A Very Vintage Mardi Gras!

AlcProfMardiGradHeader
AlcProfMardiGradHeader

Now that February is drawing to a close, we're well into Mardi Gras season– that time of all-out revelry that leads up to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent.  And while many communities around the world recognize and observe these festivities, two stand out above all the rest, and have become synonymous with Fat Tuesday: New Orleans and Rio de Janeiro. Both cities' Carnival celebrations start right after the Epiphany (on January 6th), and build to a maelstrom of parades, music, and masks over the ensuing weeks.

Of course, drinks inevitably play a role in the merry-making. Devout partiers throw back cocktails before taking to the streets and dancing their cares away, while bystanders sip on beverages and watch the madness unfold.

So to commemorate this year's Mardi Gras, I dove deep into the archives, and turned up a selection of advertisements and artifacts that relate to carnival celebrations and their surrounding cultures.

Canadian Club, 1942 – another fine example of breweries utilizing Mardi Gras imagery.
Canadian Club, 1942 – another fine example of breweries utilizing Mardi Gras imagery.

But considering the modern perception of Mardi Gras a a "drinking holiday" similar to St Patrick's Day, New Year's, and Cinco De Mayo, I'm a bit surprised at just how little vintage Mardi Gras liquor advertising I could find, once I started digging.  Even New Orleans' own Southern Comfort didn't feature their hometown festivities in any major promotions before the late 1980s.  And as a result, it fell to some less-likely candidates to realize the value of the visual elements of Carnival.

Seagrams VO, 1959 – another Canadian Whiskey ad with a Mardi Gras theme
Seagrams VO, 1959 – another Canadian Whiskey ad with a Mardi Gras theme
A patriotic Mardi Gras ad from the US Brewers Foundation, 1952
A patriotic Mardi Gras ad from the US Brewers Foundation, 1952
Four Roses Whiskey, 1935
Four Roses Whiskey, 1935

As for Rio, it fared even worse than New Orleans, barely even rating a blip on the alcohol industry radar – it seems that up until the very end of the 20th Century, none of the large companies detected the commercial potential of the Carnival season.

AlcProfMardiGrasVIRum1975
AlcProfMardiGrasVIRum1975

But the people who served the beverages knew better than the distilleries and breweries, and were able to make the most of Mardi Gras.  The mixed drinks of New Orleans ended up as worldwide favorites, particularly the Roosevelt Hotel's "Ramos Gin Fizz", the "Hurricane" (which claims Pat O'Brien's as its place of origin), and the "Sazerac" (now recognized by the Louisiana Legislature as the official cocktail of New Orleans).

The cover of the Roosevelt Hotel's 1952 menu and drink list
The cover of the Roosevelt Hotel's 1952 menu and drink list
The full cocktail list for the Roosevelt in 1952 – check out those prices!
The full cocktail list for the Roosevelt in 1952 – check out those prices!
A classic image from Pat O'Brien's – note their signature Hurricane glass!
A classic image from Pat O'Brien's – note their signature Hurricane glass!

And with this newfound demand, Mardi Gras cocktails carved out their own niche, becoming fixtures in both neighborhood watering holes and exotic oases.  The beads and masks and floats and dances became part of the cultural continuum, and barrooms fell over themselves in an attempt to offer new and exciting mixes that reflected the excitement of Carnival – as they still do to this day.

Detail from the Trinidad Hilton's drink menu, date unknown
Detail from the Trinidad Hilton's drink menu, date unknown

And funnily enough, I've found that in digging through my files for these images, I've gotten fairly swept up in the whole Bacchanalia spirit – maybe I'll even take Tuesday off, call my friends, pull out the punchbowl, and throw a proper vintage-styled Mardi Gras masquerade!  I'm sure I can find a suitable retro recipe, if I just put my mind to it...

MardiGras1
MardiGras1