bulrush chef-owner rob connoley photo by meera nagarajan

Chef Rob Connoley announces Bulrush has closed permanently in Midtown, citing unease over anti-LGBTQIA+ Missouri politics

James Beard Award-nominated chef Rob Connoley has announced that he has closed Bulrush, citing an increasingly anti-LGBTQIA+ political environment in Missouri as the primary driver of his decision. Sunday, June 23 was the final day of service at the award-winning restaurant, located at 3307 Washington Ave. in Midtown St. Louis.

statement from Connoley announcing the closure was published on the restaurant’s Instagram feed on June 25. Describing the restaurant as a “professional dream” that allowed him to blend his passion for social advocacy, research and food into a unique restaurant project, Connoley also acknowledged the hospitality professionals who he has worked with along the way and hailed Bulrush’s achievement in “playing our part in shining the national culinary spotlight on St. Louis.”

Connoley did not cite fiscal reasons as a motivator for the decision to close Bulrush. Instead, he took aim at the state of Missouri, referring to what he described as “election-year hate politics” promulgated by elected officials like Attorney General Andrew Bailey. “I have become uneasy promoting a state that is actively working to harm the LGBTQ community, especially the trans community.” Connoley said in his statement. “As an owner of a reparative restaurant working to make amends for the harms of the past, I cannot continue supporting my own oppressor.”

The statement stressed that the decision to close Bulrush was not taken lightly. “I have spent over a year hoping to see the state correct its course and move on from the political games, but they haven't,” Connoley said. He expressed sadness over the closure, concluding “I love St Louis more than I can express and have such admiration and fondness for the Ozark region and its people – people who have time and time again, proven to me to be hospitable and loving of all.”

Bulrush opened in 2019, and was named No. 3 among Sauce's Best New Restaurants of that year (behind only Indo and Elmwood). Addressing Bulrush’s legacy, Connoley's statement cited the restaurant’s zero waste efforts, as well as its “obsessive” local sourcing, which he asserted is “a gift, not a cost.” Bulrush’s menus were derived from Connoley’s research-driven exploration of the cuisine of the Ozarks, and his closure announcement reaffirmed the convictions that drove the restaurant’s mission. “We can honor those people and cultures who have come before us, and are at the heart of everything we do in modern kitchens,” the statement said. “I will continue to believe in business-led reparations, and have demonstrated one model for successfully doing so.” 

Connoley said he is not sure what his next move will be. “But my belief in creating an equitable world for all is surely going to be a part of that decision,” he said.