Dec 4, 201202:35 PMTravel
The Best of the World
Welcome to New Year's Eve, Mobile, Alabama
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It’s a minute to midnight – 40,000 hooting, hollering revelers are gathered at the corner of St. Joseph and St. Francis Streets, awaiting the tantalizingly gradual descent of a giant, 600-pound electronic MoonPie from the 34-story RSA BankTrust building.
In the meantime, the world’s largest edible version of the beloved chocolate marshmallow sandwich, weighing 55 pounds and measuring 40 inches in diameter and six inches in height, is about to be served at a luxe ball across town. Welcome to New Year’s Eve, Mobile, Alabama style.
Founded five years ago, MoonPie over Mobile is both a ringing in of the New Year and a kick-off to the city’s Mardi Gras season. Mobile – not New Orleans – was the birthplace of Mardi Gras in the U.S. Since 1952, MoonPies have been tossed to cheering crowds by masked merrymakers riding on Mardi Gras floats. With four million of the treats now consumed annually by Mobile residents, MoonPies have become the unofficial symbol of the city.
So, what better to drop on New Year’s Eve?
But the celebration, which is now the largest New Year’s event in the Central Time Zone and draws attendees from across the country, offers much more than the MoonPie drop.
The revelry gets underway in the early evening with the New Year’s Eve Parade, a family-friendly event boasting Mobile’s most fabulous Mardi Gras floats and marching bands. Street vendors add to the festive atmosphere as the evening officially kicks off with remarks from government officials on the main stage. Performances from local and nationally known bands (last year, rock legend Three Dog Night headlined) follow.
For those looking to avoid crowds and add some swank to their celebration, Mobile hosts a fundraiser ball each New Year’s Eve at the Convention Center, featuring live music; appearances from the city’s most lauded performing arts ventures, a gourmet menu (including that massive MoonPie) and a champagne toast. It’s an unforgettable night of fun in the service of a very good cause.
The New Year’s Ball traditionally benefits McKemie Place, the area’s only overnight shelter for single, homeless women.
Back downtown, a light show begins around 11:30 p.m. at the RSA Battle House Tower and the Renaissance Riverview Plaza, and then, at midnight, the street party comes to a crescendo as the MoonPie descends. When it reaches the sixth floor of the RSA BankTrust building, a synchronized fireworks display and laser show explodes over the skyline.
It’s an incredible sight – this 12-foot-tall, lighted electronic pastry creeping slowly downward as the night sky erupts with pyrotechnics. But visitors in town to see it should be careful not to neglect the city’s other pleasures.
Mobile itself offers more than anyone unfamiliar with it could expect. Located on Mobile Bay on the northern Gulf of Mexico, it was settled by the French in 1702, before passing into British and eventually Spanish rule. As such, the city is filled with a glorious range of architectural styles, though its center is pure Big Easy, right down to the gaslights that line its sidewalks and the ornate wrought iron balconies that grace its charming, historic buildings.
And, like New Orleans, downtown Mobile is chockfull of funky bars and fabulous restaurants, which means that roving bands of New Year’s revelers have plenty of options when drinking down and fueling up.
Topping the list is the justifiably famous Wintzell’s Oyster House (wintzellsoysterhouse.com, 251-432-4605), a Lower Dauphin Street staple since 1938. Wintzell’s brags that it serves up its marquee shellfish “fried, stewed or nude,” but real aficionados of the restaurant’s Gulf Coast oysters – which just might be the best on the planet – know that naked on the half shell is the only way to go.