When it comes to Mardi Gras, it’s not about owning the beads – it’s about how you acquire them.
It’s about standing in a crowd of eager, enthusiastic celebrants of all ages ringing the parade route, many yelling the popular phrase, “Throw me something, Mister!” and waving your arms in the air along with thousands of others… When those strings of colorful beads come flying off the top of the float and you manage to catch one – well, it’s a thrill you can only experience at Mardi Gras.
If you’re ready to try this late winter holiday – the season lasts approximately two months, ending on Ash Wednesday (March 5 this year) – here are 12 reasons to make the convenient drive or short flight from Texas to the celebrations in the Shreveport/Bossier City region of Northern Louisiana.
You’ll find a sense of merriment and celebration enveloping the region – one that just begs to be experienced in all its joyful glory!
1. Start your Mardi Gras day like a local, and make Strawn’s Eat Shop your first stop. This old-fashioned diner has been serving since 1944. Their world-famous strawberry pie has been featured in Southern Living and Travel + Leisure, and they’re listed by www.thrillist.com among the “21 Best Diners in America.” The biscuits are light, fluffy – and huge.
2. On parade days, Tubbs Hardware and Cajun Gifts has a stream of buses and cars bringing tourists eager to stock up on the store’s extensive inventory of Mardi Gras gear. Need a holiday-themed t-shirt, Cajun spices for a party – or lawn equipment? This wonderfully eclectic store – legendary in the region – has it all!
3. Visit the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum for the “Enchanting World of Fantasy Masks” exhibit from fantasy mask creator – and Shreveport native – Dennis Beckman. He is also King of this year’s Krewe of Highland – a popular neighborhood parade where moon pies, hot dogs and ramen noodles are thrown instead of beads. Ready to purchase your own mask? The Enchanted Garden boutique sells Beckman’s one-of-a-kind masks year-round.
4. Crawfish is part of the Louisiana experience – and Kim’s Seafood and Po’Boy is an excellent place to get your fill. Owner Duc Duong,is a former shrimp boat captain whose first restaurant, in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward, was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Now, his family has found a home in Bossier City and built a reputation among locals for their huge, spicy crawfish and authentic New Orleans-style po’boys.
5. If it’s Mardi Gras, you’ve GOT to eat king cake. Maple Bacon, Pina Colada, Tiramisu – not flavors you’d typically associate with the holiday’s traditional sweet bread, but that just might be why Lilah’s is a local favorite. The bakery opened in 2006, selling 70 cakes that first year. In 2019 they’re on track to sell nearly 20,000. If you’re lucky, one of the daily flavors when you visit will be the Elvis: banana and peanut butter on the inside, marshmallows, icing and bacon on top. Lowder King Cakes might be the new kid on the block, but they’re becoming a go-to bakery for a more traditional king cake – though their savory muffuletta king cake is getting rave reviews.
6. One of the largest Mardi Gras parades in Louisiana, the Krewe of Centaur Parade rivals the thrills and fun of any parade in the nation. If you’re coming with a “krewe” of your own, consider the Red River Mardi Gras Bash, with access to a party tent, live music, yummy Cajun food (including king cake!) and a prime spot for grabbing beads, trinkets and toys, right at the start of the parade. For groups of ten or more, it’s the only way to go.
7. Owner/Chef Damien Lewis Chapman is the fifth generation to operate his family’s bustling eatery Orlandeaux’s Café. This historic black-owned favorite is famous for a unique stuffed shrimp recipe. Their savory gumbo, with a flavorful broth and just the right amount of spices, is also highly recommended.
8. Hit brunch at Marilynn’s Place. Housed in a converted service station, Marilynn’s is overseen by the charismatic “Boz” Baucum, a Shreveport native who trained under Chef John Folse before returning to Shreveport following decades in New Orleans. Sitting among neighborhood patrons as you devour melt-in-your-mouth beignets, you’ll feel like the party has already started.
9. In Shreveport’s historic South Highlands neighborhood, the R.W. Norton Art Gallery is the largest museum in North Louisiana. Works featured include art by Mary Cassatt, Auguste Rodin, Clementine Hunter and many more. It offers a quiet break in the middle of all the Mardi Gras madness.
10. Mardi Gras has gone to the dogs! Each year the Krewe of Barkus and Meoux Pet Parade hosts an enormous gathering that draws thousands of costumed pets and their owners. Watch dogs big and small (and the occasional brave cat) strut their stuff in tutus, hats and other festive gear. The Shreveport-Bossier City Mardi Gras celebrations are rightly famous for a good time for all ages.
11. Shreveport-Bossier is home to six riverboat casinos, making it a popular gambling destination for Texans. One of the benefits of the local casino gaming scene (in addition to approximately 10,000 jobs for locals) is a very nice fine dining scene. Jack Binion’s Steakhouse at Horseshoe Casino Resort is a great place to experience fresh Louisiana seafood, expertly prepared steaks and more.
12. After all that feasting and revelry, a bit of detox is welcome. Well+Fed Louisiana, a 100% organic cold-pressed juice company and vegan food shop, is a great example of the current crop of young food and drink entrepreneurs who are actively reshaping the Shreveport-Bossier community. A cold-pressed juice that features pears – from a tree in the shop’s backyard – is the perfect way to feed your body and your soul.
Special thanks to Marriott’s Courtyard Bossier City Louisiana Boardwalk for an excellent stay close to all the action.
Cover: A festive pup pulls his own parade float at the annual family-friendly Krewe of Barkus and Meoux pet parade during Shreveport/Bossier City’s Mardi Gras celebration. Courtesy photo