By Carla Marie Rupp and Jason Rupp
We stumbled upon the Soulard area of St Louis by accident when we were visiting family and staying in a highway motel on the edge of town.
Sitting in the bland, free breakfast-corner near reception, we were discussing what there could be to do in the city after visiting our relatives. Saint Louis is in our family’s history and whenever we came to visit family here, we’ve always loved the big attractions: the Saint Louis Zoo, the Saint Louis Art Museum and the Gateway Arch (going to the top, memorable!) on the fabled Mississippi River. But what else could there be to do?
At the table next to us were some young people who overheard our conversation and told us that there was an up-and-coming cool area of St. Louis – and even a neat hostel, named the Huckleberry Finn Hostel — that they were headed to. Right then and there, we gave up our insipid motel for a couple of nights stay in Soulard, the so-called new trendy area of the city.
Soulard: On the Cutting Edge of Fun
As it turned out, Soulard isn’t an up-and-coming area at all — it’s been cool for a long, long time, with a long history of being on the cutting edge of fun. This old historic French neighborhood is the real spot for fun in St. Louis, a city that’s too often overshadowed by popular Branson, Missouri’s other hot spot, about a four-hour drive away.
We found out, as more and more people now seem to be doing every year, that Soulard is also famous for its Mardi Gras, the second largest in the country after New Orleans. Who knew that took place in St. Louis?
But Soulard’s Mardi Gras differs from its southern counterpart in that it has a unique St. Louis flavor, a combination of Oktoberfest, Bastille Day and Mardi Gras all rolled into one. The festivities start the Saturday before Fat Tuesday, this year February 21, and the parades are spectacular, rivaling New Orleans, beads, revelry and all. But in Soulard they give it a distinct St. Louis twist incorporating such popular events as the Beggin’ Pet Parade, the Bud Light Party Tent and the annual Wiener Dog Derby! The atmosphere just can’t be beat.
At any time of year, not just at Mardi Gras, you can discover the joys of Soulard on your own. Hang out at the pubs, meet the people, visit the historic Soulard Farmer’s Market and the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company (a tour of the brewery is highly recommended), or just plain walk around, no matter what the weather.
Soulard is such a cool neighborhood, with fascinating architecture and restaurants, serving foods from Cajun & Creole, Irish and French, to Southern & Soul. Many clubs feature bands, musical groups and jam sessions, such as the Sunday blues music at Hammerstone’s, which showcases the Voodoo Blues Band and other blues musicians.
If you take a detour from Soulard, definitely don’t miss the City Museum, deserving of a more crazy name, since it’s full of some of the most wacky exhibits on the planet. “An eclectic mixture of children’s playground, funhouse, surrealistic pavilion, and architectural marvel made out of unique, found objects,” a tour of it is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face.
If you go:
Mardi Gras Information
Soulard Farmer’s Market
Explore St. Louis (CVB)
Huckleberry Finn Youth Hostel
The Gateway Arch
Hammerstone’s Blues Bar
Anheuser-Busch Budweiser brewery tours