"Dumb Society" inspired by Carlotta Bonnecaze's 1896 Proteus Procession
For the TWO WEEKS Leading Up to MARDI GRAS
Please join us daily for FIVE O’CLOCK *TEA*
On Mardi Gras morning 1857, “The Mistick Krewe of Comus introduced spectacle to the streets of New Orleans, and Carnival was forever changed,” writes revered Carnival historian, Henri Schindler. For the next 100 years - the Golden Age of Carnival - New Orleans lived the fullest expression of its sensual self, manifest in a glorious array of opulent costumes, intricate graphic art, and marvelous pageantry created by hundreds of theater artists.
Yet, when most people think of Carnival today, they see purple, green and gold mylar, blinking beads and flowing kegs of beer – it’s the most misunderstood of the many distinctive traditions celebrated in New Orleans. The locally-owned, art-centric boutique-hotel, International House, however, celebrates this annual ritual with a breathtakingly original, culturally rich and historically significant story from the Golden Age. In the two weeks leading into Mardi Gras, the hotel lobby is adorned with 21 brilliant watercolors depicting fantastical, larger-than-life characters from Carnival 1896. The legendary images are from Bonnecaze’s irreverent “Dumb Society” parade that same year and pay tribute to her, the first woman to design costumes and floats for Mardi Gras. She did so with great artistic and satirical flair.
Displayed above the entrance to the hotel’s magnetic bar, Loa, is Bonnecaze's comically titled “Five O’Clock Tea” painting, in which she pokes fun at affected custom. The painting is also the inspiration behind Loa's most enchanted tea party - a must-see late afternoon fête served theatrically by costumed creatures in Mid to Late February, from 5:00 - 6:00 pm each day, complete with make-believe animal noses and tasty rum-tea punch.
"Spirit Handler" Alan Walter offers revelers a spirited taste of the Golden Age of Carnival in a teacup: "My 'Five O'Clock Tea' honors Bonnecaze and her pricelessly witty animal-people creations. This libation nods to that magical era, and our "older sister,” Venice, while still hailing clearly from this city. It’s an extravagant taste of placeworthy of a Queen, yet suitable for a jackass, dragonfly or grubworm - any of the hysterical satirical figures in her Dumb Society. Such are the demands of Carnival!" Walter's tea, tracing the wit of the watercolors, is a liquid compendium of the season at hand, using Aperol, legendary Ojen, and Limoncello.
And to this chimerical menagerie Walter brings the Lilac Breasted Roller. He writes, “This bird—whose name could drum up the image of a picturesque strutting parader decked out in mauve—is a feathered nexus of Carnival’s color scheme, the epic of Gilgamesh, and Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of fertility and sex. To her outrage, Gilgamesh was wary of Ishtar’s charms; on his “flags up” list, among many other lovely creatures she had destroyed was, “You loved the Lilac Breasted Roller, but still you struck and broke his wing.”
Considered by many the most beautiful bird in the world, its young are varied shades of brown and slowly, surely develop pastels to rival any preteen girl’s dream bedroom. They mate for life, fly like acrobats and beat their prey against a rock before swallowing it whole.
This similarly colorful cocktailbegins its life like the full-grown beauty and once agitated, develops in reverse to a golden-hued gin martini. The colors, the vibrancy and the mayhem of Mardi Gras, served up. The drink’s design, emulating the Roller’s coloring, places it in the tradition of the Pousse Cafe, said to be created in New Orleans in the mid-19th century, and which depends on the differing densities of various liqueurs to achieve a striking, layered presentation. Perhaps the intention behind this manifestation saves it from being what’s been called “a cartoon mockery of mixology.”
The saying goes, “Carnival begins when Babylon rolls.” How fitting to bring the myth of Ishtar queen of Babylon to the starting line, hearkening to the Carnival of yesterday, which rolled with sublime evocation of classical themes and the stories of great ancient cultures. It’s the sort of whimsical Pagan ritual that might stir the imagination of a Golden Age designer, like Bonnecaze. Andit reminds us this city owes its fabulous, rich life to its stories too, the telling weave of those layered narratives and curious characters who arrived in this gritty port town from all directions.
Caught up in the mylar and cheaper thrills of Mardi Gras seen in this modern Instagram era, it is refreshing to revive the sacred intention and the season’s whimsy behind the lavish spectacle. Adds Walter, “We belong to a city dedicated most unusually to the vigorous celebration of life’s joys. This drink captures our joie-de-vivre with an extravagant taste of this place, one that keeps us connected to the peoples and distant places that still flavor this city’s culture.”
Please join us for
FIVE O’CLOCK TEA
Aperol, Sorrento Limoncello, Matte Tea, Citrus, Fresh Herbs, Ojen
Mid to late February, from 5-6p daily