In preparation for the patriotic party, the folks at Gravity Restaurant and Bar (2120 Strand), who are behind the best-kept Mardi Gras secret -- impromptu nude body painting -- are stocking up on extra cans of patriotic colors for ladies in need of flags and stars on their cleavage.
If you're a Mardi Gras virgin, a word of advice: Get there early. Parking is a bitch, and the $4 round-trip shuttle from the Island Community Center on Broadway is running only one day this year: Saturday, February 5. When you get there, you will, of course, want to wade through the morass of parades, beach runs and spots where you can chow down on alligator on a stick. But there are other key places to see and be seen.
The 18 Mardi Gras krewes, basically grown-up fraternities full of folks who model themselves after Will Ferrell in Old School, all have their own semi- private parties within the party. For as little as $20, or as much as $200, you can rise above the fray and hang out on balconies or window ledges along the Strand with your own private stash of brewskies while you throw beads to the masses and enjoy prime viewing of the nighttime parades.
The Z-Krewe has one of the best spots reserved at Trumpet's on the Strand -- directly across from the main music stage at 23rd Street -- not to mention its own street procession on Saturday, January 29 (www.zkrewe.com). Watch for the ladies of this gang, who boast the best name: the Benevolent Society of the Sisters of the Wretched Excess. We also like the Krewe of Gambrinus, which this year presents the "Red, White and Krewe" parade at 6 p.m. on Saturday, January 29.
Another hot tip: Though it usually flies under the radar, locals know the most uninhibited blowout of them all is the annual Krewe de Yaga Ball, which kicks off at Yaga's (2314 Strand) at 10 p.m. Thursday, February 3.
Though this year's live music offerings boast few big-name bands, the good news is several local acts will get a chance to play in front of bigger crowds. On Sunday, January 30, the Houston Press takes over the main stage (23rd and Strand) with a show featuring Lady D & the Zydeco Tornadoes, the Southern Backtones and Sky Blue 72. The following week (Sunday, February 6), the Press party continues with the John Evans Band at noon, followed by the Handsomes. Fans of the quartet know that where the Handsomes lead, the hotties follow. Guys, it's time to stock up on that body paint.