as opportunities to win prizes and partake in a scavenger hunt. The event runs 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. Tickets are $25 in advance, $30 at the door, and $20 for designated drivers. For more information, visit cayugawinetrail.com.
Mardi Gras for a Cause
Several organizations are holding Mardi Gras-themed fundraisers that promise family-friendly fun. Central New York Tomato Fest hosts its first Mardi Gras fundraiser Saturday, Feb. 9, at the Emerson Park Pavilion,
6914 E. Lake Road, Auburn. The event includes live music, raffles and a
silent auction. Tickets are $10, and donations of non-perishable food
items or can openers are encouraged to support local food pantries. To
learn more, visit
Join in a Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper at Grace Episcopal Church, 110 Oswego Road, Baldwinsville, on Tuesday, Feb. 12, beginning at 5 p.m. All-you-can-eat pancakes, applesauce and sausage are on the menu. Tickets are $6 for adults and $3 for children younger than 10, with sales benefiting the Baldwinsville Food Pantry. Contact the church office at 635-3214 for more information.
If a lively New Orleans-themed night is more your style, Sarah House holds its fourth annual Home Away From Home Fat Tuesday fundraiser on Tuesday, Feb. 12, 6 to 9 p.m., at Onondaga Community College’s Gordon Student Center Great Room. Morning-drive deejays Ted Long and Amy Robbins from WNTQ-FM 93.1 will emcee, and the event will feature a variety of Cajun- and Creole-inspired food and entertainment, plus live and silent auctions. Tickets are $75 per person and benefit Sarah House, which houses families and patients who are away from home for extended medical treatment. To learn more, visit sarahhouse.org.
Out on the Town
Some look to Mardi Gras as the time to indulge in a few drinks, and local bars know it. On Tuesday, Feb. 12, Shifty’s Bar & Grill, 1401 Burnet Ave., features live music by Los Blancos from 2 to 5 p.m. and Tim Herron Corporation from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Higies Iron Horse Saloon, 2721 Brewerton Road, Mattydale, will offer hourly drink specials throughout the night and entertainment by JP Shaggy beginning at 7 p.m.
CNY Pride will host a Mardi Gras Benefit & Show on Friday, Feb. 8, at Trexx Nightclub, 319 N. Clinton St. The event, hosted by Madison Devine and Frita Lay, features prizes, music and many favorite performers. Doors open at 8 p.m. and the show begins at 10 p.m. The first 50 people will receive free Mardi Gras masks and the first 100 people receive free big beads, with more free Mardi Gras beads for everyone. Admission is $5 for 21 and older, and $7 for 18 and older. All proceeds benefit the upcoming CNY Pride Parade and Festival, slated for June 15. Find more information at trexxonline.com.
It’s Chili Outside
Warm your heart and your belly at the Thornden Park Association’s annual Chili Bowl Festival fundraiser on Saturday, Feb. 16, noon to 3 p.m. The fun takes place at the park’s Field House, accessible at the Ostrom Avenue entrance.
On the menu will be four different meat chilis and one vegetarian chili, all made from scratch. In honor of the 30th anniversary of the association, this year’s chili fest will be birthday-themed, including raffled prizes for local restaurants wrapped as birthday presents and the debut of an original green chili recipe inspired by the park’s open greenspace.
The festival will again happen concurrently with the CNY Disc Golf Association’s Ice Bowl. The tournament is free, but players are encouraged to bring canned goods to benefit the Salvation Army’s Food Pantry. Thornden Park will be outfitted as an 18-hole disc golf course where players will throw plastic discs into baskets around the park. Registration for the Ice Bowl will be from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. in the Field House, and the tournament starts at 10 p.m. For more Ice Bowl information, call 399-0441.
Lyn Simmer, treasurer of the Thornden Park Association, says the group hopes to match the $2,000 amount they raised during last year’s festival. Funds collected go toward continuing improvements to the park. “We are currently involved in refurbishing some exercise stations around the park,” says Simmer. Proceeds from the 2013 event will go toward maintaining the gardens, replacing park plantings, purchasing mulch and covering any costs of new bike racks that won’t be covered by a UNSAAC (University Neighborhood Service Advisory Committee) grant.
Simmer says the festival will be preparing 125 quarts of chili, so don’t be afraid to go for a seconds or thirds. Attendees can purchase chili by the bowl for $4 or buy a sampler of smaller portions of the four meat chilis only (sorry, the vegetarian option is not available as part of the sampler) for $6. Other menu items include cornbread, home-brewed root beer, coffee and hot cocoa, all available for $1. For more information, visit thorndenpark.org.
Benefit for The Beagles
Competitive cooking team Hellfire BBQ promises a saucy afternoon by contributing their cooking prowess to Hearts for Hounds, a day of food and fun to benefit the local dog rescue group Helping Hounds. The event will be held at the American Legion, 6996 E. Taft Road, East Syracuse, on Sunday, Feb. 10, 1 to 5 p.m.
A minimum donation of $15 for adults and $5 for children allows patrons to choose from juicy pulled pork sandwiches, quarter-chickens, homemade macaroni and cheese and barbecue baked beans, plus a dinner salad donated by Stella’s Diner.
Former Helping Hounds volunteer and event organizer Gerri Dowling says they hope to raise $3,000 to help keep the struggling animal rescue open. “They almost shut their doors in December,” says Dowling. “A friend of mine adopted a dog from there and we thought, ‘Man that’s just not right. That place can’t close.’”
Performances from local music acts Slow Ride and Eleven and numerous raffles will take place throughout the night, including a door prize for a 20-person catered dinner from Hellfire BBQ, based in Syracuse.
Tickets can be purchased at Helping Hounds headquarters, 6606 Kinne Road, East Syracuse, from the Hellfire BBQ website, hfbbq.com, or by calling 877-5778.
Heart to Heart
Mardi Gras isn’t the only February occasion for merriment, as Valentine’s Day-themed activities are also right around the corner. On Friday, Feb. 15, 7 to 11 p.m., a Valentine’s Dinner Dance takes place at Justin’s Tuscan Grill, 6400 Yorktown Circle, East Syracuse, starting with dinner ($30) until 8:30 p.m., followed by dancing to oldies from the DJ Twins, alias platter-spinners Suzie Q and Barbara Ann. There will also be optional overnight accommodations available next door at the Baymont Inn (formerly the Hampton Inn), which includes a king-size bedroom and breakfast for $45. For reservations, call 437-1461, Ext. 202.