GOLD COAST — You don't have to fly to New Orleans to get that Bourbon Street feel this Fat Tuesday.
You only need to travel as far as Rush Street and Division Street, where a collective of bars is recreating the vibrant Louisiana scene as they have since the 1970s. In recent years, they've added a philanthropic element to the festivities.
"We've always celebrated Mardi Gras on Division Street to some degree or another. ... But after what happened with Hurricane Katrina, we really stepped it up, and tried to raise some good money for good people," said Matt Kubinski, marketing director for the Lodge Management Group, which organized the event between six of the 11 entertainment venues it operates.
The tradition was started by F. Owen McKinney, the founder and original president of Lodge Management Group, according to his daughter, Lauren McKinney, who now serves as chief development officer.
"I know that there were a lot of trips to New Orleans, a lot of 'field research,' " McKinney said, recalling memories of her dad proudly showing off the final product as "a sort of take-your-daughter-to-work day — always before bedtime, of course."
McKinney said the Bourbon Street celebration was "big for a while in the 90s, and then in the early 2000s there was a bit of a lull."
In 2006, the festival began collecting donations and earmarked a portion of proceeds to benefit the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, which helps musicians in the New Orleans area who were in need of financial assistance and practice space following Hurricane Katrina. Kubinski said that re-energized participants, and said they raise more than $1,000 each year for the cause.
In an effort to capture what Kubinski calls "the Bourbon Street experience," which centers on an open festival in the streets, while acknowledging the winter weather, this year's event is modeled more like a pub crawl, he said. Guests are encouraged to circulate between the six bars participating: Mother’s Too, The Original Mother’s, The Hangge-Uppe, Bootleggers, She-nannigans House of Beer and The Lodge Tavern.
Members of the Chicago Brass Band and a host of street artists will be hopping from venue to venue throughout the night, too.
There's no cover for the event, and specials include $2 Bud Lights and $3 Jameson shots at all participating locations.
"Even though it's February in Chicago, it feels a little bit like Bourbon Street," Kubinski said. "We hope to bring a little taste of New Orleans to Chicago. ... It's for a good cause, and it's gonna be a good time."