One for the (bever)ages: How the Mardi Gras cup was invented
“In the middle of the night, I got a crazy idea,” Corrado Giacona II remembered. “Why not create a new kind of plastic drink cup?” So he set about doing just that. By Mardi Gras 1980, he had convinced the krewes of Alla, Bacchus, Rhea and Argus that his cups would make perfect Carnival throws. The resulting plastic vessels from Giacona Container Corp., decorated with krewe imagery, were an instant hit, and Giacona, the company’s president, trademarked the name Mardi Gras Throw Cups a year later. From that year on, his “crazy idea” has been a Mardi Gras mainstay.
The cups have become fixtures at virtually every New Orleans Carnival parade. Revelers clamor for them not only for their souvenir value – they are custom-designed for each krewe and, in some organizations, for each float — but also for their immediate usefulness as a place for pouring whatever beverages paradegoers might be enjoying.
- The company makes more than a million cups each year for Carnival parades, Giacona said.
- Like the krewes’ floatmakers, Giacona’s artists start designing the following year’s cups shortly after the streets are swept clean for the start of Lent.
- The molds for Giacona’s cups are triple-chrome-plated to make the sides of the cups as slick as possible — thus keeping drinks poured into them as foam-free as possible.
- Giacona’s cups are by no means confined to Mardi Gras. Even though the company’s headquarters is in Old Jefferson, about 90 percent of its business is outside Louisiana, he said, at bars, ballparks, restaurants and pretty much anywhere imaginable.
- Giacona designers can whip up designs for all sorts of occasions and sponsors. A mortuary on Bayou Lafourche once ordered up cups, for instance, and an Icee cup was commissioned for Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1987.
- Cup culture has moved beyond New Orleans. In Atlanta, for instance, Braves fans can order drinks in cups shaped like tomahawks, and more than 20 million cups were ordered to promote the 1989 movie “Batman” in Mexico, Giacona said.
- For a cup-within-a-cup effect, check out the Rex cup from 2003: It shows painters with their brushes deposited in — you guessed it — a Rex cup.
- Besides standard drinking cups, Giacona has turned out cups that light up and glow in the dark, as well as plastic replicas of beer schooners.
In nearly every true New Orleans home, you’ll likely find stacks of the multicolored plastic cups in the attic or a kitchen cabinet (or even two or three cabinets). And when a guest leaves before finishing a drink, it’s common courtesy to put that drink into a plastic cup. Corrado Giacona said he realized how popular the cups would be in 1980, the cups’ debut year, when riders on only a few Alla floats had them. After one cup-equipped float passed and the next rolled into view with no cups, he said people were pounding on the side of the float yelling, “Cups, cups, cups.”