Few cities have a neighborhood specifically for drinkers. Sure, New Orleans has the French Quarter, but that’s mostly tourists. Historic Soulard, however, is the real deal. The Anheuser-Busch Brewery’s blazing red marquis looms over the rooftops like the Eye of Sauron, there’s a tavern on or around every corner, and one even peruses the offerings at the farmers’ market while sipping a Bloody Mary.
It’s also a neighborhood with a strong LGBTQ+ presence, and its very own annual Pride parade and celebration, which will take place on Saturday.
In addition to the dozens of festively adorned golf carts — past examples include three that were transformed into camels — the quirky parade also welcomes cyclists and walkers. Parading through the district is a fun and zany experience, but even if you can’t finagle your way onto a cart this year, it’s still worth it to arrive before 11:00 a.m. to wander the staging area, which is in the Places for People parking lot on Lynch, to mingle with the costumed queens and admire the creative parade entries.
The procession departs around 11:00 a.m., making a byzantine route through the neighborhood’s red brick canyons while participants toss candy and beads to the spectators, many of whom are sitting on their front stoops or spilling out from bars. The festival, which takes place on Menard Street between Russell Boulevard and Allen Avenue, begins at noon and features a DJ, over 30 vendors, food, a kid’s corner and a drag show hosted by Prism co-owner Jade Sinclair with performances by Ming Lee, Roxxy Malone and Analyse Thropic.
“As the host of [Soulard Bastille’s] Mighty Monday, the longest running show in the city of St Louis, I’m thrilled to engage several of the show hostesses of Prism at Soulard Pride,” says Sinclair. The show starts at 2 p.m. on Menard and will feature Jay Lambert, who has DJ’d for the Bastille.
The queer community’s roots in the neighborhood go back decades, beginning during a time when Soulard was full of derelict buildings. Colin Murphy of Boom Magazine, who just received Pride St. Louis’ Lifetime Achievement Award for his years of journalism, says, “Since the 1970s, Soulard has been our home. It was not only where we played, but where we lived. The neighborhood has taken care of us, and we have taken care of it. It’s entirely appropriate that Soulard has its own Pride. Soulard, Lafayette Square, South Grand and Central West End were truly ours.”
Murphy remembers the late 1980s and early ’90s when the neighborhood had two gay bars that opened at 6 a.m. “They would get a lot of traffic on weekends. Faces (in East St. Louis) would close and everyone would walk out into the broad daylight. If they didn’t want to stop the fun, they went to Soulard.”
The community is so ingrained into the fabric of the district, that when a drag queen known as Midnight Annie passed, the owner of Clementine’s (site of present-day Duke’s) entombed her ashes in the wall. (I’ll tell the entire story Thursday night during the “Queer Writes” event at the Missouri History Museum.)
Whatever your orientation, you are welcome to immerse yourself in the intoxicating culture of Soulard on Saturday and make some stories of your own. Look for me on the Barcycle.