Beer is big on Bourbon Street, and never bigger than now, as Mardi Gras' climactic weekend kicks into high gear.
The distinction between “Huge Ass Beers” and “Giant Ass Beer" may not matter to many thirsty revelers on their way to the bars, but it has sparked a federal lawsuit.
Huge Ass Beers is the trademarked name for a plus-sized pour of draft beer sold at a trio of related Bourbon Street businesses. With the term printed on their plastic cups and containers, on employees' T-shirts, doormats and huge signs brandished by street barkers, Bourbon Street is plastered with Huge Ass Beers marketing.
The three outposts for Huge Ass Beers — the Steak Pit, Prohibition and Cornet — are all owned by Nicholas S. Karno #1 Inc., a company run by Billie Karno, the operator and landlord for a number of businesses along Bourbon Street.
On Tuesday, that company filed a lawsuit in federal court against another string of Bourbon Street bars and clubs for marketing a rival extra-large draft beer as Giant Ass Beer.
Those businesses include the bars Beerfest, Voodoo Vibe and Sing Sing and the strip club Stiletto’s, which are all run by Pamela Olano and Guy Olano Jr.
In the suit, the Huge Ass Beers creator alleges trademark infringement and seeks a restraining order barring the sale of Giant Ass Beer, as well as damages.
An attorney for Billie Karno said his client had no comment. Representatives of the Olanos did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
By Thursday afternoon, however, Giant Ass Beer was nowhere to be seen in at least one of the businesses named in the suit. At Beerfest, where 72 draft beer taps line the wall, a bartender had only conventional 16-ounce plastic cups available. The other establishments had not yet opened for the night when a reporter visited.
The businesses run by Karno and the Olanos are all within a few blocks of each other on the most raucous stretch of Bourbon Street, from the 300 block to the 700 block. Karno, in fact, is listed as the owner of several of the properties where the Olanos operate businesses.
The two parties are involved in a separate lawsuit in Civil District Court, in which the Olanos accuse their landlord of unfair business practices.
In the Huge Ass Beers lawsuit, Karno’s attorneys allege that the Olanos began selling Giant Ass Beer as retaliation for that dispute, describing it as a “soured business relationship.”
Bourbon Street is a veritable carnival of novelty drinks, often served in colorful, usually over-sized containers. Given the permissiveness of local open-container laws, and the glee of visitors first experiencing the go-cup phenomenon, these vessels often double as marketing materials as patrons tote them around the streets and post photos to social media.
Stroll around Bourbon Street and you’ll see fish bowls full of sugary booze, fleur-de-lis-shaped daiquiri cups and plastic skulls filled with signature cocktails from various bars.
One of the most prolific is the Hand Grenade, a melon-flavored punch served in a tube-like cup with a grenade-shaped base at the many locations of the Tropical Isle brand.
That local company too has sued in the past over trademark infringement when it suspected imitation beyond the bounds of flattery by competitors. In 2016, the Tropical Isle sued a bar in Wilmington, North Carolina, for marketing a Hand Grenade cocktail.
Huge Ass Beers, meanwhile, trade on the blunt appeal of beer, and a lot of it.
The standard “Huge Ass” beer is served in a 32-oz. plastic tub, identical to food-service quart containers. Related products in what the lawsuit describes as the “Huge Ass Beers Family of Marks” include the “Butt Cup,” a 45-oz. container shaped like a female midsection, and the Huge Ass Bottle, a 70-oz. plastic tower roughly the size of a fire extinguisher. The brand also offers a “Half Ass Beer” at a mere 16 ounces.
In its suit, Karno contends that its marketing has made Huge Ass Beers “the most popular beers sold in the New Orleans French Quarter” and that its bars are go-to destinations for visitors seeking them out.
A photo included in the legal filing shows its competitor’s product: a large plastic bottle with a label reading Giant Ass Beer and showing a buzzed-looking cartoon giant clutching a beer mug.
"Instead of using 'Huge,' 'Big' or 'Half,' defendants' mark uses 'Giant,'" the Karno lawsuit alleges. "'Giant' is synonymous with both ‘Huge’ and 'Big.'"
Ass, of course, is ass.
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Editor's note: this story was originally published Feb. 22, 2017