New Orleans expats and enthusiasts celebrate Mardi Gras in Philly

Creole restaurant Acadia brings a slice of the Big Easy to Philadelphia.

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Marki and Deenee Levere celebrate Fat Tuesday at Acadia Bar in South Philadelphia. (Natalie Piserchio for WHYY)

Marki and Deenee Levere celebrate Fat Tuesday at Acadia Bar in South Philadelphia. (Natalie Piserchio for WHYY)

Julia K Sanders, a New Orleans native, always celebrates Mardi Gras with live Jazz and Creole food including, jambalaya and hushpuppies.

Last night she wore a festive mask made out of feathers and Mardi Gras beads she inherited from her mother.

But she wasn’t in New Orleans this year, she was at Acadia, a relatively new Cajun-Creole restaurant around the corner from Philadelphia’s Italian Market.

Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Tuesday, marks the end of the celebratory Carnival season and gives way to the start of Lent, a season of reflection, fasting and prayer in the Christian liturgy.

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Sanders said she typically tries to recreate the ethos of Mardi Gras at home with friends and gives the restaurant high marks for capturing the right feel.

“The only thing that’s missing from this aside from the parade itself, is the people that are on the second floors of balconies that have the wrought iron fences that are throwing beads to the people that are open handed in the streets,” Sanders said.

Sanders was not the only one at Acadia trying to recreate a bit of the Big Easy in Philadelphia.

Across the bar was Leslie Manning. She kept a low-key approach to Mardi Gras in the past, eating New Orleans-style food with family. Though she was born in Philadelphia, her father’s side of the family is from New Orleans.

“It’s been a couple of years it feels like, since I’ve celebrated or done anything special since I haven’t been with my family a few years,” she said. “So it is nice to recognize this.”

At the bar, Jeff Marvin wore a purple shirt that says New Orleans. He and his wife Jan Marvin are from Louisiana and met in Baton Rouge.

Usually they spend Mardi Gras with family, but on Tuesday they came to support keyboardist friend Christopher Marsceill, better known as Reverend Chris, who is playing with his quintet.

Reverend Chris lived in New Orleans for roughly a decade before Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home.

Sitting in the next room was Madison Tompkins from Washington, Louisiana. Her Mardi Gras outfit features gold alligator earrings with a purple, green and gold striped shirt. It’s all tied together with a sequined, oversized green bow tie.

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Tomkin’s has been celebrating Mardi Gras in Philadelphia the past four years.

“I try to find the best place in Philly that I can to eat some of the food from home,” she said, adding that it’s not always easy.

A handful of Acadia’s guests with Louisiana ties, say it can be hard to find an authentic Mardi Gras celebration.

Mardi Gras is celebrated at the Acadia Bar in South Philadelphia. (Natalie Piserchio for WHYY)

Sean Nevins, chef-owner of Acadia, says he wanted to do that year round.

“Everyone who’s been to New Orleans or who has lived there for a while, there’s a piece of New Orleans that travels around with them,” he said. “So what I really wanted to do in Philadelphia is tap into that.”

Tuesday night, the restaurant seemed to be doing just that, attracting expats and self-proclaimed New Orleans enthusiasts like Alicia Williams and her half a dozen friends.

Alicia Williams, 34, a self-proclaimed Mardi Gras Enthusiast, celebrates the US holiday at Acadia Bar in South Philadelphia next to her friend Shakeena Parker. (Natalie Piserchio for WHYY)

“I love the food, I love the culture, I love the history, I love the drinks — I love everything about New Orleans,” she said. “Especially Mardi Gras.”

Williams says while she’s itching to visit New Orleans again, Acadia is a nice substitute closer to home.

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