Harpo’s to Open into Johnny’s Space
St. Louis, MO/July 21, 2017 (STLRestaurant.News) – The birthplace of St. Louis’ Mardi Gras tradition is undergoing another change of ownership and identity, and Soulard is losing one of its best citizens. Johnny Daus has sold his bar and restaurant at 1017 Russell Boulevard. The 53-year old has been a key part of Soulard nightlife and destination festivals, like Mardi Gras, for more than 30 years. Johnny’s Restaurant & Bar will close with a “Blues, Booze and BBQ” party on July 29th. They’re asking former patrons and former employees to show up the night before for a “blow out.”
John Daus, a Soulard native, has been a force in the neighborhood. Besides running a thriving business, he’s helped organize the neighborhood’s many festivals—supervising and chairing Mardi Gras, Bastille Day, Oktoberfest, and other events over the years. Losing him will be felt beyond the barroom. Now a South County resident, Daus says it’s time for him to shift his focus from his bar to his family. Married just five years, he’s the proud father of a two-year old. He says that means he can’t work all day and all hours of the night. He needs to be home.
Daus and his sisters grew up in the neighborhood during its renaissance days of the 1970s. The family’s first foray into the restaurant business was a rib stand they opened in 1983 in Webster Groves called the Rib Ranch. In 1986, they opened their first Soulard establishment, Carson’s, a sports bar at 1712 South 9th Street. They sold it in 1997. In 1993, they opened Johnny’s and in 1995 they founded the iconic Joanie’s Pizzeria (which they sold to an employee in 2003). In 2000, John Daus and a friend opened DB’s Sports Bar, which they sold in 2007. Johnny’s was the last Soulard business the family owned.
The new owners, John Rieker and Steve Barnes, the team behind Harpo’s in Chesterfield (136 Hilltown Village Center) will reopen the Soulard bar as Harpo’s in September. Harpo’s college-style sports pubs began in Columbia, Missouri before expanding to locations in Chesterfield and Kansas City. Another on Laclede’s Landing closed in 1996. This will be the only Harpo’s in the City of St. Louis. Rieker and Barnes plan to keep the vibrant party atmosphere Johnny’s was known for with bands and DJs on weekends and karaoke every Wednesday. Daus says current Johnny’s employees are being asked by the new owners to reapply for their jobs. But the new owners say Harpo’s staff will have less revealing attire than did Johnny’s—one of the original Soulard lingerie bars.
Scantily-clad servers aside, Johnny’s had been emblematic of the Soulard neighborhood even before it was Johnny’s. It had been one of the original night spots in the newly gentrified Soulard of the 1970’s, then known as Hillary’s. The first Mardi Gras parade in Soulard was a 1979 march by patrons of Hillary’s to John D. McGurk’s Irish Pub. It wasn’t fancy, but a second, bigger march followed the next year, and the Soulard Mardi Gras Parade tradition was born. Besides it’s lovely staff and Mardi Gras history, Johnny’s was known for its chicken wings. The bar did operate under the motto: “Where the food is better than it has to be,” after all. And those chicken wings will be missed by Soulard patrons. But Daus is dropping hints that they might make a comeback somewhere else sometime in the future.