It’s that time again, when our historic Soulard Neighborhood transforms itself into a destination, festooned with purple, green and gold. And porta-potties. Everybody knows what that means… Soulard Mardi Gras is underway.
Here in St. Louis, we don’t flaunt our French Heritage year-round but during Carnival season, we know how to throw a Bon Temps party. Or two, or three. The Soulard Neighborhood was established in the 1790’s but it took another 190 years before the locals decided to take up umbrellas and parade through the narrow cobblestone streets of Soulard to celebrate before the coming of Lent. What started as a group of about 200 friends and neighbors has grown into a raucous bacchanal, a celebration that attracts upwards of half a million people to the parades and musical venues.
Soulard is a high-density bar scene of a dozen or so streets running west from Broadway, just south of downtown St. Louis and the better-known Busch Stadium. Soulard Mardi Gras is the 2nd largest celebration of Fat Tuesday in the country. While our krewes can’t boast the history of those in New Orleans, they make up for it in enthusiasm and creativity.
St. Louis Mardi Gras hosts three parades. The first one is sponsored by the Krewe of Barkus, and their dog parade is family-friendly. Revenue from the parade registration supports local no-kill shelters and this parade of pooches and their loving owners occurs the Sunday before the Grand Parade. It also includes a Wiener Dog Race that pits the fleetest of dachshunds against one another in a race like no other you’ve ever seen.
The Grand Parade rolls out on the Saturday before Fat Tuesday and is adult oriented. Seriously. Do not bring your impressionable youngsters to this event! And in the hours just before the arrival of Ash Wednesday, on Mardi Gras night, the final parade of the season moves to the downtown streets and features lighted floats. This is easily the prettiest parade I’ve ever seen. All three parades draw sizable crowds, with the largest, most unpredictable, and most flesh-exposing being the Grand Parade in Soulard. Beads are thrown. Minds are blown. And beer flows like the deep water of the Mississippi River.
The St. Louis music scene benefits greatly from the Mardi Gras season. The bars and nightclubs in and around Soulard offer live music all day long. You can find blues bands, rock groups, jazz trios and rappers. All within walking distance of each other. On Grand Parade Saturday, Soulard pulses with a thousand beats. Costumes and masks are encouraged. And visitors are warmly welcomed. Just be sure to leave your Cubs hat at home.