Down on Bourbon Street in New Orleans, Mardi Gras is a rainbow blur of beads and booze. But just north of the French Quarter in historic Tremé, they do parades the Tremé way. From the front-porch rocker of his Tremé bungalow with dogs Oscar and Pokey underfoot, Airbnb host and parade aficionado David Olasky talks about how his neighborhood rolls—before, during and after Mardi Gras.
Why is Tremé known for parades?
There are maybe 40-something different social aid and pleasure clubs that will put on a parade throughout the year—most of them with routes that either go through Central City or Tremé. As you follow along behind the brass bands and the sharply-dressed members of the social aid and pleasure club putting on the parade, you can buy a pork chop sandwich from a grill set up in the back of a pickup truck parked along the route, or a beer from a cooler someone on a motorized scooter is pulling behind them. You can dance yourself, or watch others dance, sometimes on front porches, light poles, or the roofs of houses. Or you can just stroll along, enjoying the sunshine and the neighborhood.
Second line parades roll through Tremé throughout the year, not just on Mardi Gras. Can you describe the second line tradition?
Second line parades aren’t really connected to Mardi Gras. They happen throughout the year, every Sunday afternoon, and evolved from the New Orleans funeral tradition, where you’d have a brass band playing slow dirges on the way out to the cemetery, then more upbeat music on the way back. The Sunday afternoon parades are no longer connected to funerals—the stops are outside neighborhood bars rather than a cemetery.
You’ve created a terrific map guide to introduce your guests to Tremé, and you recommend Sylvester Francis’ Backstreet Cultural Museum as a “good collection of Mardi Gras Indian costumes and other treasures.” What makes Mardi Gras in Tremé so unique that it deserves its own museum?
The museum’s not just about Mardi Gras, but the suits the Indians wear are definitely highlights of the collection. They’ll spend hundreds of hours sewing to have the new one ready to debut Mardi Gras morning, and if you get the chance to see a suit up close and check out the intricate beadwork, you’ll see the time was well spent. There’s much more to the tradition than just the pretty suits, but you’ll have to get the details from Mr. Francis.
One of the things I like about Mardi Gras in Tremé is that if you want to go check out the craziness downtown, you can get there without going too far, but around here it’s a little more relaxed. People don’t dress up in silly costumes—except for the ones riding in the Zulu parade down Orleans Avenue—and the day is more about everyone gathering in the streets to eat and drink and BS and listen to music than it is about how many throws [such as beads or toys] you catch from a float, though that’s fun too.
Of all the parades that roll through New Orleans, the ones organized by the Krewe du Vieux social club seem to set the bar for irreverent Mardi Gras themes. Without going into unprintable details, can you describe some of their more memorable antics?
Krewe du Vieux rolls through the Marigny and the French Quarter, two neighborhoods adjacent to Tremé. It is almost all unprintable details, and I imagine some might grow weary of the giant papier-mâché penises after a few floats, but at the same time, there’s something invigorating about living in a place where no politician too important to be mocked. An antic I found particularly memorable? Maybe the float from a few years ago depicting our Governor having his way with a pelican.
Alright, now let’s get really controversial: in your neighborhood guide, you say that Parkway Bakery & Tavern has “maybe the best po’ boys in town.” In New Orleans, those could be fighting words…
There are plenty of places to find a good po’boy in New Orleans once you leave the French Quarter, and I wouldn’t argue with anyone who put something at the top of their list like Domilise’s if you’re uptown or Zimmer’s if you’re in Gentilly. At the top of mine might be the banh mi (Vietnamese po’boys) from Dong Phuong Bakery in New Orleans East, but you have to drive half an hour to get there.
So what makes Parkway earn your loyalty?
Parkway has been around for over a hundred years, it’s a straight shot up Orleans Avenue from my house, the shrimp on their po’boys are a good size and fresh, the roast beef is juicy, and the beer is cold. When Beyoncé wanted po’boys for her entourage after Essence Festival last year, that’s where she got them.
You’ve said about Tremé: “I love the neighborhood and particularly my generous neighbors who keep me well-fed; whether it’s red beans and rice, turkey necks, or seafood gumbo, they always make a little extra because they know I’ll eat it.” How did you swing that kind of an invitation?
I’ll go along with my neighbors’ hospitality being a miracle, though it’s the kind of miracle that I’ve found repeated over and over again since moving here.
For guests who enjoy Tremé hospitality and want to return the favor, what nonprofits can they visit or volunteer while in town?
I’ve worked with the St. Bernard Project, a nonprofit that’s rebuilt almost five hundred homes since Katrina. They’re set up for volunteers.