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Mardi Gras in Manhattan?

Food & Drink

It’s Fat Tuesday every night at Great Jones Café (and who’s that familiar bartender?)
After stumbling with euphoria through the streets of New Orleans’ French Quarter on Super Bowl Night, high on team spirit, the Who’dat Nation, powder X, and that insane interception that clinched the game, the hangover never came, because there was never time for such mundane setbacks. A week of Mardi Gras to come, with Krewe de Lusional parade floats, helmed by girls in devil costumes, passing feet from my Pirate’s Alley balcony, I sadly had to return to “reality”: Manhattan.

But then I realized there was still a way to keep it going-more, continuous-the capricious adrenaline rush. My always game and resilient buddy, Chris Wilson-who had made his cameos in New Orleans as well-agreed to meet me, post-NOLA, at the Bowery’s Great Jones Café, where it’s Mardi Gras year-round.

The debauchery was in full mode already at 6 p.m. inside the packed-to-the-rafters little bar with the orange facade, where the retro jukebox blasted the Dixie Cups’ “Iko-Iko-Way.”  For nearly 20 years we have made Great Jones Café a weekly stop-in. And it it’s now the only eats in the city where you can feast upon “authentic” Cajun fare such as blackened catfish, red beans and rice, jambalaya, andouille sausage po-boys (downed with vodka lemonades).
An always unexpected surprise , on this night a former member of the greatest alternative band in the world, Pavement, was bartending. Mark Ibold, who is now the bass player for Sonic Youth, still keeps his night job at GJ, which is, to some, rather insane. How could a rock god be so ingratiating?

But we get it. Why shouldn’t he when he’s not touring? It’s good grist, working a bar, getting your hands dirty. And if you don’t bring up Pavement too-too much, he’ll engage you in normal-people conversation. Only in New York, kids. And, Pavement is re-banding later this year, and the copacetic, Prince Valiant-coiffed Ibold is going to be part of it .

When it got just too crowded-and we’d fed upon a few baskets of in-season boiled crawfish (“suckin’ heads!”)-we recruited our fashionable pal Chris Tennant and moved on to our favorite dive bar on Houston Street, Milano’s, where it’s Christmas every night! One drunken, nightly regular, who looks exactly like Santa Claus himself-was holding court, and informed us that he has in fact been a department store Kris Kringle during his illustrious past. ‘Ho’s abounded. Onward to Milady’s, the only remaining dive in SoHo. More blinding merriment. 2 a.m. Brightened by a corner stool. As we say down on the bayou: “Laissez les bon ton roulette!”

- Steve Garbarino

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