Though New Orleans is over 1,200 miles away, each spring Philadelphia boasts a Mardi Gras scene all its own. With parades and celebrations across the five-county area, Mardi Gras is a chance for us to eat well, listen to some Blues and of course, tip back our favorite beers. Mark your calendars, it’s on February 28th this year.
Louisiana’s own Abita Brewing Company, located just 40 miles from the New Orleans city limits, is so synonymous with Mardi Gras that in their home state, they outsell all other major domestic beers – combined. “We are the beer of Mardi Gras. We’re ahead of the game by 30 years. It’s what sets us apart,” says Abita’s regional manager, Tara Hanely.
While Abita has a vast catalogue of different beers released throughout the year, including their Harvest series and superlimited Bourbon Barrel Aged one-off series, it’s their Mardi Gras Bock that is dedicated to celebrating Fat Tuesday. “In my opinion,Bocks tend to be an underappreciated style, which is why we love
reminding people how amazing they are every year. It’s a traditional German-style beer brewed in the fall to celebrate the spring. It’s perfect for Mardi Gras.”
Abita is on tap year-round at Catahoula in South Philly, which makes sense since they offer some of the most authentic Creole cuisine in Pennsylvania. That’s all thanks to Chef Dave Williams who has been creating dishes for Catahoula clientele for over seven years. “It’s living food. It jumps off the plate at you,” he says. “When I see people enjoy the food, it makes me dance a little more.” And when this chef says dance, he literally means it. “I dance with the customers all the time. Without the dance at the end, the food isn’t working. I just like leaving them with a great experience.”
That fun and easy-going attitude is what keeps the Catahoula faithful coming back, and why this place is a must-hit location during Mardi Gras celebrations. “There’s music, there’s beads, there’s good people,” says Catahoula manager Ashley Cox. “It’s our holiday. We open at 11 AM and the party keeps going all day.”
With a menu that changes weekly and specialty dishes available only during Mardi Gras, Catahoula may be the only place in town where you can indulge in authentic Arcadian gumbo, cornmeal- crusted oysters and even alligator. “We always come out with new and exciting stuff,” says Chef Dave. “Stuff no one has ever eaten here before. It’s all made from scratch and everything is fresh. I pick out every ingredient myself. You’ll never see a food truck out in front of Catahoula.”
Another can’t-miss spot during Mardi Gras festivities is Twisted Tail, which just so happens to be right on the Fat Tuesday parade route. With a restaurant downstairs and a free flowing, juke-joint style bar upstairs, Twisted Tail will have you feeling those Louisiana vibes in no time. “We have Blues music here every day except Monday,” says owner George Reilly. “And during Mardi Gras, the parade comes by, so the musicians stop through and march around the restaurant playing music. We’re right in the middle of it.”
Reilly was inspired to bring southern comfort food to Philadelphia while traveling as an actor years ago, “I was on tour and spent a lot of time in the southern states. There you would go into a place and the bartender would introduce you to everyone at the bar. By the time you left, everyone was buying drinks for each
other. It felt as if you were part of the family. I wanted to bring that dynamic here.”
Mardi Gras may only come once a year, but thanks to these downhome, easy-going bars, you can grab a pint of Abita with some gator, and channel that New Orleans attitude any time you please.