Nothing is ever normal when it comes to Carnival. But at least along the Uptown parade route there’s precedent.
Families have thrown the same parties for years, friends have staked out the same spots and the bars and eateries along the route have their own routines too, refined season after season until it’s almost business as usual.
It’s a much different story in the Marigny and Bywater, however, where some fast-growing parades have put these neighborhoods back on the map of Carnival time destinations.
This Saturday, Jan. 30, the neighborhoods welcome the Krewe of ‘tit Rex, the deliciously satirical procession of miniature shoebox “floats,” followed by the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus, with its sci-fi themed marching groups and contraption-style self-propelled floats.
Krewe du Vieux, which rolled last weekend, sets out from the Marigny and brings crowds, though most of its route is through its namesake neighborhood, the Vieux Carre. This weekend’s doubleheader is all about the downtown neighborhoods, and the bars and eateries on their routes are gearing up for the crowds.
“Krewe du Vieux and Chewbacchus are our biggest days now, whichever month they fall in, that becomes our busiest month,” said Nick Scramuzza, proprietor of Lost Love Lounge, a Marigny bar with a Vietnamese kitchen serving pho, spring rolls and banh mi.
“It’s like the old neighborhood parades, it’s the people setting up and waiting for the parade, it’s stuff I haven’t seen down here in decades,” said Scramuzza, who grew up in the neighborhood and recalls from his youth the days when parades lined up along St. Claude Avenue.
Nearby, the kitchen at Mimi’s in the Marigny normally serves its traditional Spanish tapas menu until 4 a.m. on weekends. With neighborhood parades at its doorstep, these vampiric hours tend to extend even later.
“It’s a great crowd, quality and quantity, great people having fun, so sometimes we just keep it rolling,” said Heathcliffe Hailey, chef at Mimi’s in the Marigny.
New on the Avenue
While the route for ‘tit Rex starts in St. Roch and wends through the Marigny, Chewbacchus is a longer procession, beginning in the Marigny and then extending down a 14-block stretch of St. Claude Avenue through the Ninth Ward.
Ryan Ballard, a co-founder of Chewbacchus, said the route was intentionally charted to return more Carnival festivities to this part of town. Last year was the first time Chewbacchus rolled on St. Claude Avenue, and while the crowds were not exactly as intense as, say, Orleans Avenue for Endymion, there was a solid showing all along the route. Many clustered around restaurants and bars.
If the spectacle of a Carnival parade on St. Claude Avenue is a new idea, so is the avenue’s identity as a dining destination. Few of the eateries along the avenue here are older than Chewbacchus itself.
Red’s Chinese first opened only a few months before last year’s parade. Chef Tobias Womack’s crew served take-away street food up front, along with regular service in the dining room. That’s the plan this year too.
The tavern and burger bar Junction was also new the last time Chewbacchus passed by. Junction’s owners also run Molly’s at the Market and Monaghan’s 13, but proprietor Lloyd Miller said the Carnival experience at this newer bar is altogether different.
“At Molly’s you know what to expect, you’ll be six deep, you staff for it, you stock for it,” he said. “But here we really don’t know. We’ll be business as usual here, full menu, and see how we do.”
Many are banking on the thirst of the marching krewe’s members themselves. Chewbacchus has some 1,500 members to tempt in for quick go-cup pit stops. Junction is sweetening the pot for krewe members and fans – anyone in a costume during Chewbacchus gets a $1 off their drink price, said Miller.
This is the first Carnival for the Cheezy Cajun, an eatery that combines a cheese shop with a Cajun butcher shop. Though it usually closes at 4 p.m. on weekends, for Chewbacchus it will stay open later selling drinks, boudin links, boudin balls and meat pies.
The pizzeria Sugar Park has a few more years of experience along St. Claude Avenue, but last year’s arrival of Chewbacchus was unprecedented.
“There were people walking up and down the street all evening it felt like Sugar Park was in the French Quarter for one night,” said Ross Muggivan, the restaurant’s kitchen manager.
The oldest bar along St. Claude Avenue is also getting in on the act, hosting a Chewbacchus dance party beginning at 7 p.m. with drink specials and DJ Fayard directing the dance music. Fittingly for the parade’s sci-fi theme, it’s at the Saturn Bar.
Eateries along the Chewbacchus parade route offer a universe of flavors. Here’s a sampling:
2700 Chartres St., 504-272-0004
Traditional Chinese cuisine
3325 St. Claude Ave., 504-265-0045
Cajun butcher shop staples
2600 Dauphine St., 504-267-0640
Stylish modern bistro with original cuisine
3021 St. Claude Ave., 504-272-0205
A bar (21+) with draft 40 beers, burgers and bar snacks
2529 Dauphine St., 504-949-2009
A bar (21+) with Vietnamese cuisine
2601 Royal St., 504-872-9868
A bar (21+) Traditional Spanish tapas, served very late
3048 St. Claude Ave., 504-304-6030
Modern, nontraditional Chinese cuisine
4017 St Claude Ave., 504-218-5651
Vegetarian- and vegan-friendly, though not exclusively meatless.
3054 St. Claude Ave., 504-942-2047
New York style pizza
Follow Ian McNulty on Twitter @IanMcNultyNOLA.