That first Mal’s St. Paddy’s Parade in downtown Jackson must have been something to see. It was 1983, and a man named Malcolm White had a wild idea: to bring the community together with a rambunctious parade and street party held in conjunction with St. Patrick’s Day. Though he’d never produced a parade before, he went through the motions—he got a permit to close the streets along the parade route (it was a weeknight, after all) and called a handful of his most fun-loving friends to don flamboyant costumes and join him in a short jaunt from dive bar to dive bar, beginning at a burger joint called CS’s and ending with an Irish band at George Street Grocery, where White had put on St. Patrick’s Day parties for years.
It maybe wasn’t the most scenic route, a few miles of asphalt meandering through an otherwise desolate downtown (and past more than a few angry rush-hour drivers, not amused by these revelers interfering with their usual commute home). In fact, White’s initial concept had been for a pub crawl, but the lack of bars downtown made the idea unfeasible—a fact that itself hints at the deeper need for this seemingly spontaneous “rites of spring” ritual, which White hoped would inject some life back into Jackson’s city streets. Quickly, what started as a relatively small celebration among friends grew in both scope and significance. The parade’s route shifted, word spread, bigger crowds gathered, and it became more and more clear that the parade’s purpose ran deeper than a mid-March day of revelry.
Now, some 30 years later, the annual event’s atmosphere resembles a cross between New Orleans during Mardi Gras and a Southeastern Conference football tailgate, drawing more than 75,000 to the city every year. And though the parade’s route has made several moves in the city, it has settled in recent years on a square route in downtown Jackson that passes by some of city’s bucket-list landmarks—both city relics and symbols of revitalization—from the original Capitol building (now the Old Capitol Museum) to the freshly refurbished Mississippi Museum of Art.
But there’s so much to Jackson that a short parade downtown can’t showcase, no matter how large a production that parade becomes. Take Midtown, for instance—the original home of the parade and one of Jackson’s oldest neighborhoods—which is hitting a stride it hasn’t quite felt since the ’70s, when it was established as an artists’ community. After a population slump in the ’80s, people and businesses are coming back tenfold, with ateliers for photographers, welders, bookmakers and glass workers still an indelible part of the community’s heart. Another craft has taken hold there in the past year—craft brewing, as Lucky Town Brewing, Jackson’s first microbrewery, is also now open in the neighborhood. And Lucky Town’s brew is available on tap at CS’s, that same hamburger dive that was the original starting point for the parade.
On the other side of State Street is historic Belhaven, a neighborhood that needs no such revitalizing, as is evident in its pristine homes and manicured gardens. Wide, knotted oaks shade everything from Craftsman bungalows with bottle trees collecting light in picket-fenced gardens to towering Tudor Revivals with sprawling lawns. It’s a well-trod enclave that’s fittingly become home to a handful of Jackson’s best-loved establishments, including Mediterranean eatery Keifer’s (say yes to extra feta dressing) and rowdy Irish pub Fenian’s—where you’re bound to catch crowds of revelers post-St.Paddy’s Parade, naturally.
And then there’s funky, fast-growing Fondren, a district that’s managed to modernize without losing touch with its history. A prime example of this flair for reinvention is found at Brent’s Drugs. Not a decade ago, the now-throwback diner was still a working pharmacy with a soda bar and sandwich menu—same as it was in 1946. These days, it’s seen a face-lift and the installation of an on-trend speakeasy, Apothecary, that occupies the space where the pharmaceuticals were once kept. And Brent’s isn’t the only eatery in the area pulling off the 1950s-diner vibe. Even the newer developments have a retro feel, so there’s an air of nostalgia that ties Fondren’s mix of local coffee shops, pubs, boutiques, lofts and patio dining together while keeping an eye to the future.
When it comes down to it, that’s what White was looking for when he started the St. Paddy’s Parade all those decades ago—something that would tie the city together. It was never solely about the beads, the beer, the music or, oddly enough, even St. Patrick’s Day. It was about cultivating a sense of identity that celebrated all of Jackson—from the parts that were a bit rough around the edges to the city’s historic sites and commercial centers. The sea of green you see once a year in downtown Jackson began with White’s notion that place is important, and a city should be truly lived in. As it celebrates its 32nd anniversary, what’s clear is Mals’ St. Paddy’s Parade has not only breathed new life into the city, but become a symbol for it as well.
Where to see and be seen on the parade route and beyond
The Fairview Inn
Who wouldn’t want to spend a weekend in a Colonial Revival mansion-turned-boutique-hotel? Nestled in historic Belhaven, the inn is home to 1908 Provisions, a “California-inspired, Southern-rooted” restaurant, as well as a cocktail lounge housed in the mansion’s original library, where books still line the dark shelves from floor to ceiling. (734 Fairview St.; fairviewinn.com)
Old Capitol Inn
With prime placement within a block of the Old Capitol Museum and Thimblepress—and not all that much farther from bars Hal & Mal’s, Martin’s and Underground 119—this historic boutique hotel is an uncontested winner when it comes to walkability. (226 N. State St.; oldcapitolinn.com)
If you plan on making the most of Mal’s St. Paddy’s Parade, the Marriott is only a block off the parade route—making for easy access to ice refills, a stash of booze (provided you remembered to hit up Kat’s Wine & Spirits beforehand) and a bathroom—all of which become a little harder to come by during the festivities. (200 E. Amite St.; marriott.com)
//EAT & DRINK
Don’t let Walker’s old-school diner facade fool you. Its dinner menu boasts pan-seared foie gras, steak and mussels, with a lunch menu translating those white-tablecloth ingredients into an irresistible spread of salads, po’boys and blue-plate specials. (3016 N. State St.; walkersdrivein.com)
Babalu Tacos & Tapas
Babalu is part of Duling Hall, a renovated 1920s elementary school in Fondren that holds a handful of the arts district’s best new restaurants (and even a live music venue, The Auditorium). Though tacos, tapas and margaritas anchor the menu, the ever-popular Baba Burger has joined those staples on citywide “best of” lists in the short time this crowd-pleaser has been open. (622 Duling Ave.; babalutacos.com)
At lunch, Parlor Market is a refined meat-and-two (a starter of the chicken livers with pimento cheese is a must). At dinner, the eatery, which is housed in a reclaimed turn-of-the-century grocery store, focuses on sophisticated European classics like paella and duck carbonara. (115 W. Capitol St.; parlormarket.com)
Julep Restaurant & Bar
Just a hop down Interstate 55 from the downtown hubbub is polished-but-approachable Julep, home to some of the best fried chicken in the South. For something a little lighter but still satisfyingly Southern, try Julep’s crawfish etouffee, which comes topped with a fried green tomato. (4500 I-55 N., Suite 105; juleprestaurant.com)
Pig & Pint
While the name likely conjures the image of a classic English pub, this spot churns out playful takes on traditional Southern barbecue—think Pepsi-glazed ribs, pork-belly corn dogs, a boudin burger and bananas Foster pudding. And with more than 100 brews on the menu, you’ll have no trouble finding something to wash it all down. (3139 N. State St.; pigandpint.com)
Mississippi Museum of Art
As if the collections within the museum’s walls weren’t reason enough to drop by (and they are, boasting the likes of William Dunlap, Walter Anderson and more Mississippi greats), The Art Garden—the museum’s gorgeous, surrounding greenspace, complete with art installations—is an added motivation. (380 S. Lamar St.; msmuseumart.org)
Eudora Welty House
Eudora Welty’s home (built in 1925 by her father) is one of the most authentically intact literary homes around. A walk through its rooms—past stacks of hardbacks on every surface, handwritten letters on the desk and a typewriter by the window—tells the story of a family who truly loved the written word. (1119 Pinehurst St.; eudorawelty.org)
Lucky Town Brewing
You can grab a pint of Jackson-brewed Lucky Town at bars and restaurants across the city, but for a real taste of the city’s first craft beer, catch one of the Midtown brewery’s scheduled tours. Offered on Fridays and Saturdays for $10, the behind-the-scenes tour includes a taste of six beers and a souvenir pint glass. (1710 N. Mill St.; luckytownbrewing.com)
Lefleur Museum District
With the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, the Mississippi Children’s Museum, the Mississippi Natural Science Museum and the Mississippi Agriculture & Forestry Museum almost within a mile of one another, it makes sense to hit up more than one if you’ve got some short attention spans in tow (or even if you don’t—who doesn’t love dino bones?). A budget-saving district pass makes a museum tour even easier. (lefleurmuseumdistrict.com)
If you love getting lost in a bookstore, this is just the sort of labyrinth where you’ll delight in finding new nooks one turn after the next. Grab a coffee from Broadstreet Bakery on the lower level; then head upstairs and get lost in children’s lit, Civil War history and signed first editions. (202 Banner Hall; lemuriabooks.com)
Kristen Ley’s letterpress cards, prints, DIY banners and her best-selling Push-Pop Confetti have found a loyal following at stockists across the country, from local boutiques to Anthropologie—but Jackson is where the Magnolia State native got her start. When you pop into Ley’s downtown studio, be sure to say hi to her goldendoodle, Willow, and resident studio cat, Norman. (113 N. State St.; thimblepress.com)
Part screenprinting shop, part clothing boutique and part skate shop, local designer Ron Chane offers something for just about everyone at his shop-slash-studio in the Fondren Building. Be sure to check out Modsushi, his line of tongue-in-cheek T-shirts. (2906 N. State St., Suite 103; chane.com)