A Central Jersey-style Mardi Gras at the Old Bay

Written for MyCentralJersey.com on 2/15/17 

There’s a lot to love about Mardi Gras. Filled with fruity drinks, Cajun-Creole food, colorful beads, fun music and more, it’s a day to let loose that New Orleans has taken to new heights.

However, those living in Central Jersey don’t have to miss out on the festivities just because New Orleans is much further than a bead’s throw away from the Garden State.

The Old Bay Restaurant, a lively New Orleans-inspired hangout offering Southern fare, dozens of draft beers and live music at 61 Church St. in New Brunswick, is known for its annual Mardi Gras celebration featuring live entertainment, a Cajun-Creole buffet, burlesque dancers, giveaways and more.

“This is our Cinco de Mayo,” said Tommy Brennan, manager at the Old Bay for the past five years. “Everyone knows that on Fat Tuesday, you need to be here.”

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The celebration will start at 4 p.m. and go until the restaurant and bar closes at 2 a.m., with the New Brunswick Jazz Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to presenting world-class jazz performances in downtown New Brunswick and Central Jersey venues, going on at 7 p.m. and the the Old No. 7 Band, a seven-piece Americana/bluegrass band, going on at 9 p.m. Vivi Noir, a burlesque dancer, also will be performing throughout the night.

Throughout the night, a $15 cover charge will be required of all visitors, which will include the live music and a Cajun-Creole buffet. The buffet will feature Southern favorites such as chicken and sausage jambalaya, cornbread, shrimp Creole and a vegetarian option. Plus, Magic Hat Brewing Company and WDHA FM will be at the Old Bay offering specials and giveaways.

About 400 people are in total are expected to make their way to the Old Bay on Feb. 28, which has maintained a similar Mardi Gras celebration throughout the years.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Brennan said.

The Mardi Gras celebration at the Old Bay in 2016.  ~Courtesy of the Old Bay Restaurant

The Mardi Gras celebration at the Old Bay in 2016. ~Courtesy of the Old Bay Restaurant

The Old Bay is known for serving Cajun food, but the kitchen is currently going through a menu change to reflect the use of more fresh seafood. Brennan said that the Old Bay has always been stereotyped as only serving hot and spicy food, but that simply isn’t true, especially with some of its new seafood options that are lightly seasoned; the selections include tuna, mako shark, mahi mahi, swordfish and more.

Other favorite menu items include dreamboat’s sole ($22) which is fresh North American sole baked with cornbread and shrimp stuffing and is then topped with a silky lobster sauce, served with Louisiana long grain rice and Southern succotash, as well as the shellfish jambalaya ($27) with Gulf shrimp, black mussels, sea scallops, calamari and Cajun Andouille sausage simmered in a rich Creole sauce and served over Louisiana long grain rice.

Another popular dish, Brennan said, is the crawfish etouffe ($18) which is cooked until chestnut brown, added with an Old Bay spice blend, onions and peppers and then stirred with sweet crawfish tail meat and served over Louisiana long grain rice.

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The Old Bay is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year; it opened in 1987 at the former National Bank of New Jersey constructed in 1857. The interior design of the restaurant was a result of numerous trips to New Orleans, and countless hours of conceptual, layout, and architectural work. In 2004, the interior of Old Bay was completely renovated with additional bar seating and a decor.

After 10 p.m. on normal nights, Old Bay transforms itself into a night spot with drink promotions, a 24-tap craft beer selection and live entertainment.

Even though the Old Bay is far away from its inspirational city of New Orleans, Brennan said that people love to come to the Old Bay for Mardi Gras — and every day — because “people like to party.”

“It’s the day before Ash Wednesday, so you have to cut loose before religious rights kick in,” he said. “You can celebrate that culture at the Old Bay without overpaying for a flight — you can do it all right here.”

Mardi Gras at The Old Bay

Where: The Old Bay, 61 Church St., New Brunswick

When: Feb. 28 starting at 4 p.m.

What: Live music, Cajun-Creole buffet, giveaways from Magic Hat Brewing Company and WDHA FM and burlesque dancers

Cost: $15 at the door

Contact: oldbayrest.com, 732-246-3111

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