Until a Bourbon Street innkeeper named Owen Edward Brennan founded the Krewe of Bacchus, organized Mardi Gras celebrations were the preserve of New Orleans’ upper crust. Brennan’s Krewe, born in his own barroom in 1949, was going to stand apart. He was prepared to admit anyone. But it took another 20 years for his son, Owen “Pip” Brennan, Jr. to make the Krewe synonymous with Mardi Gras.
By 1968, the popularity of Carnival had been waning for some time, so Brennan held a meeting in his late father’s absinthe house to inject some revelry back into the holiday. He dreamed up an idea for a Sunday night parade, complete with beads, booze, and massive floats. Topping it off, Brennan would bring in a national celebrity to stand in for Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, drunkenness, merriment, and debauchery.
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In over a century of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, no one had heard anything like it.
Under the theme of “The Best Things in Life,” 250 people and 15 floats spilled onto St. Charles Avenue on the edge of the French Quarter on February 16, 1969. Led by their ceremonial king, comedian Danny Kaye, the Krewe showered thousands of spectators with over a million strings of beads. During its first 10 years, with the parade growing larger and rowdier, the list of honorary kings included Bob Hope, Jackie Gleason, Perry Como, and Henry Winkler.
Over four decades later, Pip Brennan is still the Krewe’s Captain, and the parade remains a staple of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras celebration, with over 1,000 members and more than 30 floats. The 2010 edition featured the city’s newest and most celebrated hero, New Orleans Saints’ first Super Bowl winning quarterback, Drew Brees.