Cover Story

Cool Town

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lafayette's creative class weighs in on what makes us a vibrant community.   By The Independent Staff

Cool Town. The concept is borrowed from urban theorist and author Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class. The idea is fairly simple: "Cool" cities like Austin, Athens, Ga., Portland, Ore., and Raleigh, N.C., attract creative people - painters, writers, musicians, architects, actors, techies - by embracing things like public spaces, the arts and transit that includes walking and biking. These livable communities, these cool towns, in turn attract entrepreneurs and businesses.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Lafayette's creative class weighs in on what makes us a vibrant community.   By The Independent Staff

Cool Town. The concept is borrowed from urban theorist and author Richard Florida's The Rise of the Creative Class. The idea is fairly simple: "Cool" cities like Austin, Athens, Ga., Portland, Ore., and Raleigh, N.C., attract creative people - painters, writers, musicians, architects, actors, techies - by embracing things like public spaces, the arts and transit that includes walking and biking. These livable communities, these cool towns, in turn attract entrepreneurs and businesses.

Cool towns aren't afraid of big ideas. They not only tolerate multi-culturalism, they promote it and cultivate it. They are indifferent to sexual orientation and give no quarter to bigotry and discrimination. Cool towns take chances.

Lafayette is on that trajectory. We're not there yet, but we're approaching a critical mass of creative people who will sustain us. We have a Francophone culture that makes us naturally unique, and we celebrate it heartily in our foodways, our music, our sense of family. We make outsiders feel welcome.

A few weeks ago The Independent Weekly staff reached out to a select group of about 50 people - Lafayette's creative class - musicians, actors, entrepreneurs, artists. We asked them questions about Lafayette and the surrounding area under a few general headings: food, spirits, the arts.

Their votes were surprisingly uniform. Festival International, Blue Moon Saloon, French Press and the Acadiana Center for the Arts were common responses. The locus of cool in Lafayette, it seems, is downtown. And local. None cited a chain restaurant, a chain coffee shop or anything non-local. We like what we have here.

In some categories the responses from our panel were nearly unanimous, but in others we selected the top two or three.

We also wanted to allow the participants whose comments best describe our cool factor to have their say. On these pages are the words of David Egan, musician; Karlos Knott, brewer; Herb Roe, artist; Griff Blakewood, professor; Jason Faulk, environmentalist; Crystall Young, juvenile diabetes activist; Mark Falgout, impresario; Jillian Johnson, musician/deejay/community organizer; Angie Simoneaux, marketing specialist; Lian Cheramie, actor/teacher; John Maak, architect; Travis Gauthier, photographer; Kim Neustrom, marketing specialist; and Louis Michot, musician.

This is by no means an exhaustive "best of" list a la The Times of Acadiana. That's what they do. (The Times' "Best of Acadiana," incidentally, was begun by Independent publishers Steve and Cherry Fisher May when they owned that publication). This is not a popularity contest. Rather, it's an attempt to figure out and to celebrate what makes Lafayette a great place to live.

Coffee spot with the coolest vibe
Johnston Street Java
America's Coffee House
Caffe Cottage

Smartest new idea in dining
Home cooking parties/cooking classes

Bartender you would hire for a private party
Luke Tullos

New restaurant that will last
French Press

Best friends from Indiana come to town; where do you take them to eat?
Blue Dog Café
Café des Amis

Most authentic Mexican food
La Pagua
El Ranchito
El Portillo

Most stylish restaurant interior

Kelly Guidry

Artist you most want in your collection
(and would get in a bid war over)
Kelly Guidry
Francis Pavy
Bryan Lafaye

Most stimulating art space, public or private

Up-and-coming artist you'd invest in now
Herb Roe

Most inventive, unorthodox art in Lafayette
Graffiti on LUS Fiber boxes

Best use of public dollars to enhance quality of life
Horse Farm
Festival International

Most innovative trend in fitness
Pilates Plus Evolution

Hector LaSala

UL professor you'd most like to (re)take a class with
Hector LaSala
Ian Kinsella
Griff Blakewood

Most inventive band, musician to watch

Favorite venue to see a show and dance
Blue Moon

Festival you never miss
Festival International

Most creative use of a Sunday morning
Lake Martin

Most creative use of a Saturday night

Icon that defines Lafayette
Lafayette Gay Firefighter

Best example of someone who is advancing Cajun/Creole culture
Cedric Watson
Louis Michot

Luke Tullos brings the bartending basics to Lafayette's dining scene

Whether it's pouring from his famous (or infamous) absinthe water fountain or teaching the fundamentals of good ol' bourbon, Luke Tullos is a Lafayette bartender who's "so good, he doesn't even need a last name" anymore. While some Cool Town categories secured a wide variety of suggestions from which to choose, the bartender Cool Town responders would hire for a private party is undoubtedly Tullos, the head bartender at Jolie's Louisiana Bistro.

Tullos, 28, began mixing it up for City Club members in River Ranch roughly five years ago while still a public relations student at UL Lafayette. He moved on to Pamplona Tapas Bar, where he bartended and eventually became the downtown eatery's general manager. But managing, he says, just wasn't his style, so he packed up and headed to Austin, Texas, after graduating college to pursue a career in public relations.

A PR professional by day and a bartender by night in Austin, Tullos learned quickly that there was more to bartending than jiggers and pouring pitchers. "I saw that there are people out there interested in the craft, and I liked bartending a lot more than I liked a day job," Tullos says. "I had to make this a viable profession, so I started doing research. The old methods [of bartending] were kind of lost during prohibition, the style of bartending, where hospitality was key. They were kind of the consummate host; we've kind of lost that. So I just started toning  my craft."

Tullos has since returned from his short stay in Austin, and spends his nights on what he calls a "customer concentrated" profession that doesn't rely on one or two specialties. His pours are dependent on the palates of his patrons, who obviously appreciate his method of mixing and vast knowledge of spirits.

Not that there's anything wrong with that

OK, the "Lafayette Gay Firefighter" isn't gay. Statues as a general rule are asexual, obelisks being a priapic exception. But he does cut a flirty, svelte figure in his wife beater, a hose in one hand as he gestures emphatically toward Jules Downtown. "Lafayette's premier gay and lesbian nightclub thatta way, folks!" he proclaims.

Although our panel voted him the icon that defines Lafayette, LGF really isn't an icon. He's an emblem.

Erected in 1970 in front of the Central Fire Station on the corner of East Vermilion and Lee, the aging cement public servant has long been a reference point for downtown denizens. "Let's meet at the gay firefighter," they would say.

But since a proudly "out" gay resident adopted the statue last year as a personality on Facebook complete with regular status updates, LGF has come to represent an increasing tolerance in Lafayette for our gay and lesbian neighbors. The jury is still out on whether our LGBT population is growing or simply coming out in greater numbers and more comfortable in its own skin - this is the Deep South/Bible Belt after all -  but it's clear that Lafayette is joining the 21st century in its acclimation to a fuller spectrum of the human experience. Did we just say that?

It's better to receive

Last month GIVERS were signed to Glassnote Records, sharing an artist roster with the likes of French band Phoenix and newbie hipster darlings Mumford & Sons. It's fairly undeniable that GIVERS' raucously upbeat sound - optimistic without a wink - has been a hit and they are the latest local band to make the big-time break.

GIVERS are the soundtrack to a merry band of 20-somethings who don't remember Iran Contra but do remember the happy economic swell of the '90s in their childhoods. If all hipsters were sequestered to an island a la Lord of the Flies, GIVERS music would be their soundtrack, layering primal beats and rhythms on top of keyboards, noisemakers and meshed harmonies.

It's important to note that if GIVERS hadn't had places to play downtown, who knows where they would be now? Kids of any age need places to play and be free, and GIVERS groupies and fans have a great time because their tribal leaders do on stage.

Art on the hoof

If the restaurants, night life and photogenic public parks aren't enough to brag about to outsiders when describing our cool downtown vibe, how about yet another free event that invites art lovers of all ages to converge in the nooks and crannies of downtown art galleries, the corners of company lobbies and the sidewalks of Jefferson Street?

ArtWalk, held downtown the second Saturday of every month, gives both local and touring artists from endless media a chance to showcase their talent, at the same time giving Lafayette's creative class another spot to gather for a family-friendly (no shortage of strollers lining the sidewalk) event with, of course, a li'l wine and often some live Cajun music.

Lafayette's ArtWalk was chosen by our Cool Town panel as the most creative use of a Saturday night. Add a Saturday night dinner at French Press and a dessert that includes Abita and dancing at the Blue Moon Saloon, and you'll have three of the top picks from our panel - all rolled into one night in Cool Town.
Getting our FIL

In 1987 during the depth of the oil bust, a handful of far-seeing Lafayette residents had an idea for a new festival celebrating our local culture and its ties to the larger Francophone world. One stage off Jefferson Street with a handful of local and international acts became the inaugural Festival International de Louisiane. My, how far it's come.

That modest festival has evolved into a five-day extravaganza featuring dozens of bands from around the world as well as the finest Acadiana's restaurants and artists have to offer, and it will celebrate its 25th go-round beginning April 27.

The national and international press have taken notice, too, hailing it as one of the best festivals in the United States. And, amazing considering the breadth of logistics and enormous cost in putting it on - Dana Cañedo and staff, y'all rock! - Festival International has remained free.

Early on FIL tied itself to themes like the "African Diaspora" and "Celtic Connections." We recall that Celtic-themed FIL in 1997. Rainiest, stormiest fest we ever endured. But endure it we did, and enjoyed it all the same. FIL eventually dropped the theme and embraced the meme: world-class music and food, paired with Acadiana hospitality - our unique brand of cool - are what define us.
Breakfast, lunch and sinner

It was easy to predict that The French Press would be a Cool Town pick by many. Its influence downtown has been remarkable.

Nestled between Cool Town icon Lafayette Gay Firefighter and Recycled Cycles, it has provided downtown with an elegant breakfast nook. You can sit outside before it is too hot during any part of the year and enjoy a truly well-made cup of coffee with your French toast (with a strawberry champagne compote, no less) or one of its other remarkable breakfast offerings.

Come back on Saturday evenings (the only night it is open - Wednesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturdays the same hours, plus a 5:30 p.m. reopening for dinner; and Sundays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and have, oh, the mint-crusted Colorado lamb with a mushroom andouille risotto and everything kissed with white truffle oil. (You can add black truffles, too.) Or maybe you'd rather something like the classic veal osso bucco with freshly created fettuccine, haricot verts (green beans, y'all), wild mushrooms and shavings of reggiano cheese?

Don't get us started on the dessert menu or we'll get a cavity, and don't get us started on the wine offerings or we'll channel W.C. Fields.

Hi-ho Silver, away!

It didn't have to be this way. When the community learned in 2006 of an under-the-table deal to swap privately owned land near Girard Park for the UL-owned horse farm property on Johnston Street so the university could expand closer to its main campus, we could have said, "Oh, well. That kind of sucks." But we didn't. A robust group of supporters spearheaded the Save the Horse Farm campaign and then-UL President Ray Authement eventually backed off. And last year when his successor, Joe Savoie, entered into an agreement for the city of Lafayette to buy the property and develop it into a passive, central park, there arose a great and hearty hoorah. The horse farm, along with Festival International, was chosen as a best example of public dollars used to enhance quality of life, and we couldn't agree more - on both counts. Lafayette, in a tough economic patch like the rest of country, investing about $5 million to preserve a swath of green in the heart of town has cool written all over it. Kudos to City-Parish President Joey Durel for leading on this issue, and to the City-Parish Council for embracing it.
By any other name

From a balcony with a bird's eye view of any commotion in Parc San Souci to a courtyard fountain to its patio, ballroom, martini-, wine- and cigar bars to say nothing of the Italian morsels being delivered out of the kitchen, the interior of Trynd is comfortably luxurious. The cigar bar is intimate and you are two steps away from the huge balcony. The downstairs dining room features dark wood, marble and the exterior brick with a private dining room available off of it, obfuscated from peering eyes by a gold curtain from Switzerland. Upstairs the ballroom, which once hosted booty dancing and DJs, is now a testament to a 1940s movie musical. Deep colors of wood blended with the red fabric, leather chairs and small lights are dotted and dangled above the bar in puffs of fabric mimicking small golden clouds. Trynd doesn't want to be a trend, it wants to set the trend, the standard. This interior will be hard to top.

Coming Home'
Lafayette is unique in the way natives want to stay, strays want to return and newcomers feel like family.  By Sue Schleifer

This may come as a surprise to folks born and raised in Acadiana, but when I told my friends and family on the West Coast that my husband had accepted a job in Lafayette, La., they didn't quite know what to say. They were happy for Mark, but for me they wondered: What would it be like to live in the South? Where is Lafayette anyway? Won't you miss the San Francisco Bay Area?

I was asking these questions, too.

I was born and grew up in Santa Barbara, Calif., one of the most beautiful places in the world, yet I have no desire to move back there. Why is it then that the people I meet who grew up in Acadiana desire to stay here or move back home?

Herman Fuselier - writer, radio host and community relations manager at Barnes & Noble Booksellers - left his home in Opelousas in 1993. As a sports reporter at the time, he always wanted to cover a major college team. He jumped at the opportunity to work for The Tuscaloosa News and cover the University of Alabama football and basketball teams. He got to travel all over the country with the teams and enjoyed seeing new places. But he had an ache, a homesickness that never went away.

"At first I came back every two weeks, then less frequently," Fuselier recalls. "I missed the food, family and music. I took the music for granted. It was just always on the radio at home. In Alabama there was no zydeco on the radio."

It was while living in Alabama that Fuselier started to play the accordion. The same was true for Lisa Bourque, contemporary architectural and residential designer, who moved to Los Angeles after completing a degree in architecture from UL Lafayette. Both missed the music and took up instruments once they left Louisiana.

"It was a way to connect back with the culture and fill the hole, the absence," says Bourque, who found Los Angeles "exciting, scary and fascinating."
"Los Angeles was full of people not from there," she says. "Anyone I met could tell me about other parts of the country I hadn't been to. I got to know a broad range of people and could live vicariously through them."

At the 10-year mark she and her husband decided they either needed to commit to staying in Los Angeles, which meant going to work for larger architectural firms where they would make higher salaries, or move back to Acadiana. They never considered living anywhere else.
"I missed the joie de vivre lifestyle of Louisiana," Bourque admits. "We work hard Monday to Friday and play hard Saturday and Sunday. Life is meant to be lived and enjoyed. We have our ups and downs; in Louisiana someone will help you out in the down times and help you celebrate in the up times."

Chef Maureen Little spent 17 years in New Orleans, going to culinary arts school (and architecture school) and working as a chef, and another four years in Midland, N.C. When she returned to Lawtell in 2005 she felt she could exhale. "I'm home. I know everything is going to be okay."

For Little, the differences between Lawtell and Midland are big: "food, people, family and music."

"I couldn't get Kelly's sausages," she notes.

While it has been challenging to start her catering business again from scratch, Little asks herself, "What's best for my family, me and my company ("

Like an emphatic Dorothy Gale, Little repeats to me again, "Really, truly, there is no place like home."

What is special about Acadiana for me personally is not family - I am only here with my husband - but the friendly people who live here.

One Friday afternoon in December, we were taking a walk in our neighborhood and struck up a conversation with someone in front of her home. Even though we had just met her, she invited us to her holiday party that night. When we went out to breakfast at Edie's Express, we told the owner that it was our first time eating there and asked him what he recommended. He took us back to the kitchen to show us the variety of biscuits and kolaches.

I am struck by the French, Cajun and Creole cultures and love learning about the traditions, the ways of life and musical heritages of this unique part of the country. There is always more to do and experience than we have time for.

I am constantly amazed by how many talented musicians live and perform here and the abundance of creativity of all kinds. Chef Little mentioned to me that she also writes and illustrates children's books.

Everyone I interviewed called Louisiana home. Where is my home? I feel like my home is in Louisiana now. Will I live here the rest of my life? I have no idea.

Sue Schleifer is a life and career coach and freelance writer. Learn more about her at


The food smells the way the music sounds, the way the dancers sway, the swamps and prairies lay. All the generations, all the ethnicities and walks of life dance together to the same groove. All is so clearly and brilliantly integrated. No mortal could have planned it. One contemplates Lafayette the way the Buddha contemplates a rose. We are one, baby! - David Egan

The love of plate lunches announces our community's commitment to small business. Each Styrofoam box of rice and gravy also is a reminder of how important home and family, our agrarian heritage and our unique cuisine are - even with our increasingly hectic and urban way of life. - Karlos Knott

I've made many of my best friends in the world here. Locals, transplants, transients, I've met so many cool people here over the years, I've seriously lost count of them. A place is not cool without cool people, and we have the coolest, hands down. - Herb Roe

Where else can you find children playing music with their grandparents? - Griff Blakewood

All in all, Lafayette is poised to become the Austin of Louisiana. Now if only those old liners can learn to embrace the weird! The weird will save us from becoming too much like the rest of America. - Jason Faulk

When my wife and I lived in Europe a German lady told us that "Americans live to work, Europeans work to live." Lafayette's [and Acadiana's] residents trend toward the European view of the relative values of work and leisure. - Karlos Knott

Lafayette is cool because until you move away, you don,t realize how much you miss it. - Crystall Young

Music, REAL music - the fact that my kids' (ages 2, 4  and 5) three favorite bands are Feufollet, Horace Trahan and GIVERS. They wet their lips on these bands before drinking the Disney or Nick Jr. Kool-Aid. They see these musicians around town and talk to them about anything from music to Spiderman. Great tunes from real people. It would be like me as a kid walking into Raceland Supermarket and running into Jagger, Plant and Neil Young at the check out. The bands might not be as big, not yet, but their influence will endure. - Mark Falgout

One innovative fitness trend I wish would catch on is people using their bodies to learn basic skills they can apply to help other people: digging holes, planting trees, swinging a hammer. It's all good exercise, and you can totally use these skills to help others and help yourself to become a more self-sufficient person. We as a society seem to be losing these basic life skills that are the foundation of sustainable communities. I would encourage anyone interested in fitness to get out of the gym and into your neighborhood, or a neighborhood in need. It's good for the body and good for the soul. - Jillian Johnson

We take care of each other. When something bad happens, to anybody, people here jump in to help. Don't matter if they know you or not. - Angie Simoneaux

In Memphis last night, I watched Terrance Simien across the table - with his beaming charm - gently tell some Memphis musicians what the trail rides are all about - the strutting horses, the three-day process of music, food, merriment, community. The Memphians were stone-knocked-out-mesmerized, and made it their missions to come and witness it for themselves. It was so brilliant and beautiful. Imagine all the places Terrance goes, and the random stories he might happen to tell. Multiply that by the scores of great musicians and other folks who travel, spread the music and the love, and tell the stories. - David Egan

I can mingle with all types of artists over wine at ArtWalk and then walk myself down to the Blue Moon Saloon and dance my butt off. - Lian Cheramie

Best example in North America of white people who actually adapted to the land. - Griff Blakewood

Outskirts of town destinations - I love to drive out of town for the adventurous events: Café des Amis, Whiskey River, Lakeview, etc. - John Maak

It is an open-minded town. People here are generally willing to listen to, try, encourage new things. Other towns are all about keeping up with the Joneses. Well, the Joneses live HERE. - Angie Simoneaux

I've traveled quite a bit, but have never been anywhere where they support the arts of all stripes quite as much as here. Festivals, gallery openings, public art, free concerts, food events, you name it, we got it. - Herb Roe

Scuse me, but when you say "artist" I think normally in terms of music. We could talk all night about that. We could say Feufollet, but they aren't up and coming. They were paying dues when they were 11, and now they're like international stars. Let's say Vagabond Swing. I've seen a lot of young swing groups like this that turn me off - all campy, jive, playing dress up. But Vagabond Swing swings apart. Really intense, great players, great singing, and they're in it for more that just some hustle or angle. These guys found each other. They draw you in and make you feel it. There is a strong work ethic. These guys yearn to know music and dedicate themselves to knowing music. But the basic thing that can't be taught or learned - they know how to swing. I wish I could buy them a van. - David Egan

It's an unusual thing to say, I know, but here in south Louisiana, everything we've learned that means delicious is about meat. For me, the true gauge of what's really tasty is when one can accomplish an amazing meal without meat. - Jillian Johnson

Lafayette is cool, but the little towns surrounding it are what make it truly special. You can drive 20 minutes in any direction and find something magical. - Katie Frayard

You can't walk up Jefferson Street without running into a musician, actor, director, playwright, dancer, choreographer, graphic artist, etc.  This "creative class," as it's called, shares a pride and privilege to help drive the economy, to help make our special little village a destination, and to make it more interesting for our fellow villagers. Where else can accordion players be rock stars? And the new Theater at the AcA - Lafayette's Living Room. - David Egan

Festival International has been the jumping off point for major changes in the way Lafayette thinks about arts and culture. - Travis Gauthier

70506 The Saint Streets: The heart of town, walking distance to downtown, UL, Festival International and Festivals Acadiens and the Cajundome and Cajun Field. - Mark Falgout

Nice folks, live oaks, KRVS, short winters and you never have to change gears when you're riding your bike! - Jillian Johnson

For Mardi Gras Day, I drove out to Savoy for the Faquetigue Courir de Mardi Gras. The week before I drove down to New Orleans to meet some friends from Cincinnati for some NOLA Mardi Gras, and my options for next weekend are limitless. It's a quick hop to Houston or Dallas/Fort Worth for a museum trip or even Austin for SXSW or out to Avery Island for some sunshine and quiet time at the Buddha pagoda or wander down to Lake Martin to check out the trees and alligators. Too much cool stuff to do it all. - Herb Roe

We aren't territorial about our coolness! We love embracing visitors and showing them around this place we love. This is evident in the amount of transplants who have visited our community for a festival, event or conference and realized they absolutely must live here. We all know a handful of people who experienced a generous dose of Acadiana hospitality and promptly headed home to pitch a "for sale" sign in their yard. - Kim Neustrom

Even though week days are crowded and hectic, Lafayette still feels relaxed and empty on weekends. Plus we have Festival International and Festivals Acadien et Creole, and more and more live oaks are being planted and protected. And local foods are becoming more available. - Louis Michot