Contrary to popular lore, Christian countries of Europe were celebrating Mardi Gras long before the French-Canadian explorer Sieur d'lberville even discovered New Orleans. According to the Fattuesday.com website, New Orleans began officially celebrating the pre-lent period with masked balls and rowdy parades in the early 1700s. Apparently, in 1806 the parties had gotten so out of hand, the celebrations were banned. And while records show that the laws were summarily ignored, Mardi Gras wasn't declared legal again until 1826.
Named after a cemetery in the Big Easy (the "Rest" stands for "final rest," not "restaurant"), Oddfellows Rest was opened by New Orleans native Liz Stirling along with her partner Jerry Maher seven years ago. Located at 80 River St. in Hoboken, the establishment has hosted a Mardi Gras celebration every year.
This year the party will begin on Thursday, Feb. 22 with a Bacardi-hosted Hurricane night featuring the live New Orleans Zydeco band The Voodudes and it will run through Fat Tuesday, Feb. 27, when the nine-piece New Orleans rhythm and blues band Gumbo Ya Ya performs live.
"Each night represents a different type of New Orleans music," Stirling said. "It's better than any bar in New Orleans. I always tell people it's the best free party in town, because we give away so much free stuff." The "stuff" includes $2,000 worth of beads, T-shirts, feather masks, rubber alligators and other assorted throw trinkets.
Each year Stirling also builds a float as the centerpiece of Oddfellows Rest's Mardi Gras festivities. On Fat Tuesday, the bar will even select a king and queen. The royalty, selected out of a hat from a pool of regulars, will be greeted by over-sized posters of themselves and will get free drinks all night.
"This is my busiest night of the year," said Stirling. "The Irish bars have St. Patrick's Day. This is our holiday."
Oddfellows Rest's Mardi Gras Schedule
Thursday, Feb. 22: Baccardi Hurricane Night with Live New Orleans zydeco and rhythm and blues band The Voodudes.
Friday, Feb. 23: Amstel Heineken presents The Crescent City Maulers.
Saturday, Feb. 24: Red Stripe presents The Blue People.
FAT TUESDAY, Feb. 27: Budweiser presents Gumbo Ya Ya, a live nine-piece New Orleans rhythms and blues band.