"It was the craziest day of my life," he said, recounting his experience riding on a float in one of New Orleans' famous parades.
This year, Maher will be spending Mardi Gras close by at Oddfellows, the Louisiana-style restaurant, which he has owned since 1993. The bar and restaurant, located on River St. in Hoboken, is named after a famous New Orleans cemetery.
Locals who can't get down to Bourbon St. to catch some beads can sample the celebration right in the Mile Square City starting on Feb. 16. That's when Oddfellows kicks off its annual Mardi Gras celebration, with bands, beads and masks - and even an authentic parade float.
There will be three funk and zydeco bands playing throughout the weekend. Zydeco, a fast-beat music infused with harmonica, accordion and wash board sounds, is a type of folk music unique to the Gulf Coast region. It was born through the fusion of Creole and Cajun influences.
Big Train, a horn-infused funk and soul band is scheduled to play this Friday, Feb. 16. The Noisy Neighbors, a Louisiana funk and roadhouse rock band plays on Saturday, Feb. 17.
Tuesday the celebration gets down right spicy with The Voodudes, a 7-piece Bourbon Street Roadhouse band, which will be cranking out fun and funky tunes.
Voodudes vocalist and percussionist Andy B. describes the band's sound as a mixture of funk, blues, zydeco, swing and singer-songwriter music.
"We're influenced by the whole variety of Golf Coast sounds. From Mississippi down to Texas," he said. The band has been playing Oddfellows' Mardi Gras party for over 12 years, and like the Hoboken restaurant, they are very close to authentic - despite being born and bread in the Northeast.
According to Andy B., the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper said that hearing the Voodudes was "like hearing long-lost cousins."
And that was a great compliment. "We've earned our beads without having to take our shirts off," said Andy B.
Who are you calling fat?
Most people know that the term Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday." What most don't know, is where the day got its name: it refers to Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent ). It represents the last chance for indulgence in partying, food and drink before Lent's solemn season of fasting. Mardi Gras refers to a specific day, but the term often encompasses a much longer period of celebrations leading up to Mardi Gras Day.
Carnival season usually lasts from Jan. 6, or epiphany, right through the last Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Although New Orleans' festival is the most famous, many other Roman Catholic countries follow the custom of holding carnivals for Mardi Gras, a tradition held since the Middle Ages. The carnivals usually last for a week or more before Mardi Gras itself. Some of the most celebrated are held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Nice, France; Venice, Italy and the Canary Islands in Spain.
Letting the good times roll
The carnival season is marked by spectacular parades featuring floats, pageants, elaborate costumes, masked balls, and dancing in the streets. The parades in New Orleans are organized by carnival krewes who ride on floats tossing beads and other small giveaways called throws to the crowds.
Hoboken resident Damien Dimunzio comes to Oddfellows even when it isn't Mardi Gras. He was at the bar last week and described last year's festivities. "I've never been to New Orleans but I can say that there is a lot of camaraderie and a general festive atmosphere here," said Dimunzio.
He said he celebrated Mardi Gras at Oddfellows last year and will probably do it again this year. Said Dimunzio, "It was almost too much fun. I had a tough time getting to work the next day."
Maher said that the authenticity adds to the enjoyment. "We're the only real New Orleans bar [in the area]," he said. "Other places have Mardi Gras parties, but it's not the same."
He said that around 200 people usually gather to celebrate Fat Tuesday at the Hoboken bar and restaurant. Many loyal patrons said that it's important to get there early because there is a line by 6 p.m.
"It's very authentic," said Hoboken resident and 10-year loyal customer Frank Keilly.
Last year, Keilly was crowned the bar's Mardi Gras King. Keilly, who has been to the Big Easy's famous festival, said that Oddfellows' party is even better than New Orleans.
"In New Orleans it's too much of a touristy thing," he said.
Food and fun
Besides beads and bands, they will be serving their famous "Hurricane" cocktail, which is a fruity rum punch. The restaurant will serve its traditional Cajun fare, including cornbread, catfish and etoufee, a savory stew made of chicken or crawfish, served over a bed of rice, and jambalaya, a hearty rice and meat stew.
Maher said that Mardi Gras at Oddfellows is also a family event. "Everyone [is welcome]. It is the friendliest, happiest crowd, compared to any other party."
Oddfellows will be celebrating Mardi Gras all week long at 80 River St. in Hoboken. For more information, visit www.oddfellowsrestaurant.com, or call (201) 656-9009. Comments on this piece can be sent to email@example.com