The 2021 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras season officially kicked off on February 19 with the raising of the rainbow flag above Sydney Town Hall, which will fly until March 7. The theme for this year’s event, which includes the annual street parade and a festival, is ‘Rise’. It refers to rising to the occasion during trying times, helping spirits rise again, supporting the rising starts and rising together to support each other.
Lord Mayor Clover Moore said: “We didn’t know it at the time, but last year’s Mardi Gras parade was the last major event held before we went into lockdown, to protect each other from COVID-19.
“One weekend we were laughing, dancing and kissing on Oxford Street, and in an instant, life was drained from our city.”
“I’m delighted that Mardi Gras can proceed this year, to celebrate our community’s resilience in the face of 2020’s challenges and build hope for the coming year.
A 90-metre rainbow footpath has been painted at Prince Alfred Park in Surry Hills, honouring the moment in 2017 when 30,000 people gathered on the lawn to hear the results of Australia’s marriage equality postal survey.
While some Mardi Gras events will look different this year to ensure they are COVID-safe there will still be plenty to celebration. Oxford Street will play host to Oxtravaganza, a two-week program of music, art and live performances.
On Saturday and Sunday, March 6-7, a range of restaurants, pubs and cafes in Surry Hills will offer picnic menus all weekend. Led by the Surry Hills Creative Precinct and supported by a City of Sydney grant, ‘Picnic Surry Hills’ will include The Winery, The Clock, Paddock on Crown and The Shakespeare.
On Saturday, March 6, Sydney Cricket Ground will host the Mardi Gras Parade. The stadium will be filled with LGBTQI+ families, friends and allies as 5000 paraders from over 100 community groups take part in a celebration that moves away from large floats and instead focuses on vibrant costumes, puppetry and props.
Drinks sponsors join the party
Among the drinks sponsors of this year’s Mardi Gras are Pure Blonde Organic Lager, Woolworths, Red Bull, Archie Rose Distilling Co, Scotchman’s Hill wines and Absolut.
“We’re proud to be the official beer and cider of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras,” Pure Blonde said. “The LGBTQI+ community has done it especially tough in 2020 and this festival is a time to support, celebrate and rise up with Pure Pride.”
Mardi Gras CEO Albert Kruger explained to CMO that brands choose to support Mardi Gras because it sends an important message to their staff, their customers and the world that they are welcoming and inclusive places that celebrate diversity and champion inclusion. “These are powerful messages to send, and Mardi Gras is a huge platform for them to be able to share these messages with the world,” he said.
“The brands that work with us are authentic in their support for the LGBTQIA+ community, with all of them having robust diversity and inclusion programs to further workplace protections for LGBTQI communities, and a strong drive to celebrate the importance of diversity in the workplace.”
Absolut teams up with Merivale
Merivale and Absolut Vodka have joined forces for Mardi Gras. Along with drag shows, DJs, live entertainment, parties and other festivities, festival-goers can choose from a selection of restaurant, drink, dine and stay packages at Merivale establishments. The packages either include Absolut Party packs with Absolut Rainbow Limited Edition 700 ml bottles or the signature Mardi Gras cocktail, the Absolut Banger.
Merivale and Absolut have also created a signature cocktail, the Absolut Banger with Absolut Lime, Lillet Blanc, Passionfruit and Granny Smith apple, available to order at selected venues until March 7. In keeping with the Mardi Gras spirit, charity partners Bobby Goldsmith Foundation and ACON will receive two dollars with every signature cocktail sold.
Above: Absolut Beresford Sunday cabaret performers Minnie Cooper and Troy.
BWS does drag queen deliveries
Woolworths Group and its liquor chains Dan Murphy’s and BWS, have been official partners of the Sydney Mardi Gras Festival since 2018.
Dan Murphy’s has given its logo a rainbow update and created in-store activations for the festival, while BWS is bringing the glitz this Mardi Gras with store makeovers and drag queen drinks deliveries.
“We are proud partners of the Sydney Mardi Gras because we value diversity and inclusivity,” said BWS Managing Director Scott Davidson. “We champion individuality and celebrate the diversity of our team, making sure all team members feel valued, respected and empowered for who they are.”
“Our whole team loves getting involved in the Sydney Mardi Gras celebrations every year.”
Three of the retailer’s Sydney stores near the Sydney Mardi Gras precinct – BWS Paddington South Dowling Street, BWS Paddington Oxford street and BWS Darlinghurst – have had store signs changed to BWS YASSS, complete in rainbow colours, as part of the celebrations.
BWS has also partnered with Sydney drag queen Miss Prada Clutch (above).
‘Yas darlings, I’m so excited to be part of BWS Mardi Gras celebrations. The BWS YASSS store signs are fabulous because ‘Yas’ has its origins in our glittering drag community and is a fierce expression of support,” Prada Clutch said.
“And drinks delivered in one hour? How qween-venient. Certainly faster than it takes for me to get ready in the morning, darlings. I can’t wait to help deliver my special party packages and so speedily. Somebody hold my lipstick!”
The party packages include a bottle of super star and Sydney Mardi Gras headliner Rita Ora’s premium tequila brand Próspero and Mishka Vodka as well as glitter props in the Mardi Gras vibe.
Archie Rose celebrates its first year as a Mardi Gras sponsor
“We are incredibly proud to be the official gin partner of the 2021 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, to celebrate diversity and inclusion and show our love for the LGBTQI+ community,” said Archie Rose.
“It’s also an honour to be the first Australian spirits brand to partner with Mardi Gras on this iconic cultural event.”
The distiller has collaborated with Mardi Gras on a limited twin set of bottled cocktails—Ex On The Beach and Big Daddy, which pay homage to the community’s diversity. The figures on the bottles, drawn by artist Ashley Ronning, dance under mirror balls (currently illegal) and frolic on the beach (thankfully allowed).
Archie Rose head of hospitality Harriet Leigh explained: “With these scenes, it was our intention to say ‘This is what we love about our queer city.’ We may not have got it right for everyone—but we’ve certainly celebrated a large chunk of our community. I cannot wait to drink a Big Daddy at the SCG with a large portion of the Archie Rose team.”
How the hotels are celebrating
Hotels across Sydney and Australia have also been creating special events during the Mardi Gras festival.
W Hotels leads the charge as a major partner of the festival in 2021. As part of the celebrations, it put a special twist on the iconic Mr Whippy van, serving up complimentary soft serve waffle cones across Sydney. This Saturday, the W Hotels float will join the official parade at the SCG.
“Inclusivity and equality and that sense of acceptance remains at the core of the W DNA, our doors at W Hotels are always open to all,” said Sean Hunt, area vice president – Australia, New Zealand & Pacific – Marriott International.
“I am beyond excited to see Witty & Whippy van and campaign come to life, with co-workers, guests and friends of the brand marching, dancing and loving out loud and proud.”
As previously mentioned, Merivale has teamed up with vodka brand Absolut for their 2021 campaign, We Are Stronger Together. It is “championing the ones who give us strength and raise us up” through sharing stories, a range of Mardi Gras events and signature cocktails across Merivale venues.
Applejack Hospitality’s latest venue, Forrester’s, is inviting customers to “Dine Like A Queen” during Mardi Gras weekend, with a special bottomless rosé lunch on March 6, plus Absolut cocktails to start.
Hyde Hacienda Sydney is hosting the Basic Babe Mardi Gras Party, in partnership with the seltzer brand.
And Trippas White Group is hosting a “Drag the Harbour Dry” in the Yallamundi Rooms at Sydney Opera House on March 13, featuring Sydney drag icons Charisma Belle, Carmen Geddit and Vybe.
Pictured main: Secolo Dining is hosting Apertivo Hour on March 5, with $15 Espresso Martinis all night and a performance by the fabulous Sheileta Buffet.