Whether it’s the city’s French roots or its large Catholic population, St. Louis, Missouri, has long had one of the best Mardi Gras celebrations in the United States. Festivities take place in Soulard, an historic district of south St. Louis, and they include a parade, live music, and of course, more beads and libations than you could ever imagine.
St. Louisans like to boast about their sports teams and Forest Park, but mention the words “Cardinals” and “Rams” outside of the US and chances are you’ll only be met with blank stares. However, if you tell people that you live in the home of Anheuser-Busch, or Budweiser, chances are much better that you’ll encounter a nod of recognition.
I might not trust those who boast of being from a “beer town” to drive me home on a Saturday night, or to perform open-heart surgery after a happy hour, but I’d feel no qualms about asking them to throw a massive Mardi Gras celebration. Second in the U.S. only to the legendary festivities in New Orleans, St. Louis’ Mardi Gras attracts hundreds of thousands of people to its streets each year– more or less depending on the weather, which was, mercifully, rather mild this year.
Admittedly, St. Louis’ celebration is usually a bit cooler and more tame than that of New Orleans, its neighbor down river. Rather than wearing wacky, revealing clothing, most revelers in St. Louis do their best to bundle up in the cold weather– though a stray nipple or two can almost always be found.
This year, melting snow made for some rather slushy conditions on the streets, and my shoes soaked up water like a Brawny paper towel. But once that first sip of Budweiser– sweet nectar of the gods– touched my lips, I quickly forgot about my squishy shoes. Five hours later, as I stumbled groggy-eyed out of the all-you-can-drink Budweiser tent, I was just thankful I still had shoes.
Inside the beer tent, I witnessed people jockeying for position alternately in the beer line and then the bathroom line, and repeating as necessary. It occurred to me that drinking enough to kill a horse is hard work, and that those of us in the Midwest work harder at it than most. As Chuck Klosterman once wrote, “There are a lot of drunks in this world, but people in the Midwest drink differently than everywhere else I’ve ever been; it’s far less recreational. You have to stay focused, you have to work fast, and you have to swallow constantly.”
As I walked unsteadily down a Soulard street, I eventually ran into a large crowd rocking out to the musical stylings of Evolution, the self-professed “World’s Greatest Journey Tribute Band.” They weren’t the biggest name in the music business– hell, they didn’t even impersonate the biggest name in the music business– but when I eventually stood in the Porta-Potty line behind their lead singer (whom I referred to as “fake Steve Perry,” as in “You guys sounded great, fake Steve Perry”) somehow it all seemed perfect.