ACADIANA’S 27 BEST BARS
Lafayette restaurateur Nidal Balbeisi – a scholar by fire in the fickle, competitive nature of the Acadiana bar scene – answers a question with another question, a rhetorical one that passes his lips with the mystery of a bridge troll’s riddle.
“Beer is beer,” Balbeisi says. “Whiskey is whiskey. So why are you going to come drink at my bar?”
Hmm, good question.
Because when you think about it, the lone constant in bars stretching from Calcasieu Parish to the River Parishes is the main reason you go to a bar – the drinks. The Bud Light in Lake Charles is the same Bud Light in Luling. Of course there are a few famous local exceptions (some of them included in this guide), places whose identities are forged by calling-card beverages. But beyond that short list, a beer is a beer and whiskey is whiskey, as Balbeisi says.
“The personality of a bar needs to be established before you ever open the doors,” Balbeisi says. “You as the owner or the bar manager establish the feel, the tone, the mood. The word is ‘ambiance’; it’s key. I’d say ambience is 60 percent of the reason a bar succeeds or fails. It has to feel right.
“And a lot of that feel is created by a bartender. He or she has to be engaging, welcoming but not get caught up in conversation to the point where everyone else is waiting for a drink. It’s a lot different than being a waiter. A waiter versus a bartender – that’s like the difference between a mechanic versus a carpenter.”
The pressure to stand apart from the crowd has intensified in the past decade: Everyone we talked to in the industry estimated the amount of bars in Acadiana has doubled or even tripled, partly because of the population influx from Hurricane Katrina and partly because of South Louisiana’s relative economic health when compared to more depressed areas of the country.
“The days of coming into this market and just opening a standard bar are pretty much over,” says Will Frederick, the bar manager at La Fonda. “You’re seeing a lot more specialty bars, a lot more bars with a niche, and that’s just created a lot of diversity in your options. For us, our niche is the four or five generations of people who have come through our doors. I don’t want to say that coming to our bar is like coming over to your grandma’s house for dinner, but it’s a comfort zone for our regulars. And we work hard to maintain that comfort zone for them.”
In compiling this list, we acknowledged this growing trend of diversity and included bars of varying themes – from country to college to Cajun to classy to crunk. The task of including every bar in Acadiana would have been arduous on your mailman’s back, so we kept the list tight. Since “best” is such a subjective tag, we’re not necessarily saying these bars are the best Acadiana has to offer (though, to be honest, these are all pretty darn good bars) but rather a sampling of the versatility found in our watering holes.
Fred’s Lounge, Mamou
420 Sixth St., 318/468-5411
The party at Fred’s Lounge in Mamou, a registered historical site by the state of Louisiana, begins when the rooster crows and only when the rooster crows. For decades, locals and tourists alike have set their alarm clocks on Saturday mornings to get to Fred’s by 8 – the time the establishment opens its doors. An hour later, believe it or not, the party is in full swing with a Cajun or zydeco band blasting tunes that are broadcast on a local radio station. The horseshoe-shaped dance floor is a little tricky to navigate, but most usually get the hang after a couple of songs. Fred’s is credited as the birthplace (or re-birthplace) of the modern Courir de Mardi Gras, a Cajun Prairie country holiday tradition and major tourist attraction.
Marley’s Sports Bar, Lafayette
407 Jefferson St., 337/235-2004
Flip through the dictionary for the phrase “college bar” and a pencil sketch of Marley’s concrete floors and dimly lit interior is sure to be found. Located in downtown Lafayette, Marley’s is a must-stop destination on Fridays and Saturdays when hopping to and from the standard Jefferson Street bar roll call. There’s not really a designated dance floor, but that hardly stops people from shaking their junk. Marley’s generally draws large crowds for fight nights – mixed martial arts, boxing or any other pay-per-view tussle.
200 E. Vermilion St., 337/289-0000
The first of restaurateur Nidal Balbeisi’s two joints to make this list, Agave is the ideal pre- or post-spot for downtown fun. The outdoor patio is the crown jewel of this establishment, which is right by Parc San Souci – one of two locations for the ever-popular spring and fall concert series Downtown Alive! The drink menu features margaritas, Mexican beers and specialty drinks.
La Fonda, Lafayette
3809 Johnston St., 337/984-5630
Don’t be fooled by the Spanish clay-tile roof. The theme and menu might be Tex-Mex, but when it comes to Lafayette social scenes, the bar at La Fonda is the Parthenon. It is tucked away from the main dining room, hugging the hostess/waiting area and a private banquet room. Loyal and influential patrons are immortalized in caricatures on the barroom walls, thanks to the skilled hands of late artist Luis Amendolla. The nectar of choice for most at this lush landmark is a La Fonda margarita, which comes in small glasses and is sipped through cocktail straws. But don’t let the size fool you – they pack a piñata-swing. Through the years, many oil-and-gas contracts have been hashed out on margarita cocktail napkins or paper tablecloth coverings at La Fonda.
City Bar, Maurice
8310 Maurice Ave., 337/893-1968
Surely you know what a Bloody Mary is. But have you ever tried a Cajun Bloody Mary? If the answer is no, then cautiously cruise on down the notorious speed trap of Louisiana Highway 167 and try this signature house specialty at City Bar – a Maurice tradition dating back to 1927. The no-frills exterior – brick walls with a green tin roof – accurately depicts the atmosphere inside. It’s a blue-jeans-and-camouflage-ball-cap kind of place, welcoming to regulars and newbies alike. City Bar also has a much newer downtown Lafayette location with a tad more frills: an outdoor patio, a few more flat screens and a thumping sound system. But for authenticity and character, we’ll stick with the original.
116 E. Vermilion St., 337/704-0999
There’s so much to mention with this Italian fusion brainchild of Nidal Balbeisi – from the history of the building to the multiple dining and drinking areas to the upstairs customer wine and liquor cabinet – that it’d be impossible to fit everything into this tiny news hole. So we’ll stick with the drinks – of which there are plenty. The French Kiss cocktail is a smooth blend of Ciroc vodka, Chambord and pineapple juice. The namesake Trynd cocktail consists of Tanqueray gin, peach nectar, lemon and lime juice, pineapple juice and syrup with a ginger ale float. But by far the coolest drink on the menu is the Get Your Rocks Off, which is one test tube of Belvedere IX vodka, one test tube of pink grapefruit juice and one test tube of Pop Rocks candy.
The Office, Lafayette
307 Jefferson St., (337) 234-2808
In the fleeting, unpredictable and sometimes cruel world of Acadiana nightclubs – where what once was hot is suddenly not – The Office on Jefferson Street has planted roots as a popular Friday and Saturday dancing destination. For the thirsty, there’s a bar up toward the entrance and an auxiliary bar near the usually packed dance floor. A rapid-fire mix of techno, hip-hop and Top 40 hits pulsates on the weekends, but somewhat surprisingly, The Office is a laid-back and relatively quiet post-work watering hole Monday through Thursday for Lafayette’s downtown professionals.
3903 Johnston St., 337/981-4670
Nothing beats the excitement of watching “The Big Game.” Well, almost nothing. The Big Game gets even bigger when you’re able to share the emotional ebbs and flows per inning, period or quarter with friends and like-minded fans. Although there are a few cookie-cutter chain sports bars in the Lafayette area, Pete’s on Johnston possesses a more homey feel. And with 44 televisions, it’s almost impossible to miss any of the action. The drink menu is what you might expect, a decent blend of domestic and international beers coupled with standard cocktails.
The Tap Room, Lafayette
201 Settlers Trace Blvd., #4001, 337/984-9280
Wood benches. Wood barstools. Wood countertops. Wood tables. And beers spanning the globe. Now, this is what a bar is supposed to be! Opened in 2008 and flaunting its tavern feel ever since, the Tap Room provides River Ranch residents a walkable, less uppity drinking alternative to the nearby Wine Loft. The United Nations of taps features beer delegates from Canada, Germany and Belgium, to name a few. If it’s too hard to pick just one beer and commit to an entire pint, why not order one of Tap Room’s sampler platters – a wooden plank with four 5-ounce glasses?
605 Silverstone Road, Suite 107, 337/706-7681
The new kid on the River Ranch block, Pour has given itself the mission of perfectly pairing wines with its cuisine made by chef Jude Tauzin. An extensive and uncommon wine list includes merlots from Napa, cabernets from Lodi and chardonnays from Chablis. The menu changes seasonally.
Robert’s Lounge, St. Martinville
219 S. Main St., 337/394-1117
If you’re searching for a place that just oozes tradition, don’t look past Robert’s Lounge in downtown St. Martinville. Opened more than 60 years ago by Robert Romero, this quaint watering hole has stayed in the family and is now run by Robert Romero Jr. When you go, whether for karaoke or live music, get friendly with bartender Gayle Dauphine, who has been behind the counter for 41 years. “I have my regulars,” Dauphine says. “But now I have the kids and grandkids of my regulars. It’s just a great place to work.”
Whiskey River Landing, Henderson
1365 Henderson Levee Road, 337/228-2277
Leave a tip; ring the bell. Feel the beat; shake your stuff. The dance floor is packed, so climb on the bar. Thus is the Sunday routine at Henderson’s Whiskey River Landing, a Cajun and zydeco music experience. A who’s who of Cajun music greats play here on the regular. In between sets, one of two bars – one near the dance floor, one on the second level – will gladly rehydrate you with the usual suspects of beer and cocktails.
Atrium Bar, Marksville
711 Paragon Place, 800/946-1946
It’s a dilemma that’s plagued bar-goers and bartenders for years – getting your drink to stay cold. Ice cubes eventually melt. Frosted mugs eventually thaw. But a frozen bar – the headlining feature of the Atrium Bar in the Paragon Casino Resort – well, that never warms up. When we say the bar is frozen, we mean literally frozen. The bar counter is covered in frost, keeping cold drinks cold and allowing bored barflies something other than cocktail napkins to doodle on.
The Elephant Room, Lafayette
340 Kaliste Saloom Road, Suite H, 337/989-4155
For lack of a better description, this place is like traveling in a time machine back to the 1920s – without the inconvenience of Prohibition laws. The Elephant Room’s concept mirrors that of an old speakeasy. The bar/restaurant occasionally stages a burlesque show. Our favorite daily special is Wednesday’s Hump Day Hooch during which sangria and punch are half-price.
Mr. Lester’s, Charenton
832 Martin Luther King Drive, 800/284-4386
The finest of dining options offered at the Cypress Bayou Casino, Mr. Lester’s steak house features a main bar, a private reception room with a bar and piano player and a cigar bar. The wine list is extensive, with a wide assortment of domestic bottles from California and Washington complemented by an international list with offerings from the Bordeaux, Rhone and Burgundy regions of France.
Clementine, New Iberia
113 E. Main St., 337/560-1007
The bar at Clementine is incorporated within the dining area of the restaurant, a more formal, upscale drinking destination compared to neighboring bars on Main Street. The restaurant, owned by Wayne Peltier, is named after famed Louisiana folk artist Clementine Hunter, who didn’t begin creating art until she was in her 50s and lived to be 101. The bar has its own separate menu with items such as Tasso Coconut Shrimp, Cajun wontons and oysters Rockefeller.
832 Martin Luther King Drive, 337/924-3300
This nightclub, located on the second floor of the Cypress Bayou Casino, has the feel of an arena concert scene with its large raised stage, advanced lighting system and video screen. The bar sort of hugs the stage on the side, making it an easily accessible refuge between songs or when the band takes a break. ROX has attracted some national acts (the Black Crowes come to mind) but is still packed for regional favorites such as The Molly Ringwalds and The Chee Weez.
314 Belanger St., 985/879-2426
This sister lounge to the downtown restaurant Milano is open Tuesday through Saturday and showcases specials such as half-price bottles of wine on Wednesdays and two-for-one martinis on Tuesdays. Bar patrons waiting for a table at Milano can enjoy an assortment of appetizer plates.
Bar Roussell, Houma
7887 W. Main St., 985/655-7890
Redesigned in a section of the old City Court building, Bar Roussell exudes a level of prestige and elegance that was absent on the Houma nightlife scene for a long time. The place specializes in cocktails prepared with top-shelf liquor. The building underwent a $100,000 transformation before opening earlier this year but retained a lot of its original design elements. This is a bar for conversation, as there is no live music or food.
Downtown Balcony, Houma
7834 Main St., 985/872-0284
This is an upstairs-downstairs bar that offers a second-floor view of downtown Houma. The look and feel of this place is definitely New Orleans-centric, with its wraparound balcony and hanging plants. Live music and theme nights are staple events at the Balcony.
Cowboy’s Nightclub, Scott
211 N. Ambassador Caffery Parkway, 337/232-3232
In a town and region dominated by Cajun dances such as the two-step and waltz, an enclave of country line-dancers have a found a safe haven to strut their stuff near Interstate 10 and Ambassador Caffery at Cowboy’s. Cowboy’s, as you might guess from the name, is a cowboy-themed bar. As you also might guess, it’s a no-frills, no-fuss kind of place that runs over with fun. The dance floor is quite roomy, so you won’t be touching spurs with the person next to you.
Slim’s Y-Ki-Ki, Opelousas
8410 Highway 182, 337/942-6242
What Slim’s Y-Ki-Ki lacks in design and aesthetic beauty it more than makes up for in tradition. The place, located a two-step from Interstate 49, perspires character. Opened in 1947, Slim’s has been operated by members of the Arnold “Slim” Gradney family and has lured in such zydeco greats as Clifton Chenier and Rockin’ Sidney. According to local music authority Herman Fuselier, Slim’s was one of the few places where patrons could order “set-ups” – trays of ice, fruits and other drink enhancers used to mix their own drinks with alcohol they brought from home. This wildly popular custom ceased a few years ago, but still, Slim’s attracts a crowd. Scenes from the 1992 movie Passion Fish, starring Mary McDonald and Alfre Woodard, were filmed at Slim’s.
Daiquiris Supreme, Lafayette
4680 Johnston St., 337/989-1879
Generally, most daiquiri bars stress functionality over frills, rarely offering much reason for the customer to stay and enjoy their potent, fruity drink. Most patrons hit the drive-through, enabling them to get back to the pool, beach or party without much fuss. Or they bounce in and bounce out. But at Daiquiris Supreme, the fun, vibrant atmosphere encourages you to stay awhile. The bar has TVs everywhere you look and DJs or live music on the weekends. The daiquiri list is longer than many small-town phone books.
Jack Daniel’s Bar & Grill, Lake Charles
777 Ave. L’Auberge, 337/395-7102
Tucked inside the luxurious L’Auberge du Lac Casino, the Jack Daniel’s Bar & Grill pays respect to its famous whiskey-making namesake with plenty of his pictures on the walls and plenty of cocktails featuring his famous Old No. 7 on the drink menu. If whiskey isn’t your speed, try one of 40 beers on tap while catching all the action on the 30 TVs dotting the bar. The décor is strict Americana, and the bar and chairs have a blackjack-table feel to them. The food menu is barbecue-heavy.
Pujo Street Café, Lake Charles
901 Ryan St., 337/439-2054
Don’t sleep on Pujo Street’s bar – a far cry from the bass-thumping, too-loud-to-hear-yourself-think bars that cater to the McNeese State University crowds. In fact, Pujo Street Café, known more for being an elegant restaurant, is the perfect place to re-engage in the lost art of conversation. The restaurant moved to its current location in 1998 and features wine tastings every two months, live music and a private banquet room for larger parties. The brick-clad building dates back to 1898, when it was a Gordon’s Drug Store.
OB’s Bar and Grill, Lake Charles
1301 Ryan St., 337/494-7336
In the heart of downtown Lake Charles stands OB’s Bar and Grill, a seemingly quiet, unassuming brick building with an American flag draped near its entrance. Then, the sun drops. The crowd swells. The band takes the stage. The music starts. The serenity ends. Complete with a stage and enough room to pack in a couple hundred spectators, OB’s features live music almost every night of the week, sans Tuesday’s team trivia night.
Micci’s Piano Bar, Lake Charles
3606 Ryan St., 337/478-0606
If you haven’t noticed by now, Ryan Street is the place for nightlife in Lake Charles. And Micci’s Piano Bar adds to this atmosphere of fun with tons of live music acts and frequent specials on domestic beers and silver-shelf drinks. During football games, Micci’s usually offers free food (chili, fried catfish and fried shrimp, for example) for its clientele to munch on.