250 years ago the French traveled upriver from New Orleans and founded St. Louis, now home to the second largest Mardi Gras celebration in the United States. The weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday are filled with countless events around town, from private parties to the Beggin’ Pet Parade, from the legendary High Heel Drag Race to the exclusive Mayor’s Mardi Gras Ball.
Because eye-catching costumes are always popular during Mardi Gras, and this year’s Grand Parade falls on Valentine’s Day, Al Capone’s infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929 is a popular theme, according to Diane Baklor of Remember Me Vintage Clothing & Costumes in the heart of Soulard. “The twenties are big this year, and we’re renting a lot of flapper costumes,” Baklor says. “Mainstays like Venetian-style masks, wigs and feather boas are also big.”
On the day of the Grand Parade you’re going to find yourself in the middle of one of the planet’s biggest parties, with up to half a million people swamping the district. Let’s talk about how you’re going to navigate the streets of Soulard, and do so with style and distinction.
Where to Go
The parade begins at 11 a.m. at Busch Stadium and ends at Anheuser Busch. Soulard will be closed to automobile traffic, and you should arrive early if you plan to watch the parade. Prepare to park many blocks away and walk, or take the $5 shuttle from the Civic Center Metrolink Station, which runs every fifteen minutes. Get a viewing spot on the west side of 7th Street/Broadway, otherwise you’ll be cut off from the neighborhood action for hours.
LGBT hot spots include Soulard Bastille and Nadine’s Gin Joint. At the intersection of Russell and Menard, Bastille sits at the epicenter of the Mardi Gras universe, and will feature music as well as The Mighty Mardi Gras Drag Show, hosted by Jade Sinclair.
Staff and VIPs will be tossing beads from Bastille’s upper windows. Right across Menard, the Emperor of St. Louis and a celebrity guest will be holding court and tossing beads from the Turret of Temptation, just above Remember Me Vintage Clothing & Costumes.
Nadine’s has become the heir apparent to Clem’s, which was the LGBT Mardi Gras headquarters for decades, and will have their big heated tent filled with familiar faces. The High Heel Drag Race will also take place outside.
Soulard is a world unto itself on Parade Day, and in this world there are a few things that are highly prized and coveted.
Private Spaces: While mingling among the masses is what it’s all about, there’s no greater Mardi Gras luxury than having a private place to lounge, entertain, regroup, warm up, and use the restroom. Many hit up friends in Soulard to obtain this, while others pay handsomely to rent a place for the weekend.
An upper window or balcony: There’s nothing like having your own opera box overlooking the party below. It’s an entirely different experience, and if you have such a sweet spot, invest in at least a few dozen throw beads and prepare to run the show down below.
The Jewels of Mardi Gras: A fifty cent strand of beads increases in value exponentially on Parade Day, when people beg, plead and jockey for even the cheapest strand. Beads are status, beads are conversation pieces, and beads are a commodity. Revelers stroll into Soulard not even caring about beads, and after a couple of hurricanes wind up showing their junk to strangers, or forking over big money to street vendors for the same ol’ beads everyone else has.
There are throw beads, and then there are the beads people will covet the way Gollum coveted the precious. Acquire a few really impressive strands in advance. You can find new and vintage beads online, you could string your own, or even pick up faux pearls from thrift stores. A few strands of rare, noteworthy beads will lead to countless conversations with new friends, femme fatales, and gentlemen callers.
Soulard Mardi Gras is serious grown folks’ business. Step up your game, floss and run Mardi Gras like a boss. V
WRITTEN BY CHRIS ANDOE