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Mardi Gras memories guaranteed at unique New Orleans auction

Christine Vinson (center) in a Mardi Gras-colored scarf at the Galatoire Foundation Mardi Gras Table Auction. (Photo:Caitlin Switzer/The Ehrhardt Group)

Christine Vinson (center) in a Mardi Gras-colored scarf at the Galatoire Foundation Mardi Gras Table Auction. (Photo:Caitlin Switzer/The Ehrhardt Group)

On Twelfth Night, Christine Vinson, Vice President of Vinson Guard Service, decided to wear something purple, green and gold every day until Mardi Gras. So when she walked into Galatoire’s on Monday evening for the annual Galatoire Foundation Mardi Gras Table Auction wearing said-colored scarf around her neck, one could completely understand why art auctioneer Ruthie Winston kept referring to her as Mardi Gras Lady every time she raised her paddle.

There’s nothing quite like the scene at this historic restaurant where frenzied bidding might win you a private reserved table -- no food, no wine, mind you, just the table for the Friday before Mardi Gras, one of the busiest days of the year at this quintessential New Orleans eatery.

As any New Orleanian knows, Galatoire’s has maintained a strict “no reservation” policy since 1905, with first-floor seating always traditionally first-come, first-serve, making the very idea of a reserved table there something to kill for.

So for a $50 per couple ticket, would-be bidders flocked into the restaurant. There they were treated to champagne, wine and seriously delicious appetizers passed on silver trays before the bidding opened. A half-dozen two-top tables were offered first. One by one they were bought by spirited bidders, each topping out at $400.

But these were just the opening forays. As the bidding for four-tops, eight-tops, even 10- and 12-tops began to escalate, Ruthie kept the crowd’s enthusiasm up with quips, wry comments and humor. How could anyone resist, as Ruthie said of one highly visible table, “its optimal view of the room and only a short walk to the ladies room?”

Auctioneer Ruthie (Photo: Caitlin Switzer/The Ehrhardt Group)

Auctioneer Ruthie Winston (Photo: Caitlin Switzer/The Ehrhardt Group)

For experienced auction house bidders like Sally Richards, it’s all about the timing of when you raise your paddle. Trying on a couple of occasions but failing, she was finally able to secure the table she wanted.

“I’m so relieved,” Sally said with a smile, “because I’ve already asked the people.”

Others clearly felt the same way in what, one has to observe, was a room filled with predominantly guy-dominated paddle platoons. And while there were a number of proxy-paddlers bidding for absent interested parties, not all were successful. Gabby Waxman, who works for Galatoire’s, was one. Although she raised her paddle for almost every table offered, she was seriously outbid on all. “I tried,” she smiled gamely.

Applause was abundant for the high roller of the evening, one William A. Lazaro Jr., who with his wife, Winona, bid $9,250 for an eight-top and another $1,700 for a four-top. Now remember, no food, no wine, just the tables.

Monday night, crowds bid on reserved tables at Galatoire's for Lundi Gras. (Photo: Caitlin Switzer/The Ehrhardt Group)

Monday night, crowds bid on reserved tables at Galatoire's for the Friday before Mardi Gras. (Photo: Caitlin Switzer/The Ehrhardt Group)

“It’s for two great causes,” William says of the two 2015 beneficiaries of the event: Lighthouse Louisiana, formerly known as the Lighthouse for the Blind, an organization dedicated to serving the blind, visually impaired disabled community; and Liberty’s Kitchen, whose mission is to transform the lives of New Orleans youth through food service-based training and leadership.

“I know it’s a lot of money,” William says of his two “prime spot” tables. “But I’m fortunate enough to be able to do it.”

All in all, the evening raised more than $68,000 for the beneficiaries. Not a bad way for Mardi Gras/Galatoire's lovers to spend a couple of hours giving to charity and ensuring that the Friday before Carnival will be one fun, even memorable, day.

Depending on the liquid intake, that is!

Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]