Of course you’d rather be down in New Orleans than Chicago during the Mardi Gras season. Parades have been going on daily since February 6 and will continue through February 17 – which also happens to be Fat Tuesday. But while the Windy City won’t be throwing any Bourbon Street-style parades, you can definitely count on festivities with colorful beads, potent hurricane cocktails, authentic gumbo and more. Here are eight great gatherings you don’t want to miss.
Bordel (1721 West Division Street)
The Spanish-inspired speakeasy hosts a grand Fat Tuesday fête that includes specialty Mardi Gras cocktails, Spanish-style jambalaya, and booze-infused beignets topped with powder sugar. The party starts at 9 p.m., with a brass band hitting the stage at 10. It’s free to attend.
Frontier (1072 North Milwaukee Avenue)
Originally from New Orleans, chef Brian Jupiter goes all out at Frontier with an authentic Louisiana shrimp boil on Fat Tuesday. He’s put together an all-you-can-eat feast that also comes with complimentary king cake. That’s $33 per person, plus a number of additional food and drink specials ($10 red beans and rice, $13 shrimp po’ boys, $5 hurricanes, $6 Sazeracs). The party starts at 6 p.m., so get there early, because seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.
Mardi Gras on Division Street
The closest thing to boisterous Bourbon Street will be what’s going down on Division Street in the Gold Coast. The party-hardy strip that’s home to such spots as Lodge Tavern (21 West Division Street), She-nannigans (16 West Division Street), Bootleggers (13 West Division Street), The Hangge-Uppe (14 West Elm Street), Mother’s Too (14 West Division Street), and The Original Mother’s (26 West Division Street) will host a festival inside and outside the venues. Expect street artists and stilt walkers to guide you into each spot, where you’ll get custom-designed beads, live music, jambalaya, a limbo line, masks, and more. Guests will also have a chance to take home a prize of $500 in cash. The event takes place 8 p.m. to midnight. Admission is free at each venue.
Nacional 27 (325 West Huron Street)
Since Fat Tuesday is all about gluttony, you might as well get your grub on at Nacional 27, which is hosting an all-you-can-eat taco bar for $15 per person. That happens 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., with hurricane cocktail specials, of course. And speaking of hurricanes, you can return February 19 for a cocktail class featuring the popular N’awlins drink. That happens 6 to 8 p.m., and the $27 fee includes cocktail sampling, light tapas, and recipe cards to take home.
Shaw’s Crab House (21 East Hubbard Street)
Shaw’s Mardi Gras extravaganza goes down February 16 to 20, with enough food and drink specials to make your head spin. Happening in the Oyster Bar, the event includes oyster and shrimp po’ boys, seafood gumbo, crawfish étouffée and more. On Fat Tuesday, get ready for an indulgent crawfish boil for $30 per person. Live zydeco music occurs 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
The Southern (1840 West North Avenue)
Neighborhood types flock to the Bucktown bar and eatery on the regular for contemporary takes on soul food, so expect the venue to amp up the menu on February 17. The $15 fee will get you unlimited crawfish boil fixins’, plus a hurricane. A live band will set the tempo for the right mood, plus guests are encouraged to dress in colorful, festive attire. It starts at 6 p.m.
Tippling Hall (646 North Franklin Street)
Hurricanes and live jazz are also the focus for Tippling Hall‘s first-ever Fat Tuesday fête. Expect the cocktail-focused hot spot to put a new spin on the signature Mardi Gras elixir – plus there will be gumbo and other dishes to indulge in. The party happens 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Thalia Hall (1807 South Allport Street)
The two innovative venues situated on the first and lower levels of the historic Pilsen property plan to serve up lively Fat Tuesday parties. Expect Big Easy boozin’ in the basement of Punch House, which promises a hurricane-inspired punch and raucous tunes. And upstairs at Dusek’s, the Fat Tuesday feast consists of a $30 crawfish bowl that’s paired with a special craft beer, as well as dishes like catfish étouffée and crab beignets. Of course, there will be plenty of drink specials.