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Celebrate Fat Tuesday the Cajun Way

This weekend the biggest party in America kicks off, a once local tradition that is now a nationwide event. That’s right, Saturday marks the start of Mardi Gras, and over the weekend and a few days afterward, Washington, D.C. and everyone in it will be celebrating. There will be food, festivities and fun, as well as ample events for everyone to feel like they are cruising through the Big Easy.

Mardi Gras translates in French to Fat Tuesday, and has been part of this country’s lore since the 1700s, when America, west of the Mississippi was owned by France. It was their tradition to celebrate the week between the Feast of the Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, when the somber season of Lent kicked in.

The most prominent French settlement in the U.S. at the time was New Orleans, and now that city is known for the center of the Mardi Gras celebration. There, they celebrate with a week of parades and carousing.

Many of us can’t get down to Louisiana to party for a week straight, but that’s okay, because this town with be participating just as boisterously, with several celebrations that shouldn’t be missed.

If you are off work on Monday, for President’s Day, then the tastiest way to get the Cajun experience is to sign up for Pearl Dive Oyster Palace’s Crawfish Boil. Pearl Dive hasn’t been around for even a year, but it’s already this area’s most popular Cajun restaurant, an ode to the Big Easy in Logan Circle.

From 12-4:00 p.m. on February 20th, the restaurant will be boiling up batch after batch of crawfish, to go alongside suckling pig and New Orleans’s signature beer, Abita.  The event costs $60 per person to attend.

If crawfish are your fancy, then Pearl Dive is by no means your only option. Across town, in Woodley Park, is another relatively new restaurant, also whipping up Louisiana specialties. Hot N Juicy Crawfish, on Connecticut Ave, serves one thing. Bags full of crawfish, boiled in Cajun spices. On Fat Tuesday, they will be throwing an event reminiscent of their hometown, a crawfish eating contest with a $200 grand prize. Anyone is welcome to register, with participants picked at random. But even if you don’t want to inhale uncomfortable amounts of crawfish, there’s still incentive to go on the holiday, as every pound of crawfish comes with a free beer.

Across the river in Arlington are two different Mardi Gras celebrations. In Courthouse, at the relatively new Bayou Bakery, Les Dames d’Escoffier (a society dedicated to advancing women in the fields of food, drink and hospitality), is holding their own Mardi Gras party. The event is on Monday night, and for just $55, participants will receive live Cajun cooking demonstrations and then the chance to eat, drink and dance the night away to the sounds of a jazz quartet.

If you are unable to attend Monday, that’s no problem, because Bayou Bakery is taking its celebration all the way to March 8th, with extended, five-and-a-half hour long happy hours every day, with specials on traditional cuisine like jambalaya, beignets and Abita beer.

The highlight of Mardi Gras is the parade, and the biggest local one is hosted on Fat Tuesday by the Clarendon Alliance. The parade jaunts down Wilson Boulevard in North Arlington, from the Courthouse Metro Station down to Clarendon. This is the 15th straight year the parade’s been held, and 2012 promises to be its biggest ever. This year’s event consists of floats, bands, horses and fire trucks cruising down the street, blasting music and noise and reminding everyone just how good a time Mardi Gras can be. The parade kicks off at 7:00 p.m. and runs all the way until 9:00.

So this year, don’t bother going to New Orleans to celebrate, instead enjoy having the Big Easy brought right to you.

– David

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