Saying that the host of Nola’s beloved Beyond Bourbon Street podcast knows how to Mardi Gras is a serious understatement! This Carnival veteran tells us how he parties down with the family in tow.
Q. Tell us a little about yourself.
I am Mark Bologna, husband, father of twin girls, runner, host of the Beyond Bourbon St. podcast, and a New Orleanian. I grew up in the Gentilly neighborhood, where my family owned Teddy’s Grill (now the site of the Original Fiorellas Cafe). I live in the Carrollton area (Uptown) with my wife, our seven year old daughters, and a cat. Yes, I’m the only male in the household!
Q. When people check out your IG feed or blog, what side of Nola will they see?
I am constantly intrigued by the layers of New Orleans. My Instagram feed @beyondbourbonst is mostly my lens on local architecture, with a splash of the podcast tossed in. The podcast, an insider’s guide to New Orleans, takes you along as we explore the food, music, culture, people and places that make New Orleans unique. My goal is to provide listeners my view of the city – to take them to the places I would take a close friend who was visiting.
(You can find the podcast at beyondbourbonst.com as well as Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher and even on Alexa.)
Q. What’s your favorite thing about Mardi Gras? What does it mean to you?
Mardi Gras means family and friends, and a chance to celebrate our way of life.
I believe that Mardi Gras is central to the character of New Orleans. For one day each year, people of all different walks of life are in the street with each other, enjoying the day. You might be old or young, black or white, rich or poor — but for that day you share a street corner or a section of neutral ground, and you are the best of friends. You look out for each other’s kids; you offer a beer or a piece of chicken; and you figure out all the common connections. This experience carries over to the everyday friendliness of the people you meet in New Orleans.
Q. Uh oh! Your friends just told you they’re coming for Mardi Gras and know nothing about the city. Quick, where do you send them to Mardi Gras up?
You sleep at the Old 77 Hotel, because it is close to everything and yet just enough removed when you need a break. You stop in at Tchoup Industries just off Magazine Street to get a bag or a fanny pack to hold your stuff, then have a bowl of gumbo at nearby Gris Gris (upstairs on the balcony). Head further down to Funky Monkey and get the costume of your dreams.
You’ll want to catch some parades on St. Charles, and the Avenue Pub is a great place to do that. If you have kids, be sure to check out the parade watching back on Magazine, especially down near Jefferson Ave.
If you need an adult break from the craziness, make a reservation at Brigtsen‘s. Tell Chef Frank and his wife Marna I said “Hi!” If you want an upscale evening with cocktails and great live music, check out Jeremy Davenport over in the lounge at the Ritz-Carlton.
Q. Give us a few of your Mardi Gras “must dos”.
1. Walking the parade route before a parade, preferably (who am I kidding? always!) with a drink in my hand. I love to soak up the sights and sounds, talk to people along the way, and generally enjoy the fact I am in the greatest city in the world. Mardi Gras morning is my favorite, but I try to do this before every parade.
2. King cake, king cake, king cake. One of our friends hosts a Twelfth Night king cake tasting party that has become my favorite way to start the season. Typically, there are two dozen or more king cakes to sample. This year’s price of admission was a king cake and a bottle of bubbly! I am currently infatuated with the king cake from Hi Do, but head over to the King Cake Hub on Canal Street and pick one of a dozen or more.
3. Costumes on Mardi Gras. I grew up in a family where we all dressed, and we continue the tradition today with our kids. We start talking costumes right after Halloween. I love it, and love seeing all the other costumes along St. Charles Avenue on Mardi Gras morning.
4. Parade ladders. I love the experience of standing behind our girls on a parade ladder. I also love the looks of shock when I explain to someone that in New Orleans we build a plywood box, mount it on top of a six foot aluminum ladder, hoist our kids into it, and put a dowel across the front – you know, to keep them safe!
Q. What’s your favorite parade and why?
Favorite parade? That’s like asking me to pick my favorite child. (Note to my kids: Dad loves you both. Equally.)
I think everyone should experience a nighttime parade. I love Muses, because it’s all women, they have lots of terrific walking groups, and we all need decorated shoes, right?! If purses are your thing, check out Nyx. Or go to both, and build your wardrobe. I love the Friday before Mardi Gras, because you get a trio of evening parades including Krewe d’Etat.
Thoth Sunday is a fabulous day for families. The parade is great, but the after parties as you wander around Uptown – especially close to Children’s Hospital – are incredible. Lots of front porch concerts and people dancing in the streets.
My Mom says it’s not Mardi Gras until you see Rex, and I agree with her. It may be corny, but I get choked up as the military bands come down the street, followed by the dukes on horseback, and finally Rex himself. It’s not so much the parade that moves me (although it is wonderful), as it is that we are New Orleanians enjoying and celebrating our city. This place certainly isn’t perfect, but it comes pretty close on Mardi Gras.
Q. Walk us through your Fat Tuesday itinerary.
Our Fat Tuesday rituals start on Lundi Gras! I park my car the night before near St. Charles and Napoleon. In it, we have the parade ladder and everything else we need. From there, I run home along the St. Charles neutral ground and enjoy the spectacle of people leaving Orpheus.
We’re up by 6 or 6:30 a.m. on Mardi Gras Day. We get dressed in our costumes and head over to the corner of St. Charles and Napoleon, typically leaving home by 7:30am. If we find a spot near the other car – great. If not, my wife takes the spot I reserved the night before, and I move my car, then come back and meet her and the girls. All of this is designed to minimize the distance we have to carry stuff and kids.
We see Rex and the truck floats. When the kids get just a bit older, we’ll probably go further downtown so they can experience Zulu. For now, we have a great spot – and you can pee over at Sacred Heart! Remember, having a place to pee is fundamental to having a good time at Mardi Gras!
As for food? Popeyes chicken and po-boys we make ahead of time. Beer. Is that a food?
For more Mardi Gras tips from a New Orleans expert, check out how Susan of Nola Maven spends her Carnival.
And don’t forget to pick up our new 2019 Mardi Gras field guide!