mardi gras

Happy Mardi Gras 2023! Where to Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler in Chicago

Published on February 16, 2023

By Dave Lifton (@daveeatschicago)

For lovers of New Orleans culture all over the world, the day before Ash Wednesday is Mardi Gras, the conclusion of a season filled with parades and merriment that ushers in Lent. In 2023, Mardi Gras falls on Feb. 21st, and although Chicago is about 925 miles from New Orleans, there are enough happenings all over town to give locals a taste of the Big Easy. Read below to find out.

Time Out Market in Fulton Market is celebrating Mardi Gras all day, with drink specials and masks and beads. Beginning at 5:30 PM, they’ll have a beer tasting from Moor’s Beer and live music from the Tubad Kings of New Orleans.

One of the Chicago’s most acclaimed Southern restaurants, Andersonville’s Big Jones, is also starting Mardi Gras early. Their menus for weekend brunch, as well as lunch and dinner on Mardi Gras Day, features Creole/Cajun standards like shrimp & grits, boudin balls, cochon de lait, and gumbo z’herbes.

In Wicker Park, Ina Mae’s Tavern & Packaged Goods has something different planned for each of the five days leading up to Feb. 21st. There will be specials on Abita beer, frozen hurricanes, and other classic New Orleans cocktails; a five-course bayou dinner; and other food options. They’ll have live entertainment, including blues bands during brunch, drag and burlesque shows, and other bands. Ina Mae’s sister restaurant in Bucktown, Lottie’s, will have sazeracs and Ina Mae’s hurricanes for $10, as well as gumbo, Cajun shrimp tacos, and Cajun chicken sandwiches on Mardi Gras.

The Polish vein that runs through Chicago means that Fat Tuesday is traditionally devoted to paczkis. The New Orleans equivalent is king cake, a cinnamon brioche ring covered in purple, gold, and green sugar. Placed inside the cake is a plastic baby, and, per tradition, the person who finds it has to buy the cake for next year’s party. Smack Dab in Rogers Park is accepting pre-orders for a two-serving king cake, as well as 32 oz. portions of jambalaya and red beans & rice.

In Edgewater, Pearl’s Southern Comfort has expanded its menu of Cajun/Creole staples throughout February to include crawfish and shrimp étouffee, fried oyster po’boy, alligator bites, and beignets. You can also purchase king cakes from Gambino’s, a famous New Orleans bakery, and decorate them at home. As part of its Mardi Gras festivities, Pearl’s will be throwing a jazz brunch on Feb. 19th.

115 Bourbon Street in Merrionette Park is promising the “largest Mardi Gras celebration outside of NOLA.” They’ve booked two bands, the Smiley TIllmon Band and Hurricane Gumbo, beginning at 6:00 PM and will have New Orleans food and drink specials. The cost is $5 and reservations can be made through Eventbrite.

Other New Orleans-themed restaurants in Chicago include Storyville (River North), NOLA (Lakeview), and Daisy’s Po-boy and Tavern, a new Hyde Park sports bar from James Beard-winning chef Erick Williams.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a proper Mardi Gras without jazz. At the world-famous Green Mill in Uptown, traditional jazz band Chicago Cellar Boys will be holding down their regular Tuesday night slot. Trumpeter Mario Abney & the Windy City Ramblers are booked for two shows at Andy’s Jazz Club in River North.

But if jazz isn’t your speed, Reggie’s in the South Loop is devoted their weekly Tipsy Tuesday to Mardi Gras. Their menu will include po’boys, gumbo, and hurricanes. Greg Jacks & Brother Help, a local septet that plays New Orleans-style rhythm-and-blues and funk, will open for local jam band favorites Mr. Blotto.

Those wishing to partake in Mardi Gras festivities while raising money for causes have a couple of options. Sidetrack in Northalsted will earmark all proceeds from their Carnivale 3, a Mardi Gras Spectacular to The Legacy Project’s work in expanding Illinois’ public school curriculum to be more LGBTQ-inclusive. On Feb. 18th, the costume party will have Cajun food, circus performers, and a jazz band. The evening will conclude with a traditional New Orleans second line parade through Northalsted.

On the Saturday after Mardi Gras, Feb. 25th, the Idell-McCarthy Foundation is hosting their inaugural Mardi Gras for Mental Health benefit at the Stan Mansion in Logan Square to raise funds for the foundation’s mental health and education programs, and will feature a dinner of New Orleans staple dishes, with live music from Mario Abney & the Windy City Ramblers and an appearance by the Uptown Warriors, a Mardi Gras Indian tribe from New Orleans.

Although Mardi Gras is a colorful and joyous celebration full of food and music, it also consists of sacred traditions that go back hundreds of years. The Skokie Heritage Center is exploring those traditions through crafts and games on Feb. 18 at 1:00 PM. The cost is $5 for children and $7 for adults.

Most of these events either require or recommend reservations and advanced ticketing. Be sure to check the websites for the most up-to-date information and act soon.

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