Story By Braylin Jenkins – Photos By Daniel Castro
Highlighting the bar scene in Lake Charles is no easy task. So like last year, I brought some friends along to chime in. While we gave insight into what each bar was like on the night we visited last year, this year I thought it would be best for you to decide. Bringing a friend or potential friend (someone you want to get to know better) and trying out some of the signature drinks we mention during this year’s bar guide may be something to consider. Be sure to let them know you read about it in Lagniappe magazine, and that I was not making up my assignment. Of course, Lagniappe magazine and I encourage you to drink responsibly. I was the designated driver during our research, and we had a dedicated taste tester accompany my friend and photographer Daniel Castro during each outing.
Based on the bar establishments located in the Lake Charles area alone, you could take in a different atmosphere each night of the month, and depending on the night you visit, the environment might be completely different. If you have somewhat of an outgoing personality, and maybe even if you don’t, you could at least make one new friend at each bar you visit. And the next thing you know, a whole new world of options opens up. While we set out to identify a signature drink that each individual bar is proud of, there were some bars that admitted there was not a single drink that they would use to identify themselves. That realization led us to ask the bartender what most patrons order or what is sold the most. Needless to say, the drinks that are highlighted may be just a few of the many great drinks available, and chances are each establishment has something you would appreciate at the very least, if not completely fall head over heels for. While these bars could be categorized by type, price, location and a variety of other standards, in this bar guide you will experience what we experienced, and I will note any key traits that I believe should be referenced. There were a few locations we visited that really allowed the bartenders we came in contact with to stand out as some of our favorite bartenders. Right out of the gate on our first night out on the town, Michael Anne Daigle, manager and bartender of The Center Stage located at 3426 Ryan St. in the stretch of the “Bar Mall,” immediately made my friends feel welcome and at home.
Daigle took the time to explain why she chose the drink that she chose and why it was beneficial to the patrons who order it. At The Center Stage, if you ask for Michael’s “Pink Lemonade,” be prepared to enjoy a pitcher of this specialty concoction with just one straw. Sean Whatley, our first designated taste tester, probably assumed the pitcher of “Pink Lemonade” was for the three of us to share. He didn’t realize he was in for a special treat all his own. He described the taste as being exactly like lemonade — tangy with a sweet fruity aftertaste. Whatley noted that it would be difficult to distinguish the drink if it were side-by-side with fresh-squeezed lemonade. After a while, Whatley says he did begin to taste the sweet and sour, yet it still had the same savory taste that lemonade does, with the alcohol portions slowly becoming more apparent. Like many of Daigle’s drink creations, this one was simply a mistake turned good.
Head next door, and you’ll enter Dakota’s, located at 3430 Ryan St. Here, the staff admitted that there was an endless amount of drinks they could highlight. However, they decided on the “Blueberry Vegas Bomb.” Whatley described the drink as a blueberry twist on a famous drink. He went on to say it’s perfect for those who have a sweet tooth. The drink goes down smooth, without much taste of alcohol, so it is perfect for those who don’t like the booze taste.
Moving right along, Bourbonz, located at 3436 Ryan St., selected their Long Island to be featured in this year’s bar guide. Whatley referenced the point of a Long Island is to “get drunk without tasting the alcohol,” and that’s exactly what’s going on with Bourbonz Long Island. Whatley also noted that it does not taste like iced tea, and to him Long Island iced teas never have, but that by no means indicates that it’s not a good drink. The reason people order them is because of the hidden booze taste.
As a trio, we crossed West LaGrange Street and headed into The Cajun’s Wharf, located at 3500 Ryan St. While the bartender on duty expressed that it would be hard to narrow down one drink to highlight, she made the “NBS” shot for us. Upon visiting, you can find out what that is or see what each bartender would recommend as one of their personal favorites. While Cajun’s Wharf is known for their bucket of beer specials and amazingly tasty menu items to snack on, I could understand the difficulty of selecting one specific drink to highlight the bar. Shout out to Mark Russell, AKA “The Other Blues Brother,” who plays your favorite tunes each week.
After our adventure at “Bar Mall,” the three of us went south and decided to stop by Cooler’s Icehouse, located at 3622 Ryan St. From the large deck that sits out front to greet you to the high ceilings and long bar inside, we were welcomed by smiling faces. After a little conversation among bartenders, the “Liquid Marijuana” was decided on. Whatley described this frozen treat as having a fruity and sweet taste. The name references the color of the drink. Whatley said it might as well be called a “hand grenade sweet with a twinge of bite.”
Following a frozen drink, we thought it was time to get something on the rocks, so we headed to — where else — On the Rocks, located at 817 East McNeese St. Our friend Josh selected the “Purple Gatorade,” which, surprisingly, tastes like Gatorade. Whatley described it as “another sweet drink,” this time with grape flavor. The food items at this establishment must also be mentioned for the delicious taste all across the board.
Next on our list for the first night was My Place American Pub, located at 630 West Prien Lake Road, suite G. This pub has always given off a cool vibe for me, with welcoming bartenders to top it off. The first drink that was selected had a great taste; however, after the discussion between two bartenders, a second drink was chosen. After enjoying the first selection, Whatley labeled the second selection as a “Bomb Pop Shot” — a layered drink, with different flavors at different levels of the drink. Whatley mentioned that while the drink has a sweet taste throughout, toward the end of the drink you notice the stronger sweet cherry finish. When you visit My Place, ask one of their bartenders, and they will fix up something great every time. On a side note, with Daniel Castro leading the way, we all tried tacos from OnGo Mex Tacos, which is located at My Place every Tuesday night. We would all agree that was probably the best decision we made that night.
The next stop brought us down the street to 3topia, located at 409 West Prien Lake Road. This marked my first visit following the new owners/management. The bartender had one of the coolest personalities, which could easily have you hanging out and only later realizing you’d cleaned out your wallet. Yes, he’s that smooth. 3topia is a great place for conversation and company. Whatley was handed the “Topiarita.” He noted that depending on which layer you are drinking from, the taste is different. There was one layer he was not particularly fond of; yet he raved about the margarita portion. One of the most notorious bars in Lake Charles has to be Pappy’s. After much discussion, the bartender informed us that the most popular drink ordered was simply a shot of Jameson. With that said, Whatley stepped up to the plate and described the shot as harsh and biting – as is most whiskey. He noted that the shot is indicative of the bar. If you’re not into mixed drinks or those usually created to appease the ladies, this may just be the location and drink for you. Topping off our first night, we decided to bring it to the Three’s Company-inspired bar, Regal Beagle, located at 2200 Ryan St. I personally enjoy this space because the bartenders always aim to please. They are great conversationalists, and overall, they help to make your day at least somewhat better. They are known for their “Green Tea Shot,” which Whatley said had a melon taste which reminded him of how drinks don’t necessarily have the taste you would assume, based on the flavor or name. You will have to be the judge at this location, as with the others we mention throughout the bar guide. For our second night, we enlisted help from Justin Thierry as our taste tester. We began our second night with Luna Bar & Grill, located at 719 Ryan St. The “Pearl Jam” was selected as this location’s signature drink. Thierry described it as “off the bat refreshing.” From the beginning, I knew his descriptions were going to be interesting. He went on to say that the “Pearl Jam” tastes like a warm summer day. The mixture of the strawberry puree, lemon-lime soda and vodka makes it the life of the party. Castro and Thierry then walked across the street to our second location of the night. The bartender of Luna Live selected the “Mind Eraser” as their signature drink. Thierry noted that many Lake Charles bar patrons have succumbed to the sweet wrath of the “Mind Eraser.” It’s a sneaky cocktail with a cream soda taste at first sip. But by the end of the cocktail, there’s the traditional “shooter” shot. Thierry said that one is enough unless you are Chuck Norris. Across town, we made two new friends at Old Town Tavern, located at 2801 Kirkman St. The bartender and patron that we spoke with were really great guys, and even went down memory lane with us, discussing the bars I’ve already named. Our friend Terry made a “B-52 Shot” as Old Town Tavern’s signature drink. Thierry described the drink, saying “it comes in like a bomb — the perfect concoction of my morning coffee when I worked a long day and need a drink.” The drink is layered to perfection and each ingredient stands alone, yet comes together like the Three Musketeers, ready to fight alongside of you to battle against your prolonged “2:30 pm” feeling. The Old Town Tavern is one of those establishments you have to check out for yourself. And when you do, you will be glad that you did. We then embarked on a visit to one of the most intimate bars in town: Lucky Pierre’s, located at 238 West Prien Lake Road. This almost hidden gem feels like a home away from home to the many patrons who frequent it. Joshua Sarvaunt, better known to friends as “Josh,” is one of the people you know at Lucky’s. From his music selection to stories and conversation, Josh makes you feel like you’re a part of the Lucky Pierre’s family. Josh selected the “Moscow Mule.” Thierry began his description by saying that Lucky Pierre’s is one of his personal favorites, referring to it as a place to go if you just want to sit back and relax; the quintessential environment to have a great conversation and an even better cocktail. “The experience in itself sells the drink,” said Thierry. As for the “Moscow Mule,” Thierry described it as sitting on a porch swing with his best friend “livin’’ the life,” which has comfort written all over it. South of McNeese, at Walk-On’s Bistreaux and Bar, located at 5313 Common St., the lovely bartender placed a massive cup in front of us. With a name like “Death Valley,” it was easy to see why. Thierry described the drink as “the everlasting drink stopper,” implying that if Willy Wonka made a drink, this would be it. It is forever changing flavors to infinity and beyond. Thierry suggests squeezing the orange mid-way; everything changes. He also recommends not allowing the name to throw you off — heavily suggesting that patrons try it. To top off his description Thierry called it a euphoric valley of happiness. We were also served one of their many amazing starters, of which our dedicated taste tester was in need by this point of the night. The final stop of our second night brought us to Linda’s Lounge, located at 4338 Lake St. The bartender served up a tall glass of “The Bomb Pop.” Thierry described it in a way I think we could all visualize. “It’s like a grown-up American popsicle served by Burt Reynolds driving a trans-am with George Washington in the passenger seat. It’s made for two with a straw for a friend; pick your mate and check,” said Thierry. The interesting part was that after Castro took the photo and we turned our heads, when we looked back the drink was completely consumed; so much for sharing with a friend. For night three, our friend Danita Noland joined Castro and me and we began well into the later part of the night. OB’s Bar & Grill is where we kicked off the night. It’s located at 1301 Ryan St. This heritage establishment has served up quite a few drinks over the decades. For this particular night, since Megan Cornejo was out of town dress shopping for her wedding, the guy bartenders decided to change things up a bit, selecting the “Washington Apple” as this year’s submission. Noland was up to bat. She described the drink as tasty — a pleasant mix of sweet and sour without an obvious taste of alcohol. Noland noted that she could drink a lot of this particular drink and that it reminded her somewhat of a Jolly Rancher. For our next location of the now early morning, we went to Crystal’s Downtown, located at 112 Broad St. Each time that I have visited this establishment, the music is plentiful. If Keisha Seaux Phynne is working, I can guarantee a great night. Keisha, like many of our bartender friends, went back and forth between two drinks. She decided on the “N&M,” which fittingly references one of the most sought after party pop stars of today. Noland described the drink as so smooth and delicious it makes you want another one. The taste can be described as cotton candy and melon coming together in a delectable way. After our visit downtown, we headed down Lakeshore and over to Jack Daniel’s Bar & Grill, located inside of L’Auberge Lake Charles at 777 Avenue L’Auberge. With DJ Crush entertaining the Jack After Dark crowd, we actually found a portion of the bar for our trio to approach. Cole Bistok greeted us and introduced us to a friendly bartender who prepared the “Crimson Queen” as JD’s signature drink. Noland described the cocktail, saying that “for a martini, it’s very smooth and sweet.” Topped with a strawberry and jalapeno, the jalapeno is subtle, taking a few minutes to catch up with what you initially taste. Castro decided to get in on the action and said that from the first sip the sugar-coated glass rim creates a sweet taste with strawberry flavor on the front of the palate followed by a subtle, yet fresh, jalapeno flavor that has absolutely no heat. Our final stop of the night brought us next door inside the Golden Nugget Lake Charles, located at 2550 Golden Nugget Boulevard, to Blue Martini. DJ Jose Mata was playing to a packed night club. Joe Stacker brought us to the higher level bar and had the bartender prepare their signature cocktail, “The Blue Martini,” which Noland described as an adult drink with a taste of fun, noting that you have to consume slowly to properly take in the flavor. She added that while you drink the cocktail, you will notice the mixture of a nice sweet taste and alcohol. While drinking her cocktail, she said she imagined being on a beach somewhere in the Bahamas. This stop marked the final leg of our late night adventure. Castro visited MacFarlane’s Celtic Pub, located at 417 Ann St., one day earlier in the week and was presented with the “Irish Coffee,” which will be a featured drink at this year’s St. Patrick’s Day event. Castro described it as an adult beverage coffee drink that reminded him of an Irish latte with a hint of alcohol. I know what I’ll be trying this St. Patty’s Day. After covering signature drinks at venues of all types across the Lake City, I spent the fourth night with Morgan Heard and Terra Hillman (margarita pros in their own right) checking out a variety of margaritas offered in the area in varying price ranges. Since I didn’t have Castro with me this time, I knew the iPhone would have to make do. For our first stop, we began at Blue Dog Café located at 609 Ryan St. in downtown Lake Charles. Our friend Jonathan prepared the “Blue Dog Margarita” for the ladies, and they described the drink as potent, with a hint of tropical fruit. They agreed you definitely taste the tequila, but at just the appropriate amount. They added that the cocktail is actually very smooth, and it reminded them of an all-inclusive region somewhere in the Caribbean surrounded by blue water and white sands. For the second establishment of the night, we traveled down the street to Pujo Street Café, located at 901 Ryan St. Bartender Ryan prepared Pujo Street’s signature “Margarita Traditional,” which was beautifully presented. The ladies described this cocktail, saying the tartness of the fresh lime was refreshing. They raved about the blend of ingredients making for a smooth punch: a refined flavor for a distinguished palette. For our third stop, we visited Casa Mañana, located at 2510 Ryan St., and the ladies had what they described as the perfect blend of smooth ice. Debra served up the classic frozen house margarita. The taste was sweet, but more like a lime slush; definitely a summer staple in Southwest Louisiana. The ladies expressed that this should be in every frozen drink machine. We stopped by Casa Olé, located at 4058 Ryan St., and the ladies tried their frozen house margarita. They agreed the price was great, and the drink was served in large volume. If you’re a fan of a frozen drink with a tart taste, then you will like this drink. We wrapped up the night at Chastain’s Food and Spirits, located at 3922 Ryan St. Jettie prepared a frozen house margarita for the ladies. The ladies mentioned that the tequila is prevalent, but so was the flavor of lime, making for a nice frozen drink and an even better price. On a side note, the previous night we celebrated National Margarita Day in my neck of the woods at Coyote Blues. I started with two house margaritas on the rocks, then switched over to frozen for my third round, and the flavor was kicked up a notch. Let’s just say I got my fix and celebrated well. Drive-through daiquiri shops are unique to the bayou state, and Funky Monkey Daiquiris at 601 East Prien Lake Road is no exception. Offering more than 40 different daiquiris, various cocktails and cold beer, the Monkey has something for everyone. The “Category 5 Hurricane” is the brainchild of owner Nate Arnold. Dubbed the strongest daiquiri in town, bartender Angelique says the catastrophic concoction offers five different types of rum from light to dark, topped off with a shot of 151. If you want a lot of bang for your buck, try the Cat 5 at the Funky Monkey. Conveniently connected via a short hallway from Funky Monkey, Cajun Jeaux’s at 603 East Prien Lake Road offers daily happy hours and nightly specials mixed with edgy rock and roll from their digital jukebox. Aly, the mixologist behind the bar, recommended the “Irish Car Bomb.” Generous portions of Guinness, Emmit’s Irish Cream and Jameson Irish Whiskey create an explosive beverage that tastes just like a cold glass of chocolate milk, but for grown-ups. You shoot the “Irish Car Bomb.” The photo I took has the glass of Guinness with the shot glass of the other stuff. You drop the shot glass in the beer and shoot it down. In closing, I would like to add that each venue in town is uniquely its own, and I’m thankful we have so many options that employee so many locals who work hard to help us relax and unwind at the end of the day. I would like to add that, due to personal time and scheduling restraints while covering the bar guide, establishments like Loggerheads, Chicageaux, Cigar Club and Annie’s — locations that many people, including myself, enjoy visiting for great conversation with a fun and relaxed setting — are not specifically highlighted in this edition of the bar guide. Other establishments, like Heist, Calla, Harlequin, Mazen’s and 1910, which tend to offer options that other bars may not specialize in, were also unable to be included. We wish that we could have included every single establishment in Lake Charles. This is where the Lake Charles faithful come in. Patronize all of the establishments — even the ones we were unable to get to for this year’s guide. I would like to give a special thanks to each bar and bartender who took on the challenge of selecting a drink on the spot and accommodating us on our 2016 Lagniappe Magazine Bar Guide adventure. I would also like to thank Sean Whatley, Justin Thierry, Danita Noland, Morgan Heard and Terra Hillman for taking on the difficult task of having to drink a variety of drinks and share their descriptions. Finally, I would like to thank Daniel Castro for joining me for the second year in a row; and of course Lagniappe Magazine’s team for allowing me to embark on one of the most sought-after assignments of the year. I got a bit of insight directly from a bartender. Ashley Mageau, bar manager and staple at Cigar Club, who submitted this when she was asked to describe what being a bartender is like and whether she had any words of advice for those interested in joining the elite team of bartenders in Southwest Louisiana. “Bartending, for me, is like a balancing act. I always want to give the best customer service, serve the highest quality of cocktails and ensure that my patrons are enjoying themselves! After all, they chose to spend their free time with me and become my family and friends. “My advice for up and coming bartenders would be to never stop learning! There are many avenues, through trade shows, online courses and schools that can give you the tools to succeed.”