Tiki Spotting at Mardi Gras World – New Orleans

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Before concluding our visit to New Orleans this summer, we had some time to kill before our flight left. We’d just had our fill at the fabulous jazz brunch at Commander’s Palace, so more eating and drinking was out of the question. Since we still had the use of a rental car we headed over to Mardi Gras World in the lower Garden District.

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This tourist attraction is housed in a big warehouse on the riverfront, and it’s a bit inconvenient unless you have your own transportation. (Mardi Gras World offers a free shuttle to and from the French Quarter, though some Yelpers have found it to be not all that punctual.) It wouldn’t be correct to call this a museum because it’s very much a functioning workshop for those famous Fat Tuesday floats.

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The price is $20 per person, which sounds steep except you’re allowed to wander around the props and floats as much as you want afterwards. (I’m sure you can find discount coupons at some hotels.) They also throw in a slice of king cake from their on-site cafe, though we were too stuffed to take advantage.

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The one-hour guided tours leave every half hour from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. While you wait there’s a big gift shop full of New Orleans souvenirs, plus a few displays of intricate, beautiful costumes worn by the royal court members.

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It started off kind of lame, with us encouraged to try on cheap-looking, gaudy Mardi Gras costumes and pose for pictures. After a short video about the history of Mardi Gras (with cameos by Better Than Ezra, randomly), we were escorted around the workshop by a little old Southern lady.

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She related a wealth of information about how the company Blaine Kern Studios produces these big props, which are then rented out to various “krewes” (the organizations that put on the dozens of parades). Some of the figures are made from styrofoam that’s sculpted then covered in paper mache and painted. They can even be re-used on occasion with some alterations, like this Cinderella being transformed into an opera singer.

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I loved the eclectic casts of characters they had assembled, from Mrs. Kong (Queen Kong?) to Winston Churchill to Samantha from “Bewitched.” There were dozens and dozens more where this came from.

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Even more randomly, they had a Batboat movie prop from “Batman Returns” just lying around. (It sounded like one of the owners bought it on a whim.)

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The official tour ended in a giant space that was storing the fully decorated floats from the Orpheus krewe, the group founded in part by Harry Connick Jr. (Appropriately, they named it after the legendary musician from Greek mythology.)

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2013 marked the 20th anniversary of the Orpheus krewe and they celebrated that milestone by decorating each of the floats with themes from all the parades they’d put on over the years.

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As I walked around the float that I can only guess was a tribute to 2008’s theme, Cocktail Concoctions, I noticed a few tikis and palm trees amongst the humongous flowers and bottles of bubbly. Granted, the tikis had the cartoonish look and neon colors of Party City tikis, but they were tikis nonetheless!

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Mardi Gras World
1380 Port of New Orleans Place
New Orleans, LA 70130
504-361-7821

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Aunt Tiki’s – New Orleans, LA

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A few months ago when we visited New Orleans, Chad and I were walking along Decatur Street in the French Quarter on our way to Cafe du Monde when I stopped in my tracks, pointed up and shouted: “Tiki!” We’d serendipitously stumbled on Aunt Tiki’s, which had tiki not just in the name but also on the logo (along with a lady pirate and crossed flaming toilet plungers…).

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I snapped a quick photo of the sign and we continued on our pursuit of beignets. By the next day I’d mustered up enough courage to go back and trespass on what seemed to be a locals’ dive. The “Star Wars” cantina song was playing on the juke box when we walked in, which seemed sort of appropriate.

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As you might guess, I try to do my research on tiki bars before visiting a city so I was a little surprised that I’d never heard of this place before. (Even on Tiki Central it hasn’t been mentioned in nearly 10 years.)

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We sat at the bar and inspected all the little oddities tacked up on the wall, like weird newspaper articles and a bumper sticker that proclaimed: “This is LA, not L.A.” I asked the beautiful tattooed bartender if it was considered a tiki bar. She said, “No, not really. It’s more of a Halloween-themed bar.” I love Halloween — and tikis, of course — so I wasn’t put off by this mash-up. (In fact, I’ve written about it before.)

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The decor is definitely more on the spooky side with all the plastic gravestones and skeletons around. Nonetheless, there are still a fair amount of tiki-related things, including at least one carved tiki.

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On the right just as you walk in is an awesome mural (made by a local artist) with a winsome wahine on a beach by a tiki shack with a smoldering volcano in the background.

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A small glass fish float hangs above the gargoyles perched on the video poker machines, and in the light of the neon beer sign I noticed a faded Party City tiki banner along the doorframe in the back of the bar.

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It was sweltering outside that day and not much cooler inside. However if you went through that doorway you’d find this secluded little space where you could actually feel the air conditioning. I was intrigued by its exposed brick walls, fairy lights and tropical touches like shell lamps and paper palm trees.

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Rum and pineapple juice is the closest thing to a tiki drink served here. The other patrons seemed to prefer PBR and shots of Fireball cinnamon whisky. There are no beers on draft, so your best bet is probably a bottle of Abita. Aunt Tiki’s keeps the doors open and liquor flowin’ 24 hours a day, so it’s sort of like Frankie’s (except it’s nothing at all like Frankie’s…).

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Aunt Tiki’s would be a perfect place to start your Halloween revelry — and there’s a small vintage shop next door — but if you’re looking for a tiki bar in New Orleans, you’d be better off visiting Tiki Tolteca at Felipe’s Taqueria (or Latitude 29 when it opens!).

Aunt Tiki’s
1207 Decatur St.
New Orleans, LA 70116
504-680-8454

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Tiki Tolteca at Felipe’s Taqueria – New Orleans, LA

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For a town that really enjoys rum, New Orleans hasn’t had much going on in the way of tiki bars until recently. The original midcentury ones closed by the 1980s — a common story around the country. But now Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, who is the ultimate authority on tiki drinks, is rumored to have something brewing, and in May 2013 a tiki bar turned up in an unexpected place: Felipe’s Taqueria.

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The private party space upstairs from this Mexican restaurant in the French Quarter has been turned into Tiki Tolteca, a “pop-up” tiki bar that’s open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5 p.m. to midnight, plus some Fridays and Saturdays 6 p.m.-3 a.m. Pop-ups tend to be temporary but I got the impression that they’d keep it going as long as there is interest.

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Tiki Tolteca has its own separate entrance off the street. A black chalkboard on the sidewalk points you to the stairwell and a couple of tikis signal that you’re headed in the right direction.

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I chatted with bartender Richard “Trader Dick” and he said part of the inspiration for this Latin-Polynesian mash-up was Thor Heyerdahl and his Kon-Tiki expedition. In 1947, this Norwegian anthropologist sailed from Peru to the South Pacific on a primitive raft to support his theory that the ancient Polynesians may have migrated from South America.

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The bar is just off the right when you walk in, then there’s a few tall tables and several wood & leather couches with cowhide cushions. On the brick walls are small carved tikis and ship’s figureheads straight from the Oceanic Arts catalog. Large Moai, colorful fish floats, bamboo room dividers, thatch and coconut pirate heads further contribute to the scene. The decor may be a bit minimalist for a tiki bar, but at least there’s no sign of anything from Party City.

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Also adding to the atmosphere the night we were there was a soundtrack alternating between surf music (The Ventures), exotica (Arthur Lyman), Doo-Wop (“Sh-Boom”) and Latin (“Oye Como Va”). Thursdays are “Exotica Lounge” nights with DJ Beach Bunny.

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The cocktail menu offers about a dozen tiki drinks, both classics and originals by Felipe’s bar staff. Half highlight rum while the others showcase south-of-the-border spirits like tequila, mezcal, pisco and cachaça. On the sweeter side is La Conchita ($8), an El Dorado 5 and Smith & Cross creation by Danielle. The Original Hurricane ($7) is bold and tart just as it ought to be, far from the alcoholic Kool-aid you find now at Pat O’Brien’s.

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The chef at Felipe’s Taqueria created a short list of small plates influenced by Mexico, El Salvador, Brazil and Peru. Paying tribute to tiki tradition is the classic rumaki. Reportedly invented by Trader Vic, it’s bacon-wrapped chicken livers and water chestnuts. Pineapple gastrique gives this version a nice hint of sweetness.

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My favorite of the food we tried was the sweet corn tamale cake ($7), a warm, comforting dish served with salsa verde, avocado and Mexican crema picante.

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On the other hand, I was hoping the tostones ($7) would have more flavor considering the crispy fried plantains were topped with habanero jelly and pulled pork. I’d say go for one of the other tempting offerings like the pupusas; Louisiana gulf shrimp ceviche with coconut milk, lime and pineapple salsa; or brigadeiros (Brazilian chocolate truffles).

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For round two, I went for the Subtropical Itch ($7), a Sazerac Rye cocktail created by “Trader Dick.” He told me how he has fun loading this drink up with garnishes, including a backscratcher (naturally).

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Patrons can take home a souvenir mug (Dynasty Easter Islander with “Tiki Tolteca” inked in permanent marker) for an additional $8. “Mai Time” happy hour is 11 p.m. to closing, with Mai Tais, Hurricanes and 151 Swizzles priced at $5.

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There’s a fun sense of humor here — their Mai Tai is described as “Trader Dick’s take on Trader Vic’s take on the QB Cooler” — but make no mistake these are serious cocktails. And considering the care and quality ingredients going into them, they are very reasonably priced too ($5-10, Escorpion Punch serves 2-3 for $25). ¡Viva Tiki Tolteca!

Tiki Tolteca
Upstairs from Felipe’s Taqueria
301 N. Peters St.
New Orleans, LA 70130
504-267-4406

Related Posts:
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Tiki Tolteca on Urbanspoon