The epitome of any Mardi Gras is that moment where the light hits the cocktail and the magic begins. The dichotomy of floating and beading along definitely gets one into the mood. The angle of any Mardi Gras is fun with a sense of the unexpected. And dancing always plays a key role.
In Lake Charles, a community permeated by thoughts of family rallying together, Mardi Gras takes on an element of poise specifically heightened by the triumph of the Saints where the pride continues into all forms of life.
In comparison to a Mardi Gras like Houma which dictates a slightly different feeling but nevertheless pertinent, a further perception into this celebrative culture continued to focus within this Southwestern Louisiana town.
The Krewe Of Illusions Extraganza allowed for a view within the theme and design necessity required to place some of these productions togethers. Most outsiders have a perception of Mardi Gras purely as the big parades that are seen on TV, and that definitely is a big part of it. However it is the balls thrown privately most of the time, that show the true culture and influence of a long past system of society in America which is certain influenced by the French influence though oddly enough this area of Louisiana was not included in the original Purchase.
The theme that perpetrated itself throughout Illusions was of fantasy with somewhat historical perspective with the two elements of Rome and the American West albeit with almost a disco flavor. The King and Queen relegated in red, black and white beseiged by ornate feathers.
Inside the black tie ball as the band played, the Queen made her rounds. All the younger adult women in the audience fawned over this fairy tale structure made true and it definitely created that vision, more like a grown up reality of Prom than a Wedding. But one where the dancing and revelry can continue unabated, though the family friendly inclements of community allow for certain standards, and rightfully so.
Next on the Monday before Fat Tuesday, the Royal Gala displays all of the Krewes’ wares in front of the overall Court. The Southwestern LA/Lake Charles Visitors Bureau takes an intensive interaction with these events which gives a sense of true backing from the community.
A quick tour into the back area produced the possibilities with each Krewe possessing of their own rules and codes. The Krewe of Bon Couer rolled with the Moulin Rouge theme with can can girls, young and old, getting into the revelry. The Ball Captain, achieving his rank, was outspoken by his courtesans who relayed he only gets to kiss them which requires practice. The inhibition of Mardi Gras allows for this kind of roleplay but all from an innocent point of view. This is not New Orleans after all. But you can still get some of the feeling.
The dancing coming down the main stretch of the Gala is in the open arena style with tables filled with costumes and modern music, some good, some bad as the mixed drinks flow. A fallen angel, who rather likened herself to a “twisted Tinker Bell”, kept the vision working with a drop dead costume flittering throughout the arena even allowing for the gift of a garter.
Fat Tuesday brings a multi-tiered intention which preceded by the Children’s Parade Monday afternoon allows for a build up of both emotion and celebration.
Atop the Visitors Bureau Float within the Red Hat Parade, one gets the perspective truly of the psychology that empowers the bead thrower. While the aspects of beverages helps the call, a reveler understands that the people with the most enthusiasm enables the bestower to use better aim to find his or her target, which is much highlighted by dancing and the like…and even much more so in the dark. The music played also adds to the rhythm whether it be the traditional zydacote or the ever popular 70s party jams.
The pinnacle Krewe Of Krewes parade along Main Street is the party stop. Many residents as well as visitors set up in the early morning, eager to get the optimum vantage point. With the perpetration of local Serrano Punch combining the element of the Italian liquer with grapefruit juice, the movement of the Zydacote dancing entices the aspect of leading especially with the enthusiasm of local band Two Steps Sideways. As the floats proceed down the twilight of the boulevard, the sounds of everyone from Marvin Gawe to Michael Jackson to Quiet Riot encourage singalong as people jump with rhythm trying to catch the attentions of the bead bestowers.
Everything in tandem with Mardi Gras carries a history and everyplace is different. With Lake Charles, the Mardi Gras Museumhidden away in a public building shows the essence of craft undeniable in this kind of celebration. From the towering black and silver head of a cobra watching over its minions to the red and black luminescene of a masked courtesan, the designs are ornate and the designs shown, at times, as great as any classic Hollywood production.
Adding an element of locality, Harold Guillory , the lead washboard and singer of Two Steps Sideways, gathers people on occasion to teach the interest of zydeco dancing which was unfurled at the apex of the Mardi Gras parade. The steps are separated into the four building points of gumbo create a blueprint from which rhythm allows itself to be seen. Adding the element of fun worked the crowd as Harold’s son, talented in his own right, kept the dance contest going.
Trailing through the streets of Lake Charles in a horse drawn carriage gives one a sense of community as well. The building essence of the city is kept to rigorous historical standards although there is the incumbent person to be drawn in line. AC Harradine, local historian and raconteur, gives an undeniable sense of the history that flows from the original settlers who integrated into the town very differently than New Orleans as the logging industry came and blossomed with the intention of the tide.
When staying in Lake Charles, the essence of food is always of specific interest. There is always a balance between hearty and artisan. With dinner, the ribeye topped with soft shell crab and hollandaise sauce at Pujo Street Cafe captured just the right amount of tang and spice as chives peppered swirling of potatoes while the stuffed mushrooms filled with crab and spice coupled with an undeniable iceberg wedge draped in an ocean of blue cheese at The Harlequin simply dazzled.
Lunch always creates the pleasure of continuing the day. Steamboat Bills is the penultimate spot to visit in Lake Charles for that great afternoon haunt. Located right off of Interstate 10 and steps away from the visitors center, their crawfish know no bounds and require work of necessity. However, their spicy boiled shrimp, simmered in the same broth, fills with vigor while their shrimp etoufee either in a signature roll or on a loaded baked potato, sooths the soul. Despite any interrogative by convention, D’Angelo’s is anything but normal by comparison. Their Lecca pizza baked in a thin crust with garlic, lemon chicken and feta cheese is utterly satisying especially in a surrounding of crawfish diavlo pasta and a spicy shrimp and corn bisque that hits the spot.
Getting moving in the morning always requires an energy of will. At The Landing, Bloody Caesars (Maries with some dirty olive juice) give the ving for the activities of the day. For a more soothing introduction, Chez Caffe on the road to the Lake Charles Airport offers filling croissant sandwiches, killer milkshakes and the undeniable Southern feast of grits.
Looking out from the central HQ of Lake Charles in the form of the L’Auberge Casino & Resort over the waters of this hidden Louisiana town, the possibilities continue to ring true. Lake Charles has got game.
The greens glide over the meadows with a tender brush while the sereneness of its quandry makes one relax. Such is the essence of Lake Charles and its golf courses. Showing a surprising intensity of challenge that breaks down through three distinct play styles experienced in a variety of weather, the reality becomes one of style and smoothness.
The essential element of creating both a challenging and a visually pleasing course is always a distinctified divergence since different players like different challenges. Some relegate with water obstacles or long fairways. The key is making a balance of riches seem effortless.
At the inset, Gray Plantation Golf Course, which functions as a public course, intensifies immediately because of its difficulty. While wind, in distinct presence, creates other obstacles, the angle of the fairways themselves is what helps define the play here in addition to specifically placed water handicaps which leads to the incessant loss of accessories. Hole 2 begins with the inherent presence of an industrial backdrop against the bayou marked by an undulating green that prevents curve. Hole 6 is exceptional as a Par 3 banked on a rolling front that required a full water jump of nearly 200 yards. Hole 7 requires a long fairway shot but tricks with two water jumps that require short tandem shots to prevent landing in the brush. Hole 8 blinds in the best way as a Par 3 which basks in its irony with looming houses in the background, one of which has a stop sign right behind the drop point. Hole 11 allows for a bogie on the angle of a safe play instead of a long drive while Hole 16 incessant swallows shots with almost a complete lake along the side that requires replete strategy. Hole 18 brought the straight hit back home in the form of the club house which billowing through a stark vision of an oak tree gave an auspice of romantic vampire literature as the overhanging clouds gave a dim glow in the setting sun.
Where Gray Plantation’s Pars were more didactic and inherently strategic for the intermediate golfer ready for a bit of thinking, the National Golf Club, which is still fairly new, located in Westlake, offers more of a business approach to the ideal. While the clubhouse is hardly up to poise, the playability of the course allows for more conversational pursuits because many of its hole are so straightlace. The course itself has a streamlined beauty but is almost too angular in that the hits are predetermined in most cases. The driving range offers content warm up yet is removed from the street life. The front nine here offers a dexterity while still not overwhelming the player. Hole 5 is most unique with a Par 3 jump using almost church pew sand bunkers that either require clearance or chipping by experience to heaven while Hole 8 offers a split progression hit which can be deceiving in terms of the location of the hole. Hole 14 on the back nine offers a double back drive with water on either side of each hit culminating with a green titled at a heavy angle.
The Contraband Bayou Course, on the grounds of the L’aurberge Du Lac Resort, combines the necessities of both angles of business and playability into one specific vision. Having talked to the resident golf professional, who initially hailed from the Palm Beach Florida area, the adherence to a very specific guideline shows the building possibility of the area. The course, because of its flowing greens and perceptive visions of the resort area and grounds, make it extremely TV friendly offering the ability for it to become a tournament course which is only enhanced by the pro’s involvement with the PGA.
After ingratiating on the driving range, the first holes, despite a short onslaught of rain, offered a riveting play which in all weather offers both thinking and relaxation. With its position on the edge of the bayou, most of the water ponds, have been adopted each by a single alligator because of its close proximity to the wildlife refuge. While one was not seen, these reptiles are wonder to see and don’t mess with players unless they themselves are messed with. It simply adds another exotic element to the play. While the thought becomes right now to flip the nines because of a road barrier, either interfere with the exception that both the current 17th and 18th hole, offer great closure to the course.
Beginning on the current front, Hole 4 works well because of its water jump but slices undeniably to the right while Hole 9 offers a straight shot with a bending water obstacle looming on the left side heading towards the green. By comparison, Hole 17 on the back offers a satisfying alleeop shot off the tea direct on the green like a drive out of heaven allowing for a bogie curve despite a challenging green. Hole 18 is almost as good with a powerful drive to the front of the green using poised hits to land at double bogie.
One aspect that immensely enhances the possibilities of Contraband is its essential symbiosis with the L’Auberge Resort. Located on a wide swath of land right on Lake Charles, the abilities of the resort defy expectations in an exceptional way. Whereas many times, when one thinks of a riverboat resort, which is required for gambling in this area of Louisiana, there might be a stigma in terms of the level of service. The L’auberge in their prominence proves in their case that this is extremely false. The great aspect is that the casino’s presence does not overcome the rest of the experience as it does in most instances. The check in, shops and restaurants surround the casino but because of its closed construction in terms of the riverboat aspect, it creates a boundary which gives it a relaxed atmosphere without overcoming its guests.
From the guest room on the 14th Floor, which beyond offering a recessed reading area, a large and intriniscally decorated bathroom and uber comfortable beds, the landscape permeated below leads out from the fairways of the golf course to the flowing ebb of the lake to the distant industrial plants. From above, one can see the outline of the riverboat structure, perfectly symmetrical along the water floating effervescently along with the commerce surrounding it.
Before moving to the essence of food within the resort, the specific importance and effectiveness of the Spa Du Lac, located steps away from the guest elevators, is both easy to find and user friendly. Entering in, the Spa itself is not overly endowed with space but uses its possibility to wonderful conclusion. The Spa itself will be expanded next year in a new construction project billowing the resort by an additional 400 rooms. However in its current format, it is more than pliable. Functioning more as a health spa with an added elegance, the staff is very indicative. Arriving for a deep tissue massage, after 36 holes of golf where driving against the wind required more power than usual, the lower back and hamstrings on the back of the left leg screamed with tightness. The masseuse, understanding the problem areas, took a more sports medicine approach which allowed for relaxation of the muscle using both heat and segmented pressure. Afterwards the compacted space and easy accessibility of the jacuzzi in relation to the sauna offered a very precise progression. Sitting afterwards in the lounge area, watching the plasma, the lack of need to move showcased the effectiveness of said treatment in addition to the extended hours of the spa itself which is open until 9pm in an age where many similar places close nearly two hours before.
The diversity of food within the resort within easy walking distance of each other is undeniable. From the early morning viscosity of hot chocolate and a heavenly creme cheese pastry at Lattes to a late night expresso and creme brulee sorbet at Desserts, there is an angle for every kind of taste.
For high end fine dining, the Snake River Grill heightens by its selection of beef and wonderful appetizers. Starting off with the Peking Duck scallion enriched crepes, the paradox of the two possibilities melds in a very sound and hearty aftertaste. Reflecting in its barometric allowances, the richness of the bite size steak taco ensconced in avocado sauce binded with finger licking essences of small but succulent lamb chop lollipops prepares the progress for the Big Daddy. Rocking out at 22oz with very little fat, the Snake River Porterhouse, cooked medium well, fired with flavor on all cylinders vindicated in droves by the addition of a cognac and peppercorn sauce highlighted by a smatteriing of Louisiana crab meat and a loaded baked potato which settled the synpases into a virtual food coma. For those brave enough to venture on, the home made Eskimo Bars wrapping ice cream and a deep rich brownie into heavy chocolate for dipping in a caramel sauce need apply.
For the lighter in structure, two other establishments within the resort, again located in the circle realm around the riverboat frame, offer different libations for dinnertime.
At Asia, which is open late until 4am, the briskness of an early evening bowl of wonton soup looms large with a hearty bowl filled with a plethora of succulent dumplings in addition to pork and scallions, all of which can be made to order. Add a order of shrimp filled spring rolls with a light tangy peanut butter sauce and the time is right to saunter back to the tables for some early evening temptation.
For those with a latter appetite resting within the 10pm hour, the branded Jack Daniels Bar & Grill offers chill, roadhouse style hanging. Beginning with a couple draft Shock Tops (thanks to Michelob) which has the effervescent and encompassing taste of a citrus brewed Hiefeweisen, and blended in tandem with a JD Roadhouse burger lathered in swiss cheese and bacon along with a side of steak fries, contentment becomes a state of being. While finishing up the pint as a mosaic of beads creating the American Flag hangs above the bar, a rockabilly band, half Everclear/half Nirvana bust out everything from Pearl Jam to Sublime to Lynryd Skynyrd.
In keeping with the all night purveyance, Le Cafe is great for the early morning breakfasts, especially if one is in a hurry to hit a tee time. With an exceptionally efficient staff, even a hearty meal like country fried steak topped with gravy and sided with cheese scrambled eggs and butter topped grits comes out in a heartbeat, replete with flavor and a glass of milk.
Now dining is, of course, not only available within the resort, but as a “one stop shop”, L’auberge has the ground pretty well covered but the same progression can be experienced in the outside world with nary a little driving involved.
In terms of fine dining, Mazen’s offers a elegant, refined hoist of Southern hospitality while lingering with flavor and creativity in the aquatic culinary space. Beginning with a looking glass of Oysters, both Rockefeller and Bienville, glistening with shrimp, cheese and spinach, baked on the half shell with a spicy afterbite, the inset of “Kibbies”, a pasty type concoction filled with ground beef, pine nuts and onions, despite its wantonness, is quite delicious like a Southern calzone of sorts. The main course of Fish Aladdin, toasted for perfection, brings out numerous flavors in its lemon and butter sauces through the sheer preciseness of its preparation while still engulfed in rich crabmeat. After dinner, despite an absence of expresso, a Grand Mariner chocolate souffle hit the spot with dexterity, verve and a bit of sweetness.
A variety of other tastes populate the town in droves. Directly across from the Lake Charles Visitors Bureau across Interstate 10, the legendary Steamboat Bill’s waits to heaps its treasure of crawdads upon the willing. Armed with only napkins, sweet tea and wanton fingers, a tray replete with five pounds of critters along with potatoes and corn offer the dexterious a welcome challenges. Highlighted by their steaming broth that place the fires of Hell into the crustaceans with a mix of Creole seasoning and cayenne pepper, the aftermath is not for the faint of heart.
Chastain’s Seafood Shack jump starts the cables with the appropriate “Louisiana poppers” mixing shrimp and cream cheese before satisfying with a simmering bowl of savory chicken and sausage gumbo and a hilarious staff that leaves you with a family feeling and more than a joke or two. Darrell’s, for lunch as well, excels in the simple but nevertheless brilliant sandwich known as the “Surf N’ Turf” which seamlessly blends Louisiana roast beef and shrimp on a crispy hero roll with a rich tangy mayonaisse sauce peppered in jalapenos. The place was packed with good reason as revelers come from as far as 4 hours away to get their sandwiches.
On the lighter side of the dining outlay, Luna’s in downtown has a great bohemian feeling while being just cool enough to be unaware of it through its undeniably laid back staff and interesting culinary paradoxes. While the Abita Special Brew Pecan Harvest combined with a before dinner appetizer of spinach and artichoke dips with especially tasty and luscious crisps offered the semblance of recognizable bar food, the main course of Luna Tuna steak was a puzzling and ultimately gratifying outlay. Consisting of an encrusted slab of tuna, seared in one large swath, the taste remains consistent despite the distinct numbers of sauces and spices running through its electric center.
Not to be forgotten, breakfast is a meeting place of importance in this town with regular meetings among a variety of groups which keeps the conversations vivacious even in the morning hours. Southern Spice, like Le Cafe but with a little more grease, does it right with a rib eye seasoned to perfection surrounded by salty hash browns, cheese filled eggs and the requisite and always reliable butter honed grits.
Lake Charles is a bountiful area of work and play. If simply approaching for a golf getaway, within a small radius, the city offers undeniable access and value. In addition to the three courses played, there are an exceptional number of public courses with different range levels that have possibility. Mallard Cove, situated on the edge of the old Naval Base, has a great old school feel to it while arranging over a vast amount of land. Pine Shadows, aided by the steady hand of PGA Professional Todd Boudreaux, is great for beginners getting their first shot at golf or those intermediate enough who want a level of steady play. Last but not least,Frasch Park continually changes their perceptions of play with numerous grand obstacles to challenge the player masterminded with skill by Golf Pro George McInnis. Surrounding this course is a massive sports complex replete with aquatic center, softball fields and numerous other activities that make the intent of the area very family and sports friendly, highlighted by the fact that junior golf and training are very important to this area which gives the implement to the young in a sport that in cyclical fashion is now becoming cooler by the day.
With its food and sport is direct corrolation buoyed by an exceptional central resort complex in the form of L’Aurberge, Lake Charles is one of those secret golf hideaways that your friends want to hear about but didn’t know where to look.