Mardi Gras in St. Louis, while not yet on the level of the one in New Orleans, is a raucous event. At last count it was the third largest in the country and it’s still growing every year, sometimes to the chagrin of the people who live in Soulard, the old French neighborhood where it is held every year.
Soulard is one of the oldest neighborhoods in St. Louis, not far from downtown and the Mississippi River. It’s probably most famous for its Mardi Gras and having the oldest continuously operating open air farmer’s market in the country. Down towards the river is a collection of old warehouses and what’s left of manufacturing in the city. Further west, past Broadway, is a large number of restaurants and bars and some of the old housing that was home to a lot of the factory workers, river workers, and traders from the days when St. Louis was the “Gateway to the West.”
I used to go to Mardi Gras every year, but for the last couple of years I have stayed home. I’m not a person who loves crowds all that much and there’s certainly no shortage of people at Mardi Gras. Parking can sometimes be a nightmare. Most of the side streets are cordoned off so the residents have a place to park, so about your only option is to park further downtown on the Landing and then take one of the shuttles to the event. My friend used to work at one of the manufacturing plants down there and had the key to the gated parking lot, so that was convenient even though it was still a long walk up to where all the activities were.
There have also been a few instances of fights and revelers having skirmishes with the police on several occasions. Most of the violence takes place at night when most of the people who have been there all day have had far too much to drink. One time we were sitting at a very crowded Broadway Oyster Bar at about 9 pm on Mardi Gras Saturday when I noticed two men start to shove each other. I grabbed my drink just as one of them landed on our table. The other members of my party weren’t so lucky. They all ended up with their drinks in their laps.
Another traditional problem with Mardi Gras has been the total trashing of the neighborhood. Everything from mounds and mounds of paper and beer cups to people urinating in public. This year Mardi Gras is attempting to go “green.” It all kicks off with the First Annual Eco-Friendly Mardi Gras Ball at the Casa Loma ballroom. 100% of the energy used at this event will be provided by the Pure Power renewable energy program. Everything at the party will be recycled right down to the Mardi Gras beads. (To find out more about the bead recycling program, go to): http://www.louisiana.sierraclub.org/neworleans/.
The 1st Annual Mystic “Green” Mardi Gras Ball will be held on Friday, February 20th at Casa Loma Ballroom, 3354 Iowa @ Cherokee. Hours: 8PM – 12AM. Admission: $12 per person. Plenty of secure, lighted parking available. (www.thehealthyplanet.com)