Mardi Gras, Alaskan-Style

Cajun zydeco blasts from the rough ‘n’ tumble Pioneer bar, overlooking the street leading straight into the ocean. Halibut, salmon, crabs and comedy/tragedy masks festoon the usually staid Fogcutter Bar.

We drove the four hours down to Haines, Alaska, not anticipating a “Fat Tuesday” celebration … and here we were, right in the middle of the festivities. Saturday, Sept. 5 is the date of the annual Haines Mardi Gras, which was strange as it was not a Tuesday, and certainly not February.

My husband Ian and I were fortunate to drop right in during the 50th anniversary, which marks the Haines Mardi Gras as an event of note and one to re-visit in the future.

Ian and I started the night with the old Haines town favourite, the Fogcutter Bar. I have never seen a bar decorated with so many green, violet and gold beads, tragedy/comedy masks and tons of glittery banners hanging from the ceiling, walls and tables.

The patrons were predominantly smokers, something of a rarity in today’s smoke-free society. A quick trip to the washroom revealed something even stranger, ashtrays bolted to the washroom stall next to the toilet-paper dispenser.

Our table had a good view of the postage-stamp-sized dance floor, complete with a pole right in the middle that encouraged some creative manoeuvres (not the type of pole that holds up the roof).

We were gradually joined by a teacher from Whitehorse and few good ol’ Haines citizens, all of them at least twice our age.

We chatted, enjoyed Miller Light at $3 a bottle and admired the decorations brightly adorning every available surface. A server draped rows of beads around my neck and raucous classic rock serenaded the Mardi Gras celebrations.

Once we soaked up enough Fogcutter atmosphere, we trotted up the street to check out the live Creole music at the Pioneer bar. The local band, Swingset, was rocking out, and the crowd, mostly college kids, was crammed in like crabs in a trap.

I guessed that nobody here was over 50, certainly a switch from our previous stop. Mardi Gras decorations once again dripped from every wall, and a vinegar smell leaked over from the adjoining restaurant. Coronas were $3, so we grabbed a couple and settled down to dance to the Cajun swing.

Earlier in the night, we’d experienced car trouble in the form of a flat tire. In a town this small, newcomers sure don’t go unnoticed. A young woman motioned to us in the crowd and laughed, saying, “I hope you got your tire fixed!”

After dancing and enjoying Swingset’s energy, we left the bar, with the band still in full rock-out mode, and walked back to our hotel, the venerable (if not a bit creepy) Hotel Halsingland.

(We were walking because our car still had the flat tire, abandoned in town for repair the next day.)

Haines Mardi Gras was definitely not on a Tuesday and clearly not in February, but a great time nonetheless. Check it out: same time, same place next year. Maybe the 51st will be even wilder than the 50th … I know Haines has it in them!

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