Baby, it’s cold outside. It’s gumbo weather, hunting season, and Carnival time is just around the corner. The bars are hopping from Lake Charles to Houma, and we have a greater diversity of bar options, well-trained bartenders creating snazzy new drinks, and new locally made spirits to look forward to in 2014.
Acadiana’s cocktail culture is flourishing this time of year, heightened by Christmas celebrations, New Year’s Eve bashes and all the Carnival balls and parties leading up to Fat Tuesday on March 4. From the Krewe of Carnivale en Rio ball in Lafayette on Jan. 4 to Twelfth Night featuring 50 krewes promenading in Lake Charles and the Krewe of Andalusia’s glitzy 75th anniversary pageant in New Iberia held Jan. 18, there’s a whole lot of partying and cork-popping going on along the bayous.
New distilleries are thriving, rum is flowing like a waterfall, and good bartenders are almost as popular as crooked politicians these days. There is a bar for just about everyone and every occasion. We often take for granted our impressive variety of original Louisiana drinks like the Sazerac, which I’d prefer to enjoy while relaxing near a roaring fire at Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro in Lafayette, or at the circa-1890s Alligator Bar in St. Martinville. It’s a sight better than sipping hot buttered rum after shivering on a Colorado ski slope (where I lived for a season), or downing a bone luge, that ridiculous drink which requires imbibing a shot of alcohol through a cleaned-out shank bone, a trend that started in Portland, Ore., last year. Our capable Acadiana bartenders continue to spare us from such recent national trends, including dressing up your drink with those eye-candy foams and gelatins, pushing mixed drinks on tap rather than hand-crafted ones, making cocktails with low-alcohol ingredients that resemble spiked salads and succumbing to the recent resurgence of peddling sherry. Here in Acadiana, we’re safe from such nonsense.
The trends we are seeing currently in South Louisiana are led by an increase in the popularity of locally made rum by Acadiana entrepreneurs, in part thanks to Bill 64 that was passed by the Louisiana Senate giving distillers the right to sell their spirits directly to consumers in small quantities. This includes Donner-Peltier Distillers’s Rougaroux Rum, Louisiana Spirits’ Bayou Rum and Rank Wildcat’s Sweet Crude Rum. Flavored whiskeys and small batch bourbons are also hot in the bayou state, although flavored vodka is still king of the road.
For the first time since Prohibition, aged whiskey is being made in Louisiana, and it’s all happening in Thibodeaux at Donner-Peltier Distillery, which announced the debut of their LA-1 in December, while the new batch of Rougaroux 13 Pennies, a praline-flavored rum with a faint bitterness, is still being worked on and will be available in the coming months, according to officer manager Taryn Clement. “We’re getting more pecans from a different pecan farm so that it comes off as more sweet,” she says. “But it’s not like Captain Morgan, which is really sweet.” David Meaux, co-owner of Rank Wildcat, which is Acadiana’s first micro-distillery based out of Lafayette, notes that his rum is made with local sugarcane. “We make more of a French-style rum than a British rum made with molasses. Other local distilleries are using a product from a different stage of the product than we are utilizing. We strictly use fresh-squeezed sugarcane juice with no flavors added, and we cut it with purified water. We hit shelves a year ago, and now we’re in over 100 stores throughout the state.”
“More white spirits like gin and vodka are consumed during the warmer months, and brown spirits such as Cognac and American whiskey are consumed during the cooler months,” explains Chris Smith, the district sales manager of Glazers of Louisiana, one of the largest distributors of spirits and wine in the state.
“Vodka is the largest category, followed by whiskey in cases sold. Confectionary flavors like whipped cream, cake and recent additions such as cinnamon twist and wild honey are made by the leader in the industry, Smirnoff Vodka,” Smith says. “Whiskey’s growth in the last couple of years includes jumping on the flavor trend with the additions of honey, cinnamon and maple.
“Crown Royal is the largest selling spirit in Louisiana and the first to market this maple flavor,” he continues. “Every large bourbon house has constructed its own line of small batch bourbons, and Bulleit bourbon is one of the top leading small batch bourbons. All of this innovation has made it a dream for bartenders to get creative in making new cocktails.”
You can find such hand-crafted cocktails, old favorites and some of our locally made rum at the finer bars that we recommend, while the more casual neighborhood joints we suggest offer friendly bartenders and good vibes that are guaranteed to warm you up and enliven your party on a cold winter’s night.
Jolie’s Louisiana Bistro
507 W. Pinhook Road, Lafayette | (337) 706-8544
With a marvelous, flickering fire in a hearth that is situated near the bar, the elegant Jolie’s is enhanced with paintings by George Rodrigue and attracts patrons ranging from young professionals to a sophisticated older crowd. Wednesdays are great because the appetizers and drinks are half price all night long, according to spirits manager Tanner Ducote, who created the popular Tender Flock cocktail (made with cognac, Dijon mustard and rosemary-infused simple syrup) for winter imbibing and the Fall Invasion (made with apple brandy, a little ginger liqueur and holiday spices including grated nutmeg). Both drinks will warm you up in a jiffy. Ducote notes that their most popular winter drinks are the Sazerac (not too sweet is the key) and an impeccable Old Fashioned. The house-made mixers are from local, seasonal ingredients and reflect the farm-to-table concept of the award-winning restaurant. You can enjoy a full dinner menu at the bar. Tip: Try the foie gras and figs, quail gumbo and the succulent whole redfish wrapped in house bacon.
Blue Dog Cafe
1211 W. Pinhook Road, Lafayette | (337) 237-0005
A fun, casual bar just down the street from Jolie’s, featuring more of those famous George Rodrigue paintings and a generous happy hour weekdays that is highlighted by two-for-one mixed drinks and delicious appetizers such as smoked duck quesadillas, seafood wontons with a plum ginger sauce, crab cakes and seafood stuffed mushrooms. Jazz, blues and acoustic music attracts locals Thursday-Saturday nights. The place is packed for Sunday brunch, so come early.
3809 Ambassador Caffery Parkway, Lafayette | (337) 981-0108
A popular, romantic place to meet in the evening featuring live piano music Thursday-Saturday and a happy hour Monday-Friday, this upscale, well-staffed bar, surrounded by frosted glass partitions, has several intimate candlelit booths, an impressive assortment of specialty liquors and liqueurs, and a wine list with more than 100 options by the bottle and the glass. It’s a good spot to land after shopping at the nearby Acadiana Mall. I like to warm up with a steaming bowl of their duck and andouille gumbo or the white bean soup with boar sausage and the delicious chopped short rib French dip sandwich with caramelized onions, white remoulade and shiraz jus that is served during lunch. For a bit of holiday cheer, try the Georgia Peach cocktail, fashioned with peach vodka, cranberry and orange juice and a hint of lime. There's good Irish coffee, too.
412 Jefferson St., Lafayette | (337) 234-3474
The sleek and sexy lounge at Tsunami has soft lights, black chandeliers, Brazilian granite countertops and a front patio for mingling and smoking. According to award-winning bartender Marshall Kemp, the signature cocktails that are popular during the winter months include chocolate martinis and they also make a terrific Old Fashioned here. The bar offers all the locally made rums. “Vodka is a top seller right now. And once it starts getting cold, the hot sake starts flowing fast. I’ll put a splash of raspberry liqueur, blackberry liqueur or pineapple juice in the sake,” he says. “We’re experimenting with Bayou Spiced and Bayou Silver Rum with the new Swamp Pop praline cream sodas for the holidays. We’re working on creating a drink list with all the flavors.” Fine cognacs and champagne are available for those special occasions.
Pamplona Tapas Bar
631 Jefferson St., Lafayette | (337) 232-0070
Graze on tapas, drink a little sangria and enjoy some pre-prohibition style cocktails, a specialty here. Tip: try Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon. Everything is fresh and house-made including the bitters and syrups. Check out the TIXA wine system. Bartender Casey Granger rolled out a new cocktail menu recently featuring 10 new cocktails. “For the winter, I like to make a cocktail with pecan vodka, sweet vermouth, chocolate bitters, coffee bitters and a little vanilla extract. The pecan flavor really comes out. We have a great atmosphere and a mixed age group here.”
3480 N.E. Evangeline Throughway, Lafayette | (337) 896-3247
Lafayette has numerous live music bars, but this is the best place to go for Cajun dancing, serious cocktails and authentic Cajun food prepared by a top chef. A great place to bring a large group, Prejean’s has hosted famous actors, writers, governors and other celebs through the years. Put on your dancing shoes, because the nightly live Cajun music will make you jump up and shake your tail feathers. Cozy up to the bar for mixed drinks, local beers, and be sure to sample the outstanding gumbo. Also check out the Oyster Saxophone nestled in a pirogue, and the Carencro mixed grill. Prejean’s now holds the record for the most medals captured by any culinary team in the South. Their pheasant and quail gumbo is a favorite at Jazz Fest each year.
POUR and VILLAGE CAFE
605 Silverstone Road in River Ranch, Lafayette | (337) 981-8085
Village Café’s sister concept in the Town Square of River Ranch, Pour is a small, charming wine bar offering the best selection of wines in the city and a self-serve system (you can try as many wines as you like by the taste, half glass or full glass). The hand-crafted cocktails are made with fresh ingredients (the list is divided into four categories: easygoing, complex and layered, boozy and intriguing, and dessert). Start the evening with drinks at Pour, followed by dinner at Village Café, which garnered Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence and is now offering brunch. Try the rabbit boudin balls, seared foie gras, Gulf snapper with fried green tomatoes, and for your inner child, the yummy Swamp Pop Praline Cream Soda Float. It’s always cool when concerts are being performed in the square.
Ruth’s Chris STeak house
620 W. Pinhook Road, Lafayette | (337) 237-6123
If you want to see local heavy weights cutting deals over lunch, stop in at the handsome bar and observe all the silk suits. Ruth's Chris is known for its sizzling steaks, but it should also be known for the bar’s Sizzle, Swizzle and Swirl $7 happy hour menu, offered Monday-Friday evenings. It features mouth-watering nibbles such as tenderloin skewers, prime sliders and two-fisted, vintage-inspired cocktails. Try the Pomegranate Martini, Ruth’s Manhattan, Classic Cosmo and the stiff Moscow Mule. Elegant and intimate, the popular bar attracts a well-heeled crowd. Located near Acadian Village and the Acadiana Center for the Arts.
Jefferson Street Pub
500 Jefferson St., Lafayette | (337) 232-5040
Recently acquired by new owners, the casual gastro-pub, frequented by a youthful college crowd, serves a good Irish coffee, the famous Vegas Bomb and the Sidecar cocktail made with cognac and triple sec that will warm you up when the wind is blowing, plus late-night chocolate bread pudding and other goodies until 2 a.m. Popular for its live music on Thursdays, the bar also attracts sports fans with its flat-screen televisions. Instant parties happen after ULL home games and LSU games.
1700 Chemin Metairie road, Youngsville (337) 451-4149
The new Corner Bar in Youngsville is owned by Stanley Lerille (son of Red Lerille of the eponymous Health and Racquet Club). Stan is the proprietor of the original Corner Bar in Lafayette. The 3,000-square-foot Youngsville bar features 13 flat-screen TVs inside, another one on the 50-seat patio, and there are also TVs in both bathrooms – “so you don’t miss the game,” Lirelle explains. Staffed by a dozen female bartenders, the casual watering hole features a painting of an old wino by Olivia LeBlanc and a good jukebox. It's also popular with athletes, a tradition that started years ago in Lafayette. Runners and bikers are offered beer on the house, mostly on Thursday nights. The nearby, new multi-million-dollar, 70-acre sports complex is slated to open in early 2014.
Route 92 Bar
2600 East Milton Ave., Youngsville
Live music and pool tournaments draw crowds at this large, rustic bar that is popular with Youngsville residents and folks from Lafayette. Low ceilings, seven pool tables, picnic tables on a covered front porch, and spacious terrazzo floors for dancing. Last time I visited, Geno Delafose & French Rockin' Boogie were playing on a Sunday, when oysters on the half-shell were $8 a dozen. Good Bloody Marys are served. One of the partners of Shuck’s Seafood Patio in Abbeville owns Route 92, which is why the oysters are fresh and delicious.
Wawee’s on the River
411 W. Milton Ave., Milton | (337) 856-8336
If you have a boat, pull it up to Wawee’s bar on the Vermilion River and enjoy the big outdoor deck, stiff cocktails, live blues jams, tasty Cajun vittles and locals. This out-of-the-way joint is a fun spot to land on weekends, especially for boaters.
Fezzo’s Seafood Steakhouse and Oyster Bar
720 S. Frontage Road, Scott | (337) 261-2464
2111 N. Cherokee Drive, Crowley | (337) 783-5515
The second location in Scott is my favorite (the original is in Crowley). It’s an upscale yet casual place to meet up with friends. You can watch games at the sports bar while feasting on chargrilled oysters, oysters Rockefeller, delicious shrimp and okra gumbo, flame-grilled steaks and other delectable offerings from the extensive Cajun menu. The restaurant is accented with brick walls, ceiling fans and a spacious, covered front porch rimmed with plantation columns. I like to get a cup of crawfish bisque and half of the Craig’s poor boy, made with shrimp, oysters and crawfish laced with a creamy sauce for lunch. “We have a really friendly staff, a lot of smiling faces and a relaxed atmosphere,” says catering and marketing director Renee Hernandez. The Crowley location has a giant stuffed alligator and big, beautiful oak trees at the entrance and a sleek bar serving excellent drinks.
8401 Maurice Ave. (Highway 167), Maurice | (337) 893-1968
You just never know who you will run into that will be nursing a hangover at this famous little watering hole in Maurice. The Cajun Bloody Marys are popular with Lafayette lawyers, businessmen, politicos, good old boys and folks stopping in on their way to Lafayette and beyond. Be sure to stop in at Hebert’s Meat Market before or after a cocktail and get some boudin to go. During the holidays, this meat market is the best place in Acadiana, hands-down, that makes turduckens. (Note: Watch out for the fuzz, because this little stretch of highway in the middle of town is a famous speed trap, and they will pop out of the bushes quicker than you can blink.)
7490 Highway 167, Maurice | (337) 893-9882
A rustic little joint not far from City Bar, Touchet's is just on the outskirts of Maurice. Open since 1962, the bar used to offer some great homemade gumbo, but now the staff hosts cracklin’ cook-off parties a couple times a year (as a fundraiser), and they set up spacious tents on the side of the place. During the open jam sessions, celebrity Cajun musicians often show up and play, so it’s always a treat. The drinks are well-made and inexpensive, there’s a small dance floor, and the regulars are ultra-friendly. Owner Derek Touchet inherited the bar from his father. “It used to be a gas station, a bar and a barber shop when my grandfather opened it,” he says.
101 E. Second St., Broussard | (337) 839-9333
Festively decorated for the holidays, this is a beautiful, charming place to take family and friends for the best cocktails around. First time I reviewed Nash’s, I was told that it is haunted, and recently, the owner’s wife told me that the little boy (a ghost) was “at it again,” upsetting things in the kitchen in broad daylight and annoying the staff. New Orleans restaurateur Nash Barreca, the proprietor, used to run Barreca’s, the former seafood restaurant on Metairie Road that is now a special events venue. The handsome, elegant bar is softly lit and flanks the restaurant, which has a wraparound, glassed-in porch overlooking camellias and oak trees. It offers great signature cocktails, top-shelf liquor and liqueurs, plus a hit parade of Louisiana classics. The bar is popular for private parties this time of the year. Order a stiff Old Fashioned followed by the double-bone French center-cut pork chops with rich fig demi-glacé, yams and dirty rice and you’ll be singing "fa-la-la" all the way home.
Clementine’s dining and Spirits
113 E. Main St., New Iberia | (337) 560-1007
This has always been one of my favorite places to enjoy cocktails on a Friday night during the holidays and the weeks leading up to Carnival, when the balls and parties are in full swing. Named for folk artist Clementine Hunter, whose works appear in the restaurant, it is owned by Wayne Peltier, a gifted cook who has shared some great holiday recipes with me (though he’s not the chef here). Sit at the turn-of-the-century mahogany bar, order your favorite cocktail (all are expertly made), and munch on bar bites such as Cajun wontons stuffed with spicy crawfish boudin that will stoke your internal furnace.
1215 Grand Pointe Ave., Breaux Bridge (337) 332-1721
The most famous bar in Breaux Bridge, of course, is Café des Amis (similar to Fred’s in Mamou), where the Saturday morning zydeco brunch draws a lineup of people outside the door who are waiting for seats and drinks, starting at 7 a.m. (tiny dance floor, however); second to that in popularity is the old Mulate’s, which used to attract all those tour buses. But for something less touristy and more authentic, I prefer the 50-year-old, no-frills La Poussiere. It’s strictly a locals bar (no food) and attracts an older crowd that enjoys waltzing to the old-timey Cajun bands on the spacious wooden dance floor. Drinks come in small plastic cups, but the bartenders are generous with their booze, and the prices can’t be beat.
402 W. Third St., Thibodaux | (985) 449-0333
Housed in one of Thibodaux’s historic landmarks (formerly the Roth Drugstore, built in 1878), Fremin’s features a beveled glass and mahogany storefront and the original pressed tin ceiling on the first floor, while the second floor has a wrap-around wrought-iron balcony. A handsome, solid mahogany bar on the first floor features an extensive drink menu with specialty cocktails. Ask for bartender Luke Peloquin, who is also the mixologist for the Donner-Peltier Distillery, where he creates cocktail recipes for their various spirits. Luke makes terrific eggnog during the holidays, topped with whipped cream. He created the Follies of Fall cocktail, a hot drink that will warm you up, made with Rougaroux Full Moon, 13 Pennies, and Sugarshine rums, apple cider and apple juice, honey, a split vanilla bean, cloves, cinnamon and ground nutmeg, garnished with apple rings. His wife is sous chef at the elegant restaurant, which serves gourmet Creole-Italian fare.
724 High St., Houma | (985) 223-1130
A popular restaurant with a romantic bar in the heart of Houma, Cristiano’s is embellished with a patio rimmed with palm trees and twinkling lights, while the living-room style bar is set up with deep leather chairs and sofas that invite guests to linger over cozy winter cocktails. The proprietors also own two restaurants in New Orleans: Martinique Bistro on Magazine Street and Dick and Jenny's on Tchoupitoulas Street.
The Boxer and the Barrel
7817 W. Main St., Houma | (985) 262-0583
This funky live music dive featuring indie rock, open mic Tuesdays and games on Sundays serves up some pretty good margaritas and hurricanes. Burgers and bar food prepared at The Duke (try the buffalo fries topped with popcorn chicken and bacon, drenched in sauce and finished with blue cheese) tend to satiate those with the munchies, waiting for those thumping sets to begin.
7887 Main St., Houma | (985) 655-7890
A great date place, the elegant, upscale cocktail lounge offers excellent hand-crafted cocktails (everything is made from scratch) in a smoke-free environment, with an Internet juke box and a lovely patio. Your best bet for a soul-warming winter drink: Check out two versions of the Southern Gentleman cocktail made with bourbon, fresh blackberries and basil over ice, or bourbon, orange chipotle syrup and bitters over crushed ice. Soft lighting creates a sexy ambience.
Cypress Bayou Casino
832 Martin Luther King Road, Charenton | (337) 923-7284
You can enter this beautiful casino and hotel and never come out. It features no fewer than seven restaurants, in addition to several bars and places to hear music. Be sure to check out Mr. Lester’s, a high-end steakhouse with serious cocktails; RIKRAK, an upscale sushi restaurant with a sleek bar; Loco Mexican Grill & Cantina with its super margaritas; and Bocat’s, a cool oyster bar serving good drinks. ROX is the upscale nightclub, featuring some great live entertainment every weekend plus national acts; The Pavilion is a concert venue showcasing the likes of Charlie Daniel, Lionel Richie, and Irma Thomas, while Loco offers live music on Wednesday and Thursday nights. You’ll find superb cocktails and live music any day of the week, plus the gaming is always there to tempt you into possibly winning a bundle before heading to the next lively spot. One of the many perks is that it’s super easy to meet people here.
Luna Bar and Grill
719 Ryan St., Lake Charles | (337) 494-5862
The large bar on Ryan Street, which is where it’s all happening these days, is designed with exposed brick and a patio, and it showcases works by local artists. The bartenders whip up delicious cocktails, and there is live music most evenings. Luna has reasonable prices, casual food and overall good vibes.
100 N. Main St., St. Martinville | (337) 342-2593
Owners Bob and Charmaine Savasten (she’s the head chef of La Maison, which occupies half of the building that houses the Alligator Bar) just happened upon this neglected 10,000-square-foot place after retiring to St. Martinville from Oklahoma in 2006. They fell in love with it and decided to embark on an extensive restoration of the landmark, which is the largest downtown structure, overlooking a 250-year-old church. The unique, all-cypress, 35-seat circa-1890s bar is topped with alligator skin and is popular among judges, lawyers and doctors. “We serve 50 different martinis and 66 kinds of beer, and can make anything you want,” says Bob. “We serve Absinthe, traditional Sazeracs and we are one of the only bars around that serves the Obituary Cocktail, a New Orleans drink from the 1920s.” A gathering place for numerous citywide functions, there is live music on Friday nights includes swamp pop, zydeco and Cajun bands. “This place is fun for Mardi Gras, because the parades pass right in front.” Bob says. “We enjoy being an integral part of the community and having a great place without having to go to New Orleans or Lafayette.”