Let the good times roll! Hoboken celebrates Mardi Gras at Oddfellow's
by Mary Paul Reporter staff writer
Feb 06, 2008 | 1838 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Want to experience the grand good times of Mardi Gras? You could travel over 1,000 miles to New Orleans, pay $600 a night for a hotel room, and fight your way through an ocean of people to stand a chance at scoring some beads.

Or you could head on down to local Louisiana-themed bar and restaurant Oddfellow's Rest, 80 River St. in Hoboken, for a great taste of the Big Easy's big festival.

New Orleans, being a Catholic parish (or county), takes Mardi Gras, a festival that peaks the day before Ash Wednesday known as Fat Tuesday, very seriously - that is, as wild and outrageous fun goes. Beads, masks, costumes, parade floats, and other decorations come in Mardi Gras colors of purple, green, and gold, and drinks and Cajun cooking abound.

You can party in the same style on Feb. 1, 2, and Fat Tuesday, Feb. 5 at Oddfellow's where the attitude will be "Let the good times roll!"

Partying like it's the Big Easy

Since it first opened approximately 14 years ago, Oddfellow's has been the Mardi Gras hotspot in Hudson County.

"We get an enormous response every year. It's our busiest week of the year," said Jerry Maher, owner of Oddfellow's.

Maher and General Manager Missy Dimonde make sure that each year the restaurant has all the trademark trimmings of Mardi Gras, even a float with models tossing everything from beads and masks to little plastic alligators to the eager crowd.

"We have thousands of beads," said Maher. "People absolutely love catching from a float."

People love the spirit of Mardi Gras too, which is why they flock to New Orleans by the thousands for it, and Oddfellow's tries to capture and embody that experience for its patrons.

"Anybody's who's ever been down to New Orleans gets a taste of [Mardi Gras]," Maher said. "The people who come [to Oddfellow's for Mardi Gras] come here because most of them have probably already experienced Mardi Gras [in New Orleans], and they want to re-experience it."

One loyal customer and Hoboken resident, Michael Werthwein, has been down to New Orleans several times for Mardi Gras, and he looks forward to celebrating the holiday every year at Oddfellow's. He likens the Hoboken bar to the French Quarter, New Orleans' historical section that contains the infamous Bourbon Street, where the parade ends and the party begins with everyone getting together and just having a good time.

"It's a very jubilant atmosphere," Werthwein said. "I think they do a very good job of recreating Mardi Gras for being so far out of New Orleans. I actually prefer it over Mardi Gras, because it's not as crowded."

Makin' it Cajun

Werthwein also enjoys the jambalaya, a distinctive and spicy New Orleans dish made with chicken and andouille sausage with rice.

Though Oddfellow's restaurant is closed for Fat Tuesday, its Jambalaya Shack is open for business. So, hungry Carnival partygoers can eat in good old-fashioned Cajun style while enjoying Mardi Gras-themed martinis from the bar.

Maher said the drinking masses get particularly sweet on the drink New Orleans bar Pat O'Brien's is known for making popular - the Hurricane.

"There's a run on Hurricanes. We always sell a lot, but when Mardi Gras comes, most people who come in want to try one."

Werthwein described the signature cocktail as a punch, calling it "New Orleans' version of a Long Island Iced Tea."

But if you want a place at the bar, get there early. There's a line by 6 p.m. But don't worry - the doors are open until 2 a.m.

The Voodudes

Around 9 p.m. on Fat Tuesday, a procession starts and the live band, the Voodudes, makes its way through the crowd to the stage while playing a traditional and upbeat "When the Saints Go Marching In."

The Voodudes are known as a New Orleans style band, and they've performed during Mardi Gras festivities at Oddfellow's since the restaurant opened, and they've been the big act for Fat Tuesday for the last several years. They've also played in New Orleans, but never during Mardi Gras.

With lead singer Andy Bernstein, guitarist Gary Ambrosy, bass player Fred Saunders, John Pittas on keyboard and a little accordion, and drummer Dave Ambrosy (Gary's younger brother), the New Brunswick-based Voodudes bring "Gulf Coast" music to the celebration in a mix of blues, jazz, a little country, and some rock.

"I would describe our music the same way I would describe my favorite dish; it's gumbo," said Bernstein. "We take what we like, we throw it all together, and we heat it up."

So what's their recipe for Fat Tuesday?

"Go to the Mardi Gras" and "Big Chief" by Professor Longhair (whose real name was Earl Byrd) are traditional Mardi Gras songs from the '40s that are on the music menu along with "The Mardi Gras Mambo" and "Iko Iko."

Additionally, to make sure they have a great authentic New Orleans sound for Mardi Gras, the Voodudes bring in a horn section featuring Tommy LaBella on sax and Neal Pawley on trombone.

The band members enjoy the festive fun of Mardi Gras at Oddfellow's, knowing that the crowd makes the most of the holiday and couldn't be in better spirits.

"Everybody has a great time," said Dave Ambrosy. "From the time we get there, until the time we leave, people are partying nonstop. I'm not sure how they make it to work the next day," he laughed.

Leading up to Fat Tuesday, Oddfellow's will also have Mardi Gras music from Night Train ("funkin' R&B") on Feb. 1 and Big Train ("Horn-infused funk and soul") on Feb. 2. Comments on this story can be sent to Mpaul@hudsonreporter.com.
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