From daiquiri bars to dives, there are plenty of great places in Acadiana to grab a cold one.
What makes a good bar is as subjective as your favorite drink to order in one. The answers will be different but all equally correct.
To some, the perfect watering hole is a place to get away from it all; others want a place they can bring the whole family for a good time. Some want an energetic sports crowd or a raucous live music venue; others want a relaxing atmosphere with a nice view. There are those who just want a place that’s close by with cold beer and cheap prices and those who will seek out a bar that concocts the perfect cocktail. The Acadiana area has places to satisfy all these tastes and then some, which makes sticking out in the crowd harder and harder to do.
First-time bar and grill owners Dustin and Erik Stark recently dealt with opening a bar and grill from scratch. Field of Dreams, located in Broussard, was their creation from foundation to finish. Before opening, the two brothers say they considered things that would distinguish their place from the rest of the pack and tried to learn as much as they could about how to build a successful business.
“It’s trying to find your niche in the community,” Dustin says. “That’s the big thing. It’s knowing your market, knowing where you are and knowing what is missing. You know, there [are] a lot of places that, say, don’t have a good live music bar, and to be able to fill in that void may not ensure success, but it definitely helps.”
“Knowing your customers is a big thing, and that goes along with finding your niche and finding out what somebody thinks of your place,” adds Erik. “It’s very important that they have an idea that pops into their head.”
In coming up with the plan for Field of Dreams, the Starks say they drew from their personal tastes and the needs of community. Erik says he visited bars from Washington, D.C., to Jackson, Miss., and kept in mind things he did and didn’t like from each. As they are both lifelong sports fans, they say they knew they wanted to build a community sports bar and grill that was family-oriented, with good food where people could come to watch the game without hassle.
“I never like a franchise,” Dustin says. “I like the mom-and-pop things, where I feel you get a little more personal touch to it. Like with us here, we’re family-owned and –operated, and the whole family’s in here. It’s almost like you can have your tailgate here. You don’t have to do the hamburgers waiting outside of Tiger Stadium. You can come here and get it and not have to clean up and everything else that goes with it.”
Since opening in May, the Starks say they’ve gone through quite a bit of on-the-job training. They’ve had to learn to make changes, tweak what’s not working and become problem-solvers. Not being a franchise, the buck stops at the two of them.
“I would say that a lot of our growing pains [came] from us not being a franchise,” Erik says. “Anything that arose those first few months, we had to make the decisions on, we had to solve ourselves. We didn’t have a hierarchy to go to or a regional manager or something like that. And in that as well was advertising and getting your name out because without being a franchise, you know, you don’t have that huge Chili’s billboard out in front of your place to bring people in.”
“When you’re a new place, you have to break somebody’s routine to get them from going to their established bar or restaurant or favorite hangout into your place and make sure that when they come in, they’re having an enjoyable time and that when they leave, they’ll tell people,” Dustin says.
Clearly, people in Acadiana are serious and passionate about their bars. And a great bar, no matter how dedicated the owners, must have employees who are just as dedicated. That means servers; bouncers; cooks; cleaners; and, most important, people who know their way around a bar. A great bartender is sociable, knowledgeable and efficient, but some, like Anson Trahan, a bartender at Lafayette’s Pamplona, take things one step further with their efforts and passion.
Trahan has been with Pamplona since it opened nearly five years ago and has been developing his craft of creating and making cocktails ever since. Aside from using only the best (often homemade) ingredients, Trahan brings a wealth of knowledge and his own personal flair to every drink.
“I was a creative writing major in college, so I generally start with a story,” Trahan says of his cocktail-making process. “And then I think of each cocktail as a character in the story, and I try to put that character together with their individual parts. The first thing I try to go for is balance. I don’t want it to be overly sweet because, one, I want my customers to be able to have more than one, and two, I just want it to be healthy. It should be a fun experience to taste something new, to taste something you’ve never had before. All said and done, as much as I appreciate my art, my craft here, this is an oasis. Everybody’s going to come to you in their own way. So my main goal is to make people happy.”
For me, Trahan makes the first cocktail he ever created, something he calls a Banshee’s Kiss. He explains the drink in detail as he makes it: He starts with a dry Irish whiskey and then adds a light herbal-based liqueur called Damiana that comes in a bottle shaped like a fertility goddess. Trahan explains how he came to discover the rare liquid and its whole history; what it pairs with; and how at weddings in the Yucatàn, it’s often a gift given by the mother of the groom to the bride in hopes that it will aid in bearing children. As each ingredient is added, Trahan tells its story and its role in the drink.
He adds lime juice, a touch of sugar and bitters to engage the last part of the tongue; shakes it all up; pours it to the last drop into a short-stemmed glass; and lights the top aflame to make it more aromatic. He blows the quick burst out and shifts any light soot to the side with a sliver of orange peel, which he then places on the rim for garnish.
“I usually tell people that’s what my soul tastes like,” Trahan jokes.
When scouring Acadiana’s bars, you’ll find passionate owners, bartenders and patrons who all have their own stories and reasons as to why they do what they do and go where they go. This is a list of some of those bars where people go. It’s a glimpse, a very small glimpse, of the many places from Houma to Lake Charles that are ready and willing to serve a soul-satisfying cold drink when you need one.
LIVE MUSIC BARS
The Wild Salmon • Lafayette
Tattered dollar bills pinned around a horseshoe bar, a curiously wide-ranging collection of autographed 8-by-10s, tin road signs, old beer posters, college flags and anything else under the sun might be found on or falling off the walls of The Wild Salmon. Shoot a steamy game of pool at the table situated near the kitchen while drinking from a Mason jar and listening to some of the most eclectic live music in town. One night people may be dancing to zydeco and the next shaking the building down to heavy metal. The character-oozing joint is laid-back and caters to any crowd.
Piazza Bar • Thibodaux
There are bars that have live music, and there are bars that are made to have live music. Piazza Bar is the latter. Its polished wood bar wraps around and slightly above the showroom floor. The lighting scheme creates a tranquil ambiance and complements the rustic brick-and-wood interior. Tables in the showroom are directed toward the small stage where bands and the occasional comedian perform. Daily specials range from all-you-can-eat wings to being allowed to keep your pint glass.
The Boxer & The Barrel • Houma
Owner Todd Rowan is committed to live music. With shoulder-length hair and tattoos down his arms, he fits in perfectly with the indie bands that frequently play at his bar. When the mike is open, he’ll even take to the stage himself. The space itself is dimly lit and has a lived-in feel. Scratches on the black wood bar shine through. The vague doodles and odd initials add character. Original artwork by local artists decorate its walls, and many pieces are also for sale. For late night cravings, Rowan opened The Duke, which adjoins the bar and cooks up heavy bar foods.
Luna Bar & Grill • Lake Charles
Known as much for its sandwiches as for its live music, Luna Bar & Grill in Lake Charles also has a wide selection of beers that go beyond Bud Light and Coors. Luna is situated in downtown Lake Charles and is locally owned and operated by Dave and Nan Evans; Dave does double-duty as the chef, serving up creative seafood-centric Cajun and Creole cuisine. Mondays are open mike night, Wednesdays feature acoustic music, and Fridays and Saturdays have live bands to get the crowd moving.
Brewski’s • Lafayette
“Wild game” normally describes the nail-biting moments patrons watch on the televisions that cover the walls of sports bars, but Brewski’s, working with X-OTIC Burger Joint, brings the wild game to its burgers. Antelope, elk, venison, wild boar and bison are all on the menu, ground and served to order, though, according to owner Kevin Cooper, it’s the boudin burger that has people talking the most. And with 19 beers on tap and a signature Long Island-style “brew juice,” there’s plenty to choose from to wash it all down.
Fat Pat’s • Lafayette
After eating at Fat Pat’s, you’ll know why its motto is, “Never trust a skinny cook.” The family-owned bar and grill sells a couple thousand of their homemade, never-frozen, hand-formed burgers a week, with everything from tartar sauce to peanut butter thrown on top. Daily specials, such as free queso on Friday evenings, are further enticements to visit the otherwise unassuming location at the end of a strip mall. Each booth has its own TV to ensure a good view on game day, as the kitchen heats up and cold beer cools you down.
Field of Dreams • Broussard
Last October, brothers Erik and Dustin Stark broke ground on what they felt their home of 12 years desperately needed: a great sports bar. Field of Dreams is situated right off of Highway 90 in Broussard, and the brothers designed every element, from layout to logo. Its spacious interior is decorated with sports memorabilia the two have collected since childhood, and its menu is filled with original family recipes. Since opening in May, it’s been whetting the demanding thirsts and appetites of the large concentration of oil field workers and others in the area with its sizable portions of barbecued meats and hard-to-beat burgers, which are seasoned and ground in-house.
Dix Daiquiris • Lafayette
Only premium alcohols are used to mix daiquiris at Dix. Not surprisingly, their biggest seller, The Dix, is also their strongest concoction. It’s a mixture including Diesel 190, Bacardi Dragon Berry and Bacardi 151. Aside from the “almost famous” daiquiris, Dix offers daily plate lunches and a full menu of food, including duck empanadas and boudin balls. Stop in instead of driving through for Dix’s nightly entertainment, ranging from pay-per-view fighting events to the musical stylings of piano man Hunter deBlanc.
Norm’s Daiquiris • Thibodaux
After walking into Norm’s, it might take a second for your eyes to adjust. There’s a lot to take in – it’s full of sights you’d expect in Las Vegas or at a circus. Neon signs in every color, advertising every beer, are everywhere. There are surf boards attached to the bar, model race cars and inflatable doodads hanging from the ceiling, pool tables, arcade games, a jukebox and a life-size stuffed horse. When you decide to sit down, the daiquiri menu provides plenty of options, as does the selection of poor boys.
Frosty Factory • Lake Charles
Frosty Factory has one of the longest bars in Southwest Louisiana. It shouldn’t be surprising, considering that it offers more than 30 different daiquiri flavors, all made with natural juices and premium liquors. Choosing a drink may be a tough decision, but no choice is wrong. Frosty Factory is celebrating 25 years in business and shows no signs of slowing down. Karaoke is held three nights a weeks, with more than 1,000 songs in every genre to choose from, and every Wednesday night it hosts a comedy show. Pool and shuffleboard tables are also available to occupy the time. The second-story balcony is a particularly nice place to relax and socialize while sipping a drink and enjoying the view.
Jolie’s • Lafayette
The farm-to-table mentality doesn’t stop in the kitchen at Jolie’s. Its bar makes what it can, when it can, in-house with locally grown ingredients and a sometimes-labor-intensive attention to detail. Bar manager Tanner DuCote and his staff enjoy experimenting with different flavor profiles, even if that means hand-pitting 20 pounds of fresh cherries to add the right flair to a seasonal cocktail. DuCote says he aims to exude beverage knowledge and enjoys the freedom he’s allowed by not being tied to a particular type of cuisine.
Pamplona • Lafayette
When your bar’s biggest complaint is that people don’t want to leave, you know you’re doing something right. So says bartender Anson Trahan, who’s been creating cocktails since Pamplona opened nearly five years ago. “Store-bought” is not in the vernacular of its bartenders. Every ingredient is unique. They use spirits not likely to be found in most places, some imported, all picked to complement a cocktail. Juices are freshly squeezed. Sugar is bought from a farmer and often arrives still warm from the mill. They even carbonate their own water. Going the extra mile pays off, resulting in truly superior cocktails. Pamplona’s bartenders aren’t just mixing drinks; they’re telling stories.
MacFarlane’s Celtic Pub • Lake Charles
Hardwood floors, deep burgundy walls and a fiery hearth create a warm, inviting atmosphere at MacFarlane’s. It serves more than 140 varieties of beer, each one of which is thoroughly described on the menu. Reading it is like a crash course in beer subtlety. Each style is defined by taste and region, along with alcohol content, which can rise above 10 percent. Still, they’re not as strong as the 40 varieties of scotch on hand. MacFarlane’s stays true to its Celtic theme in its food menu, as well, offering shepherd’s pie and Scotch eggs in addition to the usual bar foods. “This I’ll Defend” appears on its coat of arms and logo. However, it should maintain its stronghold on the Lake Charles pub market without a fight.
Pilot’s Pub • Lafayette
Why not have an aviation-themed pub? Downstairs is the spacious Fox 2 Room. In aviation lingo, the term indicates the launch of a guided missile. The room contains pilot memorabilia and keepsakes scattered on the walls. Dogs are welcome inside, though they may not like the loud rock music that’s often played. A slanted ceiling leads the eye upstairs, where the smaller, more intimate Ready Room is located. Here you can get comfortable on a couch and play a game of chess over a drink before taking off.
The Bulldog • Lafayette
One dollar. At the right time, it can buy you just about anything at The Bulldog. On Wednesdays, it’ll buy a burger; on Mondays, it’ll but any well drink or domestic beer. It’s no wonder the frugal college crowd has been packing in for more than 20 years. Drink all of its more than 70 beers – hopefully not in one night – and you’ll forever be enshrined as a “big dog,” entitling you to free draft beer on Sundays. It hosts trivia nights and other events to keep people coming back for more. There are few frills – just a few pool tables, TVs, drinks served promptly when you need them and a signature smoky smell that sticks to clothes like glue – but it works.
The Greenroom • Lafayette
In a downtown area flooded with vanilla college bars and clubs, The Greenroom offers a different taste. On its aging brick walls are vibrant pieces of original artwork for sale. It’s hip art, often using bold colors and pop culture references. Pool tables lead the way to the back to where the standing shuffleboard tables sit. There are usually a few people dangling what look to be moonshine jugs on their thumbs. They’re called growlers and are filled with beer. They can be bought and refilled at the bar. Several hard-to-find craft beers are on tap and in coolers, giving the bar a leg up over the competition.