The Business Traveler: After Hours in Baton Rouge

Last Updated Jun 1, 2011 2:59 PM EDT

This feature is part of our ongoing series of second-city itineraries for business travelers.

Downtown Baton Rouge

Downtown Baton Rouge

Whether you're doing business at the Exxon refinery in north Baton Rouge or with studio execs in "Hollywood South," the best departure point for an evening in this capitol city is downtown. New Orleans may have the nonpareil reputation for cuisine, culture and partying, but in any of this city's neighborhoods, you'll find Baton Rougeons tossing off their suit jackets and "laissez-les bonnes temps roulez."  You can network with legislators and oil company brass while you watch the sun set over the Mississippi or grab a little "me time" at Highland Coffee near the campus of Louisiana's flagship university, LSU. Parking is a cinch in Baton Rouge -- unless it's game night at LSU -- but a cab to any of these will take 15 minutes, tops, and cost no more than $25.

Let the bonne temps begin!   

To unwind from a day of back-to-back meetings, start at the Massage Emporium. Bodywork is the focus here, rather than spa amenities like saunas or bubbling fountains; services are so reasonably priced you won't mind shelling out for them if they don't pass muster on your expense account. Walk-ins are welcome. And for an extra fee, Massage Emporium will send a chaperoned massage therapist to your hotel room. (The best two hotels in the city are the Hilton Baton Rouge Capitol Center and the new Hotel Indigo across the street. Both have free Wi-Fi and are well priced for downtown.)

For DIY de-stressing, you can dip in the pool at the Hilton or do a circuit in the gym of either hotel. Or join the crowds at the event du jour; there's a year-round parade of activities to satisfy any taste. Check out DowntownBatonRouge.org or CultureCandy.org for the likes of Live After Five (in spring) where locals dance in the street with plastic cups of beer; the White Light Night Art Hop (autumn), which draws thousands to view new work by local artists, and a plethora of pre-Mardi Gras festivities (winter) including balls, parades and general merrymaking.

Louisiana's State Capitol

View of Lousiana's State Capitol from the Mississippi River

Need to make headway with a client over drinks? For a quiet martini, head back to the Hilton and hit the swanky/mod Kingfish Lounge (open until 2 a.m.) Or meet at Tsunami, the Japanese restaurant on the roof of the Shaw Center for the Arts, the jewel of the revitalized downtown. Step outside the elevator and let a roving waiter take your order for a Pims cup or a seasonal Louisiana beer. The view of the Mississippi is spectacular; the sun dips below the bridge in what the owners like to call a Tsunami Tsunset. Both spots are favorites of the city's young entrepreneurial class and of actors and directors (in the last year, Aaron Eckhart and the "Twilight" gang, among others) in town for a shoot at the Celtic Media Centre.  

In Baton Rouge, you can dine before the evening's main event or after; late dining is no problem. Or of course your meal can be the main event. Try one of many spots offering local fare—anything deliciously deep fried, blackened or involving a roux. Locals look for their gumbo, oyster po-boys and shrimp remoulade at The Chimes, in the LSU area, three miles from downtown. If that's too crowded or loud, drive (5 minutes) around the LSU Lakes to the Perkins Road Overpass area. Here you'll find the somewhat more subdued Parrain's, with a down-home-on-the-bayou atmosphere.  Best expense account indulgence? To rub shoulders with the elite from the oil industry, the capitol or LSU (and the occasional movie star), drive another two minutes east on Perkins Road to the Creole-inspired Jubans, famous for its flash-fried Hallelujah Crab.

To take in the scene by yourself, take a bar stool at Chelsea's Cafe, tucked away under a two-lane bridge in a quiet neighborhood where great local music draws music connoisseurs of every age.  Solo travelers of either gender will blend right in.  A quieter place to decompress on your own is George's a dark hole-in-the-wall with some of the most delectable calories you will ever regret. (If you've maxed out on fried food, order the shrimp sensation salad, which is plentiful and delicious.) Back downtown, P.J.'s Coffee, caddy-corner from the Hilton, is a good place to sit with your laptop (and a Velvet Ice).  

The arts have blossomed in Baton Rouge in the past four years, thanks in part to the downtown development centered around the $55 million Shaw Center, which is home to the LSU Museum (at the eclectic gift shop, pick up a funky crawfish painting a fleur-de-lis compact or an LSU Tiger neck tie), the LSU School of Art Gallery and the intimate Manship Theater which attracts world-class performers of all genres  like John Hiatt, Steve Forbert and Chris Smith, as well as visiting troupes like Chicago City Limits.  (Last-minute tickets are often available at the box office.)

If the day's work gave you reason to celebrate, treat the team to something more raucous.  For karaoke, singing, live music and comedy, your best bet downtown is Boudreaux & Thibodeaux, named for the two stock characters in Southern Louisiana jokes. But it's worth the 20-minute drive to travel back in time up I-10 and Old Scenic Highway to the town of Zachary. Teddy's Juke Joint is a shotgun-shack-turned-restaurant-and-blues-club, full of beehive hairdos and renowned as the last juke joint on Highway 61. Here you can catch the likes of the famous Marcia Ball as well as some quirky lesser-known acts such as Flatbed Honeymoon, Dr. Porkchop, and Paul the Electrician.   

Breakfast works at any time. Do some carbo loading for the day's work -- or your flight home -- at Louie's Cafe, open 24 hours, just outside the north gates of LSU.  A classic dive, Louie's' specialties include pecan waffles, a seafood omelet with Cajun hash browns and "the best biscuits in town."  

If you didn't time to pick up that purple and gold LSU T-shirt or souvenir beignet mix, no problem.  Even though the Baton Rouge airport is a fraction of the size of its counterpart in New Orleans, it has everything you need from a trip to Louisiana. Just like Baton Rouge.

Renee Bacher is a freelance writer and displaced New Yorker who loves her adopted hometown on the Mississippi. 

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