Mardi Gras in Massachusetts: Jordan’s Furniture

NOTE: As of early 2016, the Natick Jordan's is no longer Mardi Gras-themed.

May 27, 2013 — In the Boston area, when you want to have a real IMAX experience, you head to a furniture store.

It’s called Jordan’s Furniture, and it’s obviously way more than that. Most of the stores are full-out entertainment experiences.

In shell shock over what happened at this very spot.
The one I always find myself at is in Reading. You enter into this massive open space that has a Fuddruckers, a Jelly Belly station, trapeze lessons, a water feature choreographed to lights and music, and a massive Green Monster coming out of the wall. Then you either buy furniture, watch an eight-story-tall movie, or both if you’re the efficient type.

Basically, that means I’ve given a lot of money to a furniture store without ever buying a stick of its furniture.

And I never thought about it as OTIS fodder because I’m just so used to going to it. But then, two days ago, I threw away a soggy mess of rain-soaked plans and checked out the Natick location for the first time.

There were two things I knew about the Jordan’s in Natick. One, that it’s Bourbon Street-themed and, two, that it features animatronic singers. Turns out, that was the equivalent of knowing nothing about the Jordan’s in Natick.

It feels weird to give a spoiler alert for a furniture store, but if you want to visit and be surprised, skip this article.

We entered the store and were immediately handed Mardi Gras beads. Looking around, it was more enclosed than the open space of the Reading store. We had two directions to go. One was to the in-store restaurant, Kelly’s Roast Beef. We went the other way, down a narrow, mock-Bourbon Street where New Orleans house facades opened into furniture departments.

The street went only a little way before dead-ending at an open space, surrounded by more of the furniture-filled facades. A cardboard sign said that the next show started in 10 minutes.

I didn’t know what to expect, but we sat down on a bench and waited. Suddenly the main lights went down, music started, colored spotlights flew across the floor, and children who had been waiting at the edge of the space for the show to start jumped into the middle in a dancing mosh pit of tiny violence.

An upstairs wall of one of the facades rolled back to reveal a movie screen. This is the story it told: The two store owners (Barry and Eliot Tatelman), dressed as the Blues Brothers, hang out on a couple of their nicer recliners in the middle of Bourbon Street, unknowingly holding up the Mardi Gras parade. The mummers get mad and start chasing them. The pair jump into an old police cruiser, still Blues Brothers-style, and take off.

On the ceiling above us, the undercarriage of a helicopter, looking for the escaped furniture purveyors/human roadblocks glides across the ceiling throwing a spotlight onto the floor and a video feed of all the dancing kids, amused parents, and confused furniture shoppers onto the screen.

The House of Blues façade opens with a crash, and the beat-up front half of the old police cruiser juts through, manned by life-sized bobble-headed animatronic versions of the owners-as-Jake-and-Elwood.

And then a party starts.

On the upper levels of the facades all around, dummy versions of famous entertainers start dancing and singing. And by dancing, it looks like they’re being marionetted by a mechanism from behind that I’m just now realizing I never tried to figure out. I just like the magic, man.

Anyway, we’re talking the Supremes, the Village People, the Beatles, Elvis, and a massive fiberglass Louis Armstrong who is lowered from a corrugated aluminum-covered recess to a terrifying 45 degree angle above the crowd.

Also, Richard Simmons somehow.

After a few minutes of these shenanigans, we get the finale… a giant parade float that had been hidden to that point creeps across tracks in the ceiling, overshadowing the entire floor space. It was shaped like a pair of motley fools, one at each end and in positions that I assume would be the natural ones for flying jesters. I felt like I was in a Batman comic, about to be supervillained by one of the Joker’s over-the-top schemes.

I’m doing a bad job describing how awesome this last bit was. The fiberglass float, nay, work of art was lighted, massive, colorful, and the best and most surreal part of the whole experience...even with Richard Simmons.

And then, less than ten minutes after it started, the show was over. Everything retreated into their recesses. The furniture store was calm again. And that last sentence is my favorite of 2013.

We grabbed some food at the Kelly’s, which was carousel-themed, with large fiberglass horses scattered about the restaurant. Then we checked out the IMAX. To get to the movie lobby, we had to go up an escalator, the walls of which were painted with cartoon paparazzi. Actual strobe lights had been embedded into the walls where the camera flash bulbs were painted and blinked at us while a soundtrack of people calling for our attention played from speakers. Made me realize that escalators are much better than mere red carpets. The Academy Awards should do this.

Eventually, we made it back for a second show, which happens at the top of each hour. This time, the crowd was more sedate, less miniature moshing and more families just sitting on the floor watching. There were also a couple of employees with tambourines mastering the ceremonies.

Then we left, passing under large statues of the owners dressed as motley fools, towering over the exit and bookending the phrase, “Thank you for being the world’s smartest furniture shopper.”

Of course, this was totally not the way I should have done this Jordan’s. I should have been shopping for a chaise longue, picked Jordan’s without any prior knowledge of the place because it looked big enough to have a nice selection, and walked in at about five minutes past the hour.

And walked out a changed and dazed man, completely chaise longue-less. As I should be.