I can tell you now that the moral of this story is that there’s more to Louisiana than New Orleans … like way more. So the next time you want to “laissez les bons temps rouler”, think outside (but don’t forget about) The Big Easy.
I recently enjoyed a visit to Lake Charles, the home of “The Spirit of Louisiana”, Bayou Rum, and then continued on to New Orleans. Throughout the week, we were treated to some really incredible, unique experiences courtesy of Bayou Rum and the Lake Charles and New Orleans CVBs.
After flying in, I settled into my digs at The Golden Nugget, a two-year old resort hotel and casino (read: still new and shiny) that is currently expanding, and gave the room a thrice-over. The rooms were surprisingly lovely … and huge … and all had balconies. Mine overlooked the giant Vegas-style pool complete with lazy river and cabanas, and the whole scene made me really angry for forgetting my swimsuit. (Luckily, there’s a shop that sold suits in the lobby. Worth it.) Rooms in the other tower overlook the river, complete with a private beach and dock for visitors’ boats. (Swanky.)
The resort offered quite a few restaurants–Vic & Anthony’s, Grotto, Landry’s Seafood House, and more–including one at the country club that features an 18-hole course designed by Todd Eckenrode. The restaurant at the club offered steaks, seafood, etc. with a slight Cajun influence.
The Golden Nugget Lake Charles, 2550 Golden Nugget Boulevard (Lake Charles), goldennugget.com/lakecharles
Lake Charles’s Downtown area has quite a bit to offer–horse-drawn carriage tours complete with ghost stories, baby alligators, and some serious dining. The abridged “ghost tour” we went on was led by a jovial man who told a good tale–mostly about a woman who still haunts their courthouse.
We dined at Restaurant Calla, run by Chef David Sorrells (formerly of The French Laundry), and the food and wine lists were an absolute delight. The restaurant sources its ingredients from local farms and ranches making the food fresh and delicious. The Blue Crab Beignets, Bone Marrow, Broken Arrow Venison, and Brussels Sprouts are not to be missed. (I wish I’d had the chance to try some of their tiki cocktail options … a return trip is obviously necessary.)
Restaurant Calla, 1400 Market Street (Lake Charles), restaurantcalla.com
A short ride outside of Lake Charles, you can visit the Bayou Rum distillery in Jeff Davis Parish. Our tasting was led by the Master Distiller, Jeff Murphy, and Master Blender, Reiniel Vicente, and we tasted all of their expressions–select, silver, spiced, and their citrus liqueur, Satsuma. All are unique, and the select has found its way onto my bar cart permanently.
After tasting the rums, we were treated to a tour of the distillery, rack room, and the bottling line. Noteably, the distillery is the largest privately-owned rum distillery in the US using distilling process that are a blend of traditional and new methods using cutting edge distilling technology. And the rum is made with sugar cane grown right in Louisiana.
Oh, and we got to hold a baby alligator named Gumbeaux before our tasting and tour. How badass is that?
At lunch we were treated to some traditional Louisiana fare along with all the Bayou Rum we wanted, then were herded onto a bus and handed a Gator Bite–a hurricaneish cocktail using three of their four expressions. It was lethal, but delicious. Find other delish cocktail recipes on their website.
1oz Bayou Silver Rum
1oz Bayou Satsuma
1oz Bayou Spiced Rum
1oz orange juice
2oz pineapple juice
1oz cranberry juice
Juice of 2 lime wedges
Bayou Rum, 20909 Frontage Road (Lacassine), bayourum.com
To get a real feel for the area, we were treated to a nature tour by Grosse Savanne Waterfowl & Wildlife Lodge. We went on an abridged tour, but were able to see an alligator (or three) and plenty of other wildlife. The tour guides were knowledgeable about the area and … dare I say … ours was pretty damn cute. (I’m sure that note’s not for everyone.) The lodge apparently offers general “swamp” tours, hunting tours, birdwatching tours, and more along with lodging at their newly rebuilt lodge.
Grosse Savanne Waterfowl & Wildlife Lodge, 1730 Big Pasture Road (Lacassine), grossesavanne.com
I think the coolest little gem in Lake Charles is the Mardi Gras Museum. Housed in an old elementary school, it has the Mardi Gras kings’ and queens’ costumes from the last 40 years or so along with neat facts about the celebration itself. (We even got to try on a few of the lavishly ornate hats … we were fancy AF.) Bonus: there were King Cakes waiting for us after our tour and, unbeknownst to me until that point, boudin king cake exists. There is a God … and I think he’s Cajun.
Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial Calcasieu, 809 Kirby St # 229 (Lake Charles), visitlakecharles.org/things-to-do/history/mardi-gras-museum
After two fantastic days in Lake Charles, we were swept away to New Orleans for more unique experiences. Stay tuned for my recap of the shenanigans we got into in The Big Easy. Big thanks to the Lake Charles CVB and Bayou Rum for all of the fun!