Jeff Davis Parish: Historic Heritage, Delicious Food And More
By Cheré Coen
Lake Arthur has been called one of Louisiana’s hidden secrets — an enormous fresh water lake south of Jennings that’s been attracting hunters and fishermen for years. Since the opening of the Regatta Seafood and Steakhouse Restaurant on the water’s edge, the lake has been culling new visitors, many day trippers looking for a chance to relax and watch the sun set.
There’s also a hip place to stay. Bobby and Roberta Palermo have converted a 1960s Jeff Davis Bank building into a boutique hotel called L’Banca Albergo or the Bank Hotel. The couple renovated the property and added a second story complete with a New Orleans-style balcony across the front. There are eight luxury suites, comfortable seating areas and a bank vault containing select wines for sale.
The rooms are named instead of numbered. There’s The Prestyn for the couple’s granddaughter and The Chapman for Roberta Palermo’s grandparents, who helped settle the Lake Arthur community in the late 1800s. The most popular room, however, is the Bank Room, which contains the original night depository and drive-through window and comes accented with original bank accessories, such as coin collectors and an old door as the bed’s headboard.
In the lobby, the front desk resembles an old-fashioned bank window with bars for protection. The entire piece was reconstructed from a 1800s home with the cypress posts reclaimed from the home’s garage, explained Bobby Palermo.
So far, the hotel — the first in the area for decades — has become an attraction in itself, Palermo said. Visitors have ranged from hunters enjoying duck season to international guests perusing the Louisiana back roads and stumbling upon the accommodations.
“We had an African prince stay here about three times,” Palermo said. “He loves it.”
Boat and swimming access to Lake Arthur exists at the end of Arthur Avenue, the main drag through town where most businesses, including a couple of bars and gift shops, operate. There’s a park at the water’s edge complete with a manmade beach, walking pier and bandstand. Boats can tie up alongside the Regatta for a meal.
The Regatta is the place to eat, with its cozy fireplaces and vibrant nature photography, plus an oversized deck for outside dining if the weather holds. Naturally the menu focuses on seafood, but also steaks and pastas. Be sure and sample the rich duck and andouille gumbo, a local favorite.
Other Lake Arthur restaurants include Nott’s Corner, easy to find for the giant crawfish out front, and Main Street Desserts & Deli, which serves up a large menu of sandwiches, salads and delectable sweets. The town closes down on Sundays — Regatta is open for lunch only — so late weekenders and Monday visitors must resort to visiting Jennings about 20 minutes away or grabbing a bite at the mini-marts which cater to sportsmen or a burger and fries at Pappy’s Drive-in.
The Creole Nature Trail, a 180-mile National Scenic Byway that stretches throughout Southwest Louisiana like a giant loop, includes the Lacassine National Wildlife Refuge just west of Lake Arthur. To access the most visited spot of the refuge, head west on Louisiana Highway 14, then south on Illinois Plant Road through rice fields dotted with migratory and resident bird life.
At the end of the road is the Lacassine Pool, a great place to spot alligators, nutria, deer and a variety of wintering birds. The 16,000-acre wetlands is home to wintering ducks and geese and is one of the largest wintering sites — at almost 400,000 — for the pintail duck, according to the refuge’s web site. Because of its location on the Mississippi and Central Flyways, thousands of ducks, geese and migrating songbirds may be found here in the spring and fall as well.
The best way to enjoy “The Pool” is to drive the three-mile wildlife loop that’s open daily from dawn to dusk, and stopping at the observation tower for a wide view of the marshes. Other creatures to keep an eye out for are black beers, coyotes, mink, otters and bald eagles.
One of the state’s oldest wooden bridges lies just outside Hayes, not too far from the Lacassine Pool. It’s well worth a visit. The bridge crosses Lacassine Bayou and is bookended at one end by Lorrain Park with RV and tent sites, showers and a boat launch.
The site makes for a great picnic adventure if the weather cooperates. Alligators and birds frequent the area, and a trip to the other side leads to bayous and a stretch of live oak trees that’s quite lovely.
Louisiana tourism guides visitors down West Niblett Road from Highway 99 outside of Welsh. But it’s best to access the bridge and park from Highway 14, then go north on Highway 101 to Lorrain Road.
The closest town to Lake Arthur is Jennings, about 20 minutes north on Highway 26. The parish seat includes a quaint downtown with great antique shops and two unique museums, the W.H. Tupper General Merchandise Museum at 311 N. Main St. and the Zigler Museum at 411 Clara. (Due to COVID-19, attractions may periodically temporarily close for sanitation, so be sure to check with each venue before visiting.)
W.H. Tupper’s store opened in Jennings in 1910, and when it closed in 1949, Tupper simply locked the doors and left everything as was. When his grandson later revisited the inventory in 1971, he realized the thousands of items representing what a rural general store looked like from the turn of the century until World War II would make a great museum. Also located on site is the Louisiana Telephone Pioneer Museum and a collection of prized Coushatta basketry. The Zigler Museum offers the largest private collection of artwork by African-American artist William Tolliver, in addition to more than 200 other works of art.
Other historical buildings in town include the Strand Theatre on Main Street and the Carnegie Library, the latter of which is a delight inside, with its creaking flooring and genealogy collection. Make sure to visit the library’s basement and the unique collection of Jennings resident Lucius Lyman Morse, who traveled the world and brought back artifacts and souvenirs.
Antique lovers will not want to miss the Steamer Trunk at 526 N. Main St. and When Pigs Fly antique mall three blocks north.
For lunch, stop at Mike’s Seafood at 919 N. Lake Arthur Ave., the Boudin King at 906 W. Division St. or Evangeline’s sandwich shop on Main, all conveniently located in downtown Jennings.
One exit west of Welsh on Interstate 10 is the Louisiana Spirits distillery, creating different types of rum from 100 percent Louisiana-grown sugarcane and molasses. The distillery was started in 2011 by Lake Charles natives Tim and Trey Litel and Baton Rougean Skip Cortese, all of whom had experience with environmental service companies, entrepreneurship and the marketing of distilled spirits. The company produces several rums, including single barrel, the Bayou Pink (with mayhaw berries) and the Bayou Satsuma Rum liqueur, incorporating Louisiana satsumas.
Distillery tours that showcase how the rum is made are offered at 3 pm and 4 pm Tuesdays through Fridays and several times on Saturdays. The distillery and gift shop is open 9 am to 5 pm Tuesdays through Saturdays.
Heading home, make time to stop at the Jefferson Davis Parish Tourist Commission at the Louisiana Oil & Gas Park (Exit 64 off I-10) and visit the Gator Chateau and Visitor Center to view alligators on display. Summer hours to get a chance to hold a baby alligator are 9 am to 6 pm Mondays through Saturdays. The Gator feedings that usually happen at 3:30 pm Fridays every week through September have been temporarily suspended for public viewing due to COVID-19.
The Jeff Davis Visitor Center’s a great place to pick up information on the Creole Nature Trail and obtain a birding list of feathered friends. And there’s free fishing at the I-10 Park’s stocked pond. All you need is a valid Louisiana fishing license and to be 16 years of age or older.
This story is printed by permission of Country Roads magazine, where an earlier version (“Happy [Southwest Louisiana] Trails”), appeared in 2014. Visit countryroadsmagazine.com.