I had to take Friday off of work to prepare. There was picking up the keg of Boulevard Wheat (of course) to deal with and the first two Chicago arrivals ETA was 2:00PM. Through the morning I prepared the apartment for what would amount to 11 people staying overnight. I cleared the loft out for air mattresses, vacuumed Oscar hair off the couches, and stocked the bathroom with TP. The keg would have to wait for my first guests to help me with the loading. I wouldn't consider myself full keg-strength. Neither would anyone else for that matter.
It was good to see John S. and Brian when they pulled up. They are former work peeps who promised to come down to Mardi Gras before my last day. Promise fulfilled, I gave them the quick tour and headed down to Vincent's Market on 12th St to pick up the keg. Vincent's really is fantastic. It's family operated and the owners son's are the nicest guys. They were working hard that day too. The guy picking up before us had a house near the Farmers Market and was picking up 12 kegs. He his parties started years ago with one keg too. Foreshadowing? God I hope not.
After setting up the keg in the laundry room where the moisture of the keg and ice couldn't hurt the wood floors in the rest of the apartment we headed down to Hammerstone's for some food. It was only 4:00 so there weren't too many patrons yet. Although I had been there multiple times the past two months I had not eaten there. As I scoured over the menu the server wholly recommended the chicken strips of all things. "I'm not a big chicken strip eater," I told him. He explained that I had never had anything like these before. They were cut straight from a chicken breast and battered with corn flakes. Yeah, I totally had to try them and you know what? Best chicken strips ever. Seriously, you need to get off your ass and go try them. Unbelievable.
It was around 8PM that Meg and Katie arrived. Meg was one of the first people I had met in St Louis and she's become one of my BF's for sure. She asked if her and Katie could stay over in exchange for making all us guys breakfast in the morning. Um, yes! They showed up with 3 bags worth of food. They likely spent way too much on us jerks but it was super nice of them.
It was right around 11PM that 5 of the guys got in. 3 via Amtrak. 2 by car. Mike (of helping me move fame), Erich, John-John, Kevin, and JRob settled in began making a dent in the keg. In the meantime, the last people due in, Jon and Court had just informed me their train was 3 hours late and they would be in until sometime around 3 AM. Plenty of time for us all to hit bars.
The first place we hit was McGurks which was charging a lame $5 cover charge even though we were walking in at about last call. Not only that but they also had a DJ rocking the back tent. I can appreciate that on some nights but tonight it was just loud and annoying. Not to mention the exact opposite of how I described the place to everyone. We didn't stay long and my Chicago guests left rather unimpressed unfortunately. The few times I've been to McGurks it had been quite awesome.
So where do a bunch of guys unfamiliar with St Louis go with the local bars closing? Damn right... East side. For those unaware, East St Louis is know for not only being extremely dangerous but also for it's high-end strip clubs near the much safer industrial area. I'm not going to go into much detail here but Penthouse is one of the finer establishements of this nature I've ever been to. The Chicago boys completely agreed. The St Louis girls wouldn't join us. Probably a wise choice. They stayed back at the apartment and were fast asleep when us rowdy drunk guys got back at 3AM. As they were woken up by the laughing and yelling, Jon and Court finally arrived from their delayed travel. We drank a little more, made some frozen pizzas and then passed out by 4 with visions of beads dancing around in our heads. Ok, it was boobs.
The girls were up by at least 8 AM making breakfast. Us guys were sleepy, but thanks be to Boulevard Wheat, hangover free. (Those that only drank it mind you) Think eggs, bacon (everyone was calling it meat candy), and mimosa's. The next few hours were spent waiting for your turn to get in the shower. 11 peeps/1 shower=2 hours. The parade had already started past Allen by the time we got out there.
The parade itself was way more fun than we thought it would be. Much of that may have to do with our parade-watching neighbors. I have no idea who they were but they were hilarious. They were throwing beads back at the floats or aiming for open car windows. Any other day this may have felt mean or childish, but not today. No, today it was high-brow irony. Omg I Lol'd all over myself. We spent about an hour there before we all needed to either use the bathroom or refill our beers. So with about 15 caught beads in hand I headed back to the Smile Lofts already in good spirit. Even with the parade going on the streets throughout Soulard were still teaming with people.
After the emptying of bladders and filling of cups we headed out amongst the crowds. The parade had ended by now so more people were milling about than before. From all later accounts, this apparently was a less attended Mardi Gras mostly attributed to the cold, windy weather, but that wasn't apparent to me. Our group attacked and divided spaces working our way through the crowd. Our goal? The finest purveyor of food. There was no consensus but I can personally recommend the Gumbo at Norton's on Geyer Ave. Top notch Norton's. They were also kind enough to give me, not one, but two high-end Jaeger beads. Thanks ladies! Most of the guys ended up getting Turkey legs which they put away rather quickly. Those too received good reviews.
The crowd itself was getting rambunctious. Girls were walking up to us and trying to pull off our better beads. And we had some nice one's too. A few weeks before I was smart enough to hit the party store and buy us a nice grouping of high-end beads. The most sought after? Cardinals beads, of course. We would not give those away for just anything. Anyway, again, we needed some refills and spending an hour in the crowds only is so exciting. If you can hang out at someone's apartment and occasionally mingle with the crowds I highly recommend it. It's the highest form of fun we could find.
The rest of the afternoon consisted of just that sort of Mardi Gras partying. The Smile Lofts ended up being a prime location. Almost all of the 2nd floor lofts there were having parties and every single window was open. This led to women hanging from them, which then led to crowds gathering below. It went on all afternoon and couldn't have been more perfect for us. We were in and out of the door the entire day. We even let a group of strangers in. I had planned to be completely against an act like this but these girls were clever and good-looking and that is a perfect combination. As an attractive girl walking around Mardi Gras you are asked plenty of things, many of which include the request to show breasts. These girls were smart enough to not only have a plan for such questions but actually had enough self-esteem to not show everything for something as cheap as beads. They had decorated bras. Bejeweled to be exact. Home-made too. So getting a request to show your goods could be, and was, returned with a showing of decorated bras. It's pretty genius. It was enough to get the currency of the day in a fun way and without totally exposing yourself. I had to invite them in for some Boulevard Wheat. The best part? They were totally cool and nice. If we were only letting 4 people in all day those were the perfect 4. They only stayed 30 minutes but they fit right in with all of us. We were sad to see them go.
As the hours ran down on the day we all decided to take a walk down to BB's for some food and music. We got there right at 8 and they opened the upstairs up. Perfect timing. After the meal some people went back to the apartment to crash. The rest of us hit the Lumiere Casino. I walked up to the Craps table completely wasted and started throwing the dice. 25 minutes later I crapped out and was $200 richer. I'll never have another run like that. I quit of course and we soon headed back home. When we arrived at the Smile Lofts one of the first things we noticed was that someone had ripped down the gate to the parking lot. This would have been no easy task with how large it is. I assume their car was locked inside (Red Brick came by on Saturday morning and secured the gate as had been posted the week before). This won't be an easy or cheap fix. In all honesty, Red Brick was lucky. This was a crazy weekend. The damage could have been much worse.
Overall, Mardi Gras was a way better than I had anticipated. I had never laughed so much. Same goes for the Chicago guys. Although the truth is, they are what made it so fun. And so it goes for all things really. It's the people you're with that make the situation. Lesson learned like Doogie Howser. Yeah, I had written the first part of that sentence, looked up for a second,, and then back down to write the poignant Doogie Howser ending.
P.S. Sorry for the long wait on this post. These long ones for big events take forever. Back to the more frequent updates.