Les Personnes: 'To the Grouse'
Lafayette oilman Matt Chiasson’s upscale live music venue continues a long-standing family tradition
The live music — be it Rock ‘n’ Roll, Cajun/Zydeco or country — reverberates off the room’s Hefner-chic décor of dark woods and dark leathers as men in collars and women in labels sip dark liquor underneath the forgiving dim of dark lighting inside or the dark night sky on the patio outside.
This is the essence of The Grouse Room.
“If you put four words — Chicago, Broadway, Prohibition, speakeasy — and toss those into a blender, and pour that into a shell of a building, make it a bar…well, you got The Grouse Room,” says owner Matt Chiasson, a man who made his money in the oilfield and spent a hefty portion of it in this Southside haven of good times.
But to find the soul of The Grouse Room, it’s imperative to not only see but to hear… especially when the music stops.
On occasion — when night turns to morning and the band is between sets — Chiasson gets on stage and begins to tell the story of the toast of the Famous Grouse, a family tradition started by his father, Willard, who passed in 2011 at the age of 84. As Chiasson speaks into the mic, bartenders pour as many shots as there are people in the bar. When he’s done talking, glasses are lifted toward the ceiling.
“The toast was [my dad’s] way, and our way, to pay tribute to my mother, Jean, who passed away,” Chiasson says. “The second-to-last toast was always to Mom, and the last toast — to lighten the mood — was to the grouse. So that laughter covered the tears. And, as one of six children, it was our way of coming together and just bringing back all sorts of memories.”
Back then, the heaviness of the pour went by seniority. Willard and Matt’s oldest brother, John, received a full glass with a big ice cube. Matt, 13 years John’s junior, got about a half-glass. Grandkids of age got a shot. Those who weren’t quite 21 got a “nib.”
“That’s the hierarchy, right?” Chiasson says with a chuckle.
What makes the toast, and the bar it inspired, so unique is the namesake spirit hoisted into the air. The Famous Grouse isn’t necessarily a high-end blended Scotch, nor is it necessarily popular or readily available in South Louisiana. Produced and distributed by the Scotland-based Edrington Group, it’s an affordable bottle with a smooth finish and definitely does the trick, but it won’t be found on most top shelfs.
Yet, for whatever reason, it was Willard’s drink of choice, perhaps perfectly suited for the modest taste of a retired directional driller.
When Chiasson opened The Grouse Room four years ago, the alcohol sales rep was so delighted with the initial purchase of 20 cases of The Famous Grouse that he got The Edrington Group to gift 26 whiskey barrels to help decorate the bar.
To further emphasize the importance of family, many of The Grouse Room walls feature the photography of John Chiasson — Matt’s oldest brother and he of the full glass of Grouse — who was a highly-accomplished photographer. Presidents, athletes, actors and musicians all stood in front of his lens, as John racked up dozens of magazine covers for publications such as Time, ESPN The Magazine, and Newsweek.
John died in 2013 at the age of 60.
“He had a way about him,” Chiasson recalls. “Heck, he got Shaquille O’Neal to miss basketball practice with the Orlando Magic because their 30-minute shoot went way over time. It’s that South Louisiana charm that allowed the subjects he was shooting to relax and be themselves. That’s how he got those real pictures.”
Matt speaks through a smile when comparing himself and John. The two were polar opposites. John was “wavy gravy,” a free spirit who joined the Peace Corps after college, teaching English to grade school kids in Burkina Faso. Matt was and still is rice and gravy, a Cajun capitalist to the core with an unquenchable thirst to find oil. Despite their differences, they shared the same last name and bonded in later years over business. In a way, Matt leant his entrepreneurial know-how to John (almost like an unpaid consultant), helping out with licensing contracts, invoice strategies and negotiating terms with magazines.
“When I tell the story of what this place means — and why it’s named what it’s named and why John’s photography hangs here — some people cry, because it’s just that personal,” Chiasson says. “Sometimes they’ll apologize for taking my time, and I assure them that I’ll talk about the toast, and my mom and dad, and John for hours. It’s no bother.
“That’s what this place is all about, and that’s why it will never close.”
House Of Grouse
If you haven’t tasted (or heck, even heard of) Grouse Scotch, don’t feel bad. You’re not alone. But for those curious enough to try it when in The Grouse Room, here’s a brief tutorial of all the different types of Grouse Scotch The Grouse Room has had over the years. Note: Some of these selections aren’t always available due to accessibility.
❶ The Famous Grouse
The staple brand of blended Scotch Whiskey at The Grouse Room, The Famous Grouse is full, golden and clear with a well-balanced oak aroma accented by a hint of citrus. It goes down smooth with a medium dry finish.
❷ The Black Grouse
This is a richer, smokier version of Scotch. The appearance is dark burnished gold, but still clear. If you hold the glass or bottle up, you’ll smell toasted orange peel and once you sip, your senses are engaged with a lingering, smoke-filled finish.
❸ The Naked Grouse
In homage to the name, this Scotch doesn’t have a label. The Naked Grouse gets its unique flavor from first-fill sherry casks instead of the typical bourbon casks.
❹ The Snow Grouse
This is a winter Scotch designed to be served after being chilled in a freezer for days. It’s the lightest of the Scotches in appearance and smells like vanilla and honey. The finish is sweet and lingering.
❺ 40-Year-Aged Grouse
Seems cruel to list this selection since Matt’s only had one of these rare and pricey bottles in stock since the place opened, but we’re listing it anyway. It’s basically liquid velvet on your tongue. Although, that feeling comes at a hefty price, so savor it.
The Grouse Room / 1919 Kaliste Saloom Rd #303. Lafayette. (337) 806-9098. thegrouseroom.com