Recurring dispatches from Benjamin Morris covering New Orleans Mardi Gras, 2011:
Some nights only begin once you get hit in the face.
I never saw it coming, though I’m not sure the rider in Bacchus could say the same. The way they hurl their throws, you’d swear they were training for the minor leagues. Nine o’clock, I’m standing on the patio by a table of tipsy lawyers, and suddenly I catch a full pack of beads with my eye.
“Oh, my god!” One cries. Another points and laughs. “Look, he got the silver ones!”
We knew it was going to be a long night, but we didn’t know exactly how long. After Endymion had been rescheduled due to the rain, we’d thought Bacchus would roll until seven, maybe eight, and Endymion, even given its size, until ten at the very latest. But when ten o’clock came around and we heard that Bacchus had only just finished, that’s when the evening took a certain turn.
It’s safe to say that it was headed there anyway—cycling to the bar, it took me three times my normal commute to navigate the crowds of revelers, revelers that were out with only one thing on their mind. It had been an epic day already—with Okeanos, Mid-City, and Thoth earlier that morning, most folks had decided to just keep on going nonstop. Besides, it was Bacchus—the god of you-know-what—what else would you expect?
Here are some of the things we did expect: lines outside the door for the bar. A gratifying night in terms of business. A higher-than-normal level of stress—and therefore, staff. An elevated level of assholery among our customers (drinking all day will, of course, make one intolerably impatient for the next drink). And a survival attitude to see us through. And here are some of the things that we did not: lines outside the door for the bathroom. The highest-grossing night in our eight-year history. Staff to quit, un-quit, and then quit again on the spot, and others to show up unexpectedly and be pressed into service (luckily for them, those who had had arrived drunk, and elected to stay that way for the rest of the night).
My first task upon arrival was to wipe blood of unknown origin off the seats, and it wasn’t long before things began to go downhill from there. Before Bacchus had even ended, the customers grew impatient, screaming and harassing the staff, then the bar began to attack the customers in turn: one end of the bar developed a mysterious leak that remained throughout the night, flooding a patch of the floor over and over, followed by the plywood signs advertising our specials falling down from their perch in the windows (positions they’d maintained for months without a tremor) striking the couples that were smooching underneath them. Outside, people began to climb the glass windowpanes, falling off after each failed attempt, then breaking out in laughter and trying again.
Once the pandemonium outside did finally breach our doors, there was no turning back. A man showed up at the bar in a banana suit; no one batted an eye. Another fell asleep sitting upright on a stool; nobody even thought to disturb him. People ordered drinks and then forgot them entirely, wandering off in a distracted haze. The bar ran out of vodka so we switched to gin, and when we ran out of gin we switched to rum, and at that point no one could tell the difference. This wasn’t long after we ran out of food, hours before the kitchen would normally close. When it became clear there was nothing left to eat except for limes, a loud whoop of rejoicing went up from the back, and the cooks came outside and took over a table for the rest of the night, drinking and watching the stragglers from the parades trickle by.
Some nights only end with what you don’t remember. None of us remember what time we left—only that we were all, in the words of one of the bartenders the next day, ‘babbling incoherently’ at the end. I do remember this: late in the night, a few weak hours before dawn, we were putting away the last of the patio when the cleaning crews rolled in. As they slowly progressed up St Charles—the first wave composed of two men sweeping away the debris one step at a time, trailed by a single police car—trucks and SUVs picked their way through the piles of trash. These piles were nothing like the mere litter we’d seen before: in the wake of the superkrewes, we couldn’t see the surface of the street.
As we stood there, marveling at the sight, a small sedan rolled up to the nearby intersection, where it paused well in advance of the coming crew. The police car flared its lights and turned on its loudspeaker. “Go ahead and cross,” came the voice of the officer. Gingerly the car pulled forward, and turned.
After a moment the loudspeaker clicked back on: “Good luck.”