Cozy Up with a Good Book and Great Coffee at Soulard’s Protagonist Café
Soulard has always been the neighborhood where you load up on Hurricanes and blues music on Saturday night, and if you were eventually able to make it out of bed on Sunday, to crawl back to its bars for a Bloody Mary hangover cure. But to come for a cup of coffee or the latest Margaret Atwood novel? No, man, we’re here to party.
While Soulard still holds tight to its notoriety for revelry, its changing landscape, driven by a boom in new residential projects, means there’s a growing demand for more diverse dining and entertainment options. In 2016, entrepreneurs Laura Leister, James Lettau and Ameet Rawal helped lead the charge by opening Pieces, a board-game bar and café that gives guests of all ages a place to party their hearts out over Clue, Monopoly and 800 other games. And now, with the recent launch of Protagonist Café, they offer both book-lovers and guests just choosing to chill an unexpected spot to relax.
“Soulard has this reputation for being a bar neighborhood,” explains Leister, who lives in the district. “You come to Soulard for Mardi Gras; you come to Soulard to drink—and then you leave. With all the new apartment complexes and housing coming up, I just feel having a coffee shop here shows Soulard is so much more. We’re a neighborhood. We’re a community. And while the bars are great, there are so many more reasons to come and stay here.”
Books are just the beginning
The moment bibliophiles step inside Protagonist Café, they step into their happy place. Nestled in the custom-made, 27-foot bookshelves are more than 3,000 books, organized by subject and author’s name, all of which you can read for free while in the shop. In addition, there’s a kids’ corner dedicated to the littlest readers and a local authors section featuring children’s tales, novels and history books that are available for purchase.
While Protagonist is a natural meeting spot for book clubs, writing groups and poetry groups whose members bond over and are inspired by the endless authors lining the shelves, Leister and her fellow founders quickly discovered the café has became a center for all guests looking to rediscover the lost art of conversation.
“We realized through opening Pieces how much people actually want to put down their phones—they just need an excuse to do it” Leister says. “The atmosphere and design of Protagonist were actually conceptualized from Central Perk on ‘Friends,’ going back to the ’90s, when we weren’t so attached to our phones and could really have a conversation with each other.”
And like that famous “Must See TV” coffee shop, Protagonist comes complete with comfy couches and cushy seats as well as a full coffee menu, featuring organic, fair-trade-certified coffee beans roasted by the Protagonist team at First Crack Coffee in Maplewood. Choose from classic espresso drinks like the Cubano and cappuccino or flavor up your brew with their seasonal flavors such as Mint Mocha or S’mores Mocha or boozy add-ins for an Irish twist. In addition, tea, kombucha and wine selections are available, with cocktails coming soon.
Protagonist also fills hunger pangs with its sweet and savory bakery, featuring a variety of vegan treats whipped up by Pieces’ renowned baker, Amanda Leone, including her individual apple pies, brown-sugar-icing-smothered cinnamon rolls and a gluten-free salted chocolate pecan cake donut. But it’s Leone’s eggless quiches created from navy bean puree and bursting with fresh veggies and vegan chorizo that continue to lure in book-lovers hungry for a great breakfast and a great read.
Protagonist Café is open seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Leister also shared that the team is busy planning regularly monthly events, including acoustic music nights and wine events, for when the weather warms up.
1700 S. Ninth St.
Images courtesy of Lisa Cichon.