While many associate Mardi Gras with the revelry and debauchery of New Orleans’ Bourbon Street, the holiday actually began right here in Alabama. Mardi Gras was first celebrated in 1703 when Mobile resident Joe Cain led an impromptu parade down the port city’s streets in an attempt to bring joy to post-Civil War misery. Today, Mobile continues the 300-year tradition by hosting a family-friendly celebration that still packs the party with brilliantly colored floats, rancorous parades, and grand balls for nearly a million merrymakers each year.
This year, Mardi Gras Day (also known as Fat Tuesday) falls on February 16. In a typical year, festivities begin early with more than 40 parades rolling through the streets of downtown in the two weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday. However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s parade schedule has been canceled. Despite the cancellation, Mobile still plans to celebrate safely and in style. Check out our guide to having a safe and spirited Mardi Gras in Mobile this year. Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Join the Porch Parade
For residents and visitors used to a jam-packed schedule of parties and parades, this year’s Mobile Porch Parade is bringing the same “good times” vibes but in a COVID-safe format. More than 300 participants have registered to dress their homes in their Mardi Gras best as part of the self-guided “parade.” The Porch Parade provides several neighborhood maps for easy planning, or you can create your own route and enjoy all the purple, green, and gold goodness from the comfort of the sidewalk, your bike, or your car. Rumor has it some homeowners have enlisted the help of local float artists to create one-of-a-kind installations for the occasion!
Pay a Visit to the Mobile Carnival Museum
With a tradition of exclusive societies and lavish displays, Mardi Gras is known for its complicated and riveting history. Get the full background on Mobile’s version by exploring the Mobile Carnival Museum. In 2005, the historic museum opened with 14 gallery rooms filled with Mardi Gras costumes and memorabilia, including gowns, robes, crowns, and scepters of previous Kings and Queens of Mobile Mardi Gras. For $5, you can wander the many rooms solo, or schedule a tour with curator Edward Ladd.
Try the Seasonal Treats
A true Mardi Gras celebration calls for the immersion of all five senses. Pollman’s Bake Shop, the first bakery in Mobile to sell king cakes, is your spot for the traditional cinnamon pastry. If you prefer your sweets in liquid form, several local coffee shops make seasonal king cake lattes and hot drinks, or you can opt for a king cake bushwhacker from Ed’s Seafood Shed. Of course, you can’t leave Mobile without indulging in the city’s own signature Mardi Gras treat, the MoonPie. Mobile is so obsessed with the spongey marshmallow sandwiches that not only are they the leading parade throw, but the city’s annual New Year celebration culminates in the dropping of a giant MoonPie from the sky. For the ultimate mash-up, head to Rouses supermarket for a MoonPie king cake.
Cheers with a Local Beer
Packing into a crowded bar isn’t a COVID-friendly Mardi Gras practice, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still get your drink on (at a safe distance!). Swap the dark dive bar for a spacious local brewery with plenty of open-air seating, and you’ve got a recipe for success. Mobile offers a growing roster of local breweries creating craft beers of all styles from hoppy IPAs to tart goses and clean lagers. For optimal outdoor space, we recommend Serda Brewing, Braided River, or Old Majestic Brewing Company. Nothing says Mardi Gras like an afternoon spent brewery hopping in the mild Alabama winter.
Get in the Spirit at Toomey’s Mardi Gras
Ever wonder where everyone gets their crazy costumes and out-there Mardi Gras accessories? What about the millions of beads and masks? For everything under the sun related to the carnival season, look no further than Toomey’s. You could spend hours perusing the superstore’s 70,000 square feet and still not see it all. Beware: Few visitors make it out without a few trinkets and souvenirs of their own to commemorate their Mobile Mardi Gras experience.
For more on Mobile’s 2021 Mardi Gras season, visit mobile.org/events/mardi-gras
Tara Massouleh McCay is a writer and editor based in Birmingham, Alabama. She was previously associate editor at Birmingham magazine and has been contributing to local and regional publications since 2015. She loves sports, spicy food, and above all the art of storytelling.