Are you in the mood for some New Orleans soul, but don’t have much time? Head to St. Louis’ historic Soulard district instead, just a half day drive or a 45 minute flight from Chicago. From the French influence architecture of red brick buildings with black wrought iron balconies to Cajun food, blues music and an annual Mardi Gras celebration, you’ll be surprised at how reminiscent of New Orleans the area is. And like the New Orleans French Market, the Soulard district has a market, too, which has been around almost as long as St. Louis itself and is the focal point of the community.
The market dates back to 1779, and has been housed in its current building since 1929, with permanent shops indoors and vendor stalls outdoors. In the Grand Hall shops at the center of the market you can buy goods like hard-to-find spices, fresh bakery goods, and meats. Explore the four wings for more surprising treats like fresh, warm beignets drenched in powdered sugar, spicy Cajun peanuts and chocolate pasta. Chocolate pasta? Prepare it as a dessert with fresh raspberry sauce, topped with whipped cream and toasted almonds. The Soulard market is not just a food market, either. You can buy souvenirs, jewelry, accessories and even pets.
Want a bite to eat? Plenty of vendors sell hot dogs, sandwiches and other lunch foods in the market, or you can choose to dine at one of the many restaurants and pubs in the surrounding neighborhood.
Soulard Market, located at 7th and Lafayette Streets south of downtown St. Louis, is open Wednesday through Saturday year-round.
You won’t lack for dining options in Soulard. You can choose from Irish pubs, barbecue, American food and other cuisines, but like New Orleans, Cajun reigns. Try Molly’s, billed as a Cajun American Bistro, for a true sample of Soulard. The thick brick walls, tin ceiling, dark wood and red brocade upholstery in the over 100-year-old building set the mood for jambalaya, etouffee, or a po boy, all plentiful and served with enticing presentation.
Molly’s is located at 816 Geyer Street and is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday and for brunch on Sunday. The bar remains open until 1:30 a.m. Monday through Friday and until midnight on Sunday.
Mardi Gras and Blues Clubs
Soulard is home to one of the largest Mardi Gras celebrations in the country, with parades, Cajun cook-offs, and wine, whiskey and beer tastings. If you can’t make it to St. Louis by Fat Tuesday, turn to the neighborhood’s ubiquitous blues clubs for entertainment. Soulard’s title, “Soul of St. Louis,” speaks volumes for the part it plays in keeping the blues alive in the city that once served as the crossroads for blues artists traveling the country.
The blues music, Mardi Gras, architecture and Cajun food of St. Louis’ Soulard district make a great alternative to New Orleans for Chicagoans looking for a closer-to-home getaway.
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