Nestled in the Arlington courthouse building is a café filled with sunshine and Saints memorabilia. The moment you enter, a long wooden counter awaits. Above it hangs a chalkboard with friendly handwriting tightly packed in to reveal old favorites and daily specials. A welcoming face immediately greets you, but not before the furious scents of garlic and hot sauce, carried with the sounds of bacon sizzling. Above it all, the beckoning of powdered sugar clouds.
“It is what it is,” says New Orlean’s native chef and TV personality, David Guas. “There’s no hidden anything. I just wanted a place where you didn’t have to have a budget. I wanted to be people’s every day stop. Simple food done well.”
I wanted a place where mom and dad could come and get a beer while their kids wreak havoc in the dining room—I don’t care. Let there be powdered sugar everywhere!”
Bayou Bakery is just that. In addition to being a popular lunch haunt and favorite neighborhood spot, the bakery also became the unassuming host of what is now considered one of D.C.’s biggest annual celebrations—Mardi Gras Extravaganza.
“We started it eight years ago,” Guas continues. “We’d throw a little party inside the restaurant.” Well, that “little” party got so popular, it almost got the place shut down by the fire marshal.
“People were lined up to get in…any excuse to come party on a Tuesday.”
After a couple of years of stretching capacity within Bayou Bakery itself, Guas decided to move the celebrations outside. “We got a permit for a tent on 15th street in Arlington. It was an 80-foot tent, music was piped in. The next year? We took over the entire Courthouse block. 350 people. It was nuts.”
Every year, it grew and grew. People from around the DMV area heard about Bayou Bakery’s blowout celebration and wanted to be a part of it. Through rain, snow, and sunshine, the streets closed in its honor, the D.C. food and beverage scene took a greater interest, everyone dressed up, and it was festive.
“The final year we did it outside, I was fed up with the county,” Guas explains. He was done with trying to organize such a massive undertaking amidst county rules, the Clarendon parade, and smaller Mardi Gras parties down the road.
“You can’t NOT do something,” urged Gina Chersevani, one of The District’s most beloved mixologists. Chersevani’s larger than life personality was all for “taking this show on the road.” With her connections to Union Market (Chersevani owns Buffalo and Bergan in Union Market), Guas and crew went really big—Mardi Gras EXTRAVAGANZA was born.
“We started off with a couple hundred people…then 350…more…” Guas sounds bemused. “This year, our goal is to take it to at least 500.”
“How do we present DC Central Kitchen with a $10,000 check,” Chersevani chimes in, referring to the fact that ticket proceeds benefit the nation’s first (and leading) community kitchen. “How do we pay our committee members for everything they’ve poured into this?”
For this is no longer a one-man show. For many years now, a large community of well-known personalities including Chersevani, Spike Mendelsohn, Micheline Mendelsohn, Bruce Pike, and more have come together to make Mardi Gras Extravaganza bigger and better.
“I could have continued to throw parties at Bayou Bakery, but taking it on the road wasn’t something I could do alone,” Guas admits, gratefully referring to this committee.
Thanks to them, what was once a small, festive gathering has turned into a live music, charitable concert with the best food and drinks you’ve ever seen.
Born and raised in Louisiana, Guas is dedicated to ensuring that the Mardi Gras Extravaganza is more than just the best party you’ll attend all year—it’s a true celebration of Fat Tuesday. “That’s what we do here,” he sweeps his arms around Bayou Bakery. “We educate people. Our counter cards are the 64 parishes of New Orleans. Our party is always on the actual day of Mardi Gras. We want the entire experience to be authentic and culturally accurate.”
This year, Margi Gras Extravagazna moves to The Showroom to accommodate a massive all-star lineup. For $55, attendees will get an All-You-Can-Eat- And -Drink experience featuring hot spots in D.C. including CHIKO, The Salt Line, Rocklands BBQ, Julii, District Doughnut, Bourbon Steak, Good Stuff Eatery, and more. 12 award-winning bartenders from around the area, including Chersevani, will be facing off in a strict Hurricane Battle (entries must follow either pre or post-prohibition guidelines). And, flying in from New Orleans is James Beard Award-Winning mixologist, Ryan Gannon of Cure. Live music, costumes, and indulgence will abound and it’s all for a good cause.
“It’s an unbelievable excuse for everyone to come out and celebrate life, whether you follow the Catholic Church or not,” Guas describes. “No one needs an excuse to come party but, when it’s sanctioned by the church…”
When: Tuesday, March 5 from 6:00p-10:00p EST
Where: The Showroom (1099 14th St. NW, Suite 101L, Washington, DC 20005)
Limited tickets remain and can be purchased here.