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Mardi Gras in Chicago

Fat Tuesday celebrations are a week-long affair.
Monday Feb 23, 2009.     By Karl Klockars
Centerstage Chicago Nightlife City Guide Arts

Celebrate Fat Tuesday at one of these spots in Chicago. Celebrate Fat Tuesday at one of these spots in Chicago.
Despite the fact that our city is more than 900 miles from New Orleans, the Crescent City’s biggest celebration manages to wind its way up the mighty Mississippi every year, resulting in a Cajun and Creole explosion of Chicago Mardi Gras activity. Of course, any reason to get drunk on rum, listen to jazz and generally make a fool of oneself is usually not a hard sell in this city. So where are the best places to get purple, gold and green beaded all over (without crossing the Mason-Dixon line)? Glad you asked.

115 Bourbon Street
It's only right that this New Orleans-inspired bar would host one of the biggest Mardi Gras celebrations in the area. On Friday, February 20, an all-gender-inclusive array of male and female impersonators take the stage, featuring shows from Cher, Joan Jett, Annie Lennox, Christina Aguilera, Beyonce and a semi-fem tribute to the Blues Brothers. On Fat Tuesday proper, enjoy $3 you-call-it drinks including top-shelf liquor, shots, beers and more to keep your mid-week revelry reasonably priced. Live entertainment includes a mix of cooking and crooning from the Rock 'n' Roll Chef, as well as cover tunes all night from Dot Dot Dot and Planet Groove.

Chuck's Southern Comforts Cafe
Chuck's is always a great place to chow down on all things Cajun, but the man behind it really goes all out for Mardi Gras. Chuck's party has gotten so big in recent years, one restaurant can't hold the festivities; instead, the festivities – presented by Southern suds-makers Abita Beer and Dixie Beer - will be held at the Burbank Manor Hall, 6345 W. 79th. The two-day (February 20-21) celebration includes a lineup of blues and zydeco bands, a huge menu created in Chuck's kitchen (including an on-site pig smoker, no standard buffet sitting around here) and a huge array of specialty drinks like Hurricanes, juleps and margaritas. It's always a good sign when the organizers tell you to plan ahead and get hotel rooms early; partiers at this bash are going to be holding nothing back. Tickets are $50 and cover food and entertainment; drinks are still on you.

Blue Bayou
A touch of New Orleans in the heart of Lakeview, Blue Bayou will be dedicating a full two weeks of partying to the Mardi Gras holiday. It will serve gumbo and jambalaya and bring in the beads and Hurricanes, of course – but Blue Bayou is also serving Bayou Grenades, high-potency cocktails introduced at the Louisiana World's Fair. Other attractions during the week include burlesque dancers on the bar on Thursdays and jazz on Sundays.

Jake Melnick's Corner Tap
With so many local bars and restaurants borrowing from NOLA for a night or two, wouldn't it be nice if someone gave something back? Presumably that's the thought process behind Jake Melnick's Mardi Gras Celebration - an all-you-can-eat-and-drink blowout for $30 per person, with a portion of the proceeds going to the Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund. The Melnick's kitchen will power out Cajun-inspired dishes for all attendees, but the real draw is the beer pairings - New Orleans brewery Abita is best known for its Purple Haze and Turbodog, and Melnick's is serving both of those along with more hard-to-find Abita beers like their Abbey Ale and Jackamo IPA. One could go somewhere else and get plastered on hurricanes all night, or you could plan ahead, purchase your tickets now and know that between all the feasting and beer "tasting," you're at least doing something slightly altruistic.

Much like everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day, when Mardi Gras comes around even the Irish go Cajun. This otherwise-Irish joint in North Center celebrates on Tuesday proper, serving up gumbo, jalapeno cornbread, blackened salmon, po' boys and Cajun crab cakes in addition to cheap barbecue and buffalo wings. Zydeco music will be pumped through the speakers and the ever-ubiquitous Mardi Gras beads will be distributed for whatever you choose to barter for them. Hurricanes, bombs and other NOLA-style drinks will be mixed up for $5, and if you're not too faded on rum to think, O'Donovans will be holding a Tuesday Trivia contest as well.

Carnivale is staying true to its name, planning a three-day blowout bash. The party starts the Sunday before Fat Tuesday with a family night including face painters, stilt walkers, masks and beads for the kids and special "mocktails" for them as well. Monday night brings a masquerade ball in the full NOLA tradition, featuring $5 mojitos from around the world, complimentary masks and beads as well as the presence of the Bacardi Girls and a Red Carpet Spectacular hosted by Bobby Pins. It all concludes on Tuesday with live music and samba dancing. Each night will feature a full special Mardi Gras menu from executive chef Mark Mendez.

Kit Kat Lounge and Supper Club
Every night at the Kit Kat is a party, so why should Mardi Gras be any different? Choosing to focus more on rum than anything else, the lounge will offer half-price martinis featuring Cruzan flavored rums, as well as other Fat Tuesday rum cocktails for $5.50. In addition to the normal menu options, you’ll find some New Orleans-style items as well. Kit Kat Lounge is well known for its drag-queen entertainment, and on Fat Tuesday, Diva Traci Ross takes the stage at 7:30 p.m.

In case you were fiending for a blowout in the heart of Boystown, take a trek a little south from the Kit Kat to Sidetrack, where the party starts at 8 p.m. on Fat Tuesday and goes all night. Get dolled up and pile into the no-cover celebration with performance art, dancers, body painting, face painting, drink specials and the general craziness that Mardi Gras inspires. Warning: Sidetrack fills up quick for the party, so start early and enjoy yourself.

Most places preparing for Fat Tuesday are getting prepared to pour Hurricanes and dole out jambalaya like everyone else. Wicker Park's Piece, one of the few microbreweries in the city, will instead invite a number of breweries to serve up their takes on barleywine. Barleywine is a style of beer originated in England and is typically higher in alcohol than your usual brews, as well as being slightly fruity and heartier than mainstream ales. Check the website for details on breweries in attendance. Live music and pizza will be on offer as well.

If you want to get your dose of Cajun cooking and be done with the whole event quickly, Yats is your place. Why? Because the restaurant's cafeteria-style take on Creole cooking will ensure that you get the full NOLA experience swiftly, and for not a lot of dough. Etouffee, red beans and rice, white bean chili and jambalaya are each served up with a couple sides off the chalkboard menu for $5.50 (for a regular size). Yats' staff promises a Mardi Gras special or two, but otherwise it's full speed ahead as usual.

Heaven on Seven (Magnificent Mile)
Chicago's hometown Cajun chain of restaurants, headed up by the Jimmy Bannos clan, will of course be pulling out all the stops for Mardi Gras. Starting with live music the weekend before and continuing through Fat Tuesday, Heaven on Seven will be serving a special Mardi Gras menu including King Cakes flown in directly from New Orleans. This is a traditional dish where a plastic baby or other trinket is baked into the cake, and the diner who finds the trinket is said to have good luck for the upcoming year. HOS will be awarding T-shirts, dinners for four and gallons of gumbo to lucky patrons who find the baby.

Individual outlets may also be planning their own additional entertainment – the Rush Street outpost will be featuring face painters and tarot-card readers, for instance – but the traditional Cajun flair that Heaven On Seven has been known for will only be amped up, decorated and magnified.

Dunlays on Clark
Chef Andrew Easterday will cook up some Mardi Gras menu specials for $10 each, including gumbo, jambalaya and red beans and rice. You'll be able to drink New Orleans-style, too, with $5 Hurricanes and $3 Big Easy shots (gin, rum, vodka, melon liqueur); $20 bottles of wine are available, too. Expect plenty of beads.

It won't be hard to get fat on Tuesday at this River North Mexican restaurant, which will offer your choice of an appetizer, entree and dessert for $20 from 5-10 p.m. If you're doing your celebrating during the day, stop in for the all-you-can-eat lunch buffet for $10.95 per person from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. And because this is a time for true celebrating, you can get $5 Myers Rum cocktails and $3 bottles of Corona Light all day and all night.

Timothy O'Toole's
With good food, cheap drinks and Mardi Gras-inspired decor, Timothy's comes close to replicating the party-filled event down south. Chef Sean O'Brien is cooking up some New Orleans-style specials that include gumbo, po' boy sandwiches, hush puppies and fried okra. Drink specials include Hurricanes for $6 and pitchers of Heineken and Amstel Light for $14.

Stretch Run
Hoping to throw the hottest Cajun invasion in the city, Stretch Run is celebrating Mardi Gras with bead giveaways, Corona specials and raffles from Feb. 20-24. Enjoy its Cajun-inspired food specials that include chicken jambalaya, crawfish fettuccini, crab cakes and a shrimp-okra creole combo. Other than Coronas and Pacifico beers ($3), drink specials include the $5 Hurricane and $6 "Storm of the Century," a mixture of multiple types of rum, vodka, gin, chambord, triple sec and orange.

The Fifty/50
On Fat Tuesday, this upscale sports bar in Wicker Park is transforming into Bourbon Street, complete with stiff drinks, a balcony and a $100 gift certificate for the lovely lady who has the most beads at the end of the night. The kitchen will be preparing fried oysters, oyster shooters and The Fifty/50's own homemade Louisiana hot sauce to add a little authenticity to the celebration. Half-priced priced appetizers will be served from 4-7 p.m.

Division Street becomes Bourbon Street
The weather might be the only major difference between this Chicago Mardi Gras event and the real thing as Division Street tries to replicate Bourbon Street. The Second Line Brass Band, accompanied by street freaks and stilt walkers, will be greeting visitors and playing authentic New Orleans sounds along the entire street, spreading Mardi Gras cheer and tossing out beads. With beads and booze aplenty,
Bootlegger's kicks off the event at 6 p.m. with a listen to the acoustic styling of Reverie, downing Malibu Hurricanes (keep your cup because there are $5 refills at other bars on Division), and their annual New Orleans Dance Off. At 7 p.m., The Original Mother's (right across the street) are hosting local favorites Local H and A Birdsong Valentine along with $4 Shiner Bock and door prizers. If you're more into club music, She-nannigans is hosting it's "Dance Hall Mardi Gras," a party that should last all night.

The Pony
This modern-day saloon and bar is hosting its own Mardi Gras celebration on Saturday with $4 Heinekens and $5 16 oz. Hurricanes. The Pony will also be serving a special Cajun-inspired menu which includes a bourbon pork tenderloin stack, southern pecan pie and New Orleans gumbo.

Merkle's Bar and Grill
If a heavy drink is enough to celebrate Mardi Gras for you, then look no further. Merkle's "Friday After Work Party" (from 6-9 p.m.) includes give-a-ways and $4 Absolute drinks. Stay later from 9-11 p.m. and you'll be rewarded with free Absolute samples. The following night offers more of the same--partying and booze. Their SoCo Mardi Gras Party (from 9-11 p.m.) includes $5 Hurricanes and $4 SoCo drinks.

So what if it's in the suburbs? Seating 700 and displaying huge tanks of live lobsters, Pappadeaux is considered one of the best Cajun cooking spot this side of the Mississippi. It's only appropriate for them to host an extended, 5-day Mardi Gras celebration filled with New Orleans music, face painters, beads and, of course, food and drink specials. Pappadeaux will be serving Louisiana-style favorites like blackened opelousas fillet, crawfish and shrimp fondeaux, and seafood gumbo. Their specialty drink menu includes their signature cocktail, the Swampthing, a multi-layered frozen drink with layers of raspberry liqueur, frozen Hurricane, frozen margarita and a layer of melon liqueur.

Dick's Last Resort
Dick's hosts its infamous Mardi Gras celebration on from 7:30-11:30 p.m. at its Marina City Towers location. It promises loads of good grub, cheap booze and live music by The Project (with no cover charge). The featured drink is a SoCo Hurricane on da rocks ($2.75) and a Best Costume contest. In honor of Fat Tuesday, the person with the best costume wins double his or her weight in cash.

Fat Cat
You can eat and drink like a Louisianan all night long at this Uptown bar, and help out real Louisianans in the process. Fat Cat will donate a portion of the proceeds from every $4 Abita beer sold on Fat Tuesday to the Louisiana Disaster Recovery Foundation (the Bayou State brewery's offerings include Purple Haze, Turbo Dog, Jockamo and Amber Ale). There will also be an all-you-can-eat buffet ($7.95/person) with a crawfish boil, po' boys, jambalaya and king cakes.

If you really want to party with a purpose, head to Crobar on Saturday, February 21 for the Debonair Mardi Gras Ball 2009. DJs Tony Arzadon and Tomeeo will spin all night in the Bourbon Street-themed space, and by paying the suggested $10 donation at the door (tickets can also be ordered in advance), you'll get access to an hour-and-a-half-long hosted cocktail reception courtesy of Kilo Kai rum. One hundred percent of your donation will go to Meals on Wheels Chicago, which supports the unmet hunger needs of Chicago seniors.

Durty Nellie's
Rocker Rick Saucedo plays at 7 p.m. and Live Band Karaoke takes over at 9:30 ($5 for both events). Also enjoy $2 Bud and Bud Light drafts, $4 hurricanes and a Cajun-themed menu.

Usually, Tuesdays are Industry Nights at Lumen, but things will be a little different this week, thanks to Mardi Gras. Resident DJ Just Joey spins along with The House Moguls. There will also be $5 Jameson and Corzo shots on offer.

Get fat on the $6 taco plate at this Lincoln Park lounge, then wash it all down with $4 Hurricanes, $2 sangria, and $4 SoCo Limes. Party favors, too...whatever that means.

Duke's Alehouse and Kitchen
The celebration starts tonight at Duke's ($3 Rum Runners, Hurricanes and Great Lakes Burning River drafts), but goes all week (through March 1, the Crystal Lake bar offers $5 Rum Runners and Hurricanes, $3 Great Lakes Burning River drafts and $1 Duke's Juice shots). Plus, there are great food specials like andouille sausage fritters, gumbo and jambalaya.


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