The River Rats
Riverine Pub Crawls Around Livingston Parish
We were roaring through swampy wilderness on Jet Skis, leaving grand rooster tails of white spray behind us and eating up the beautiful miles of still, bright, cypress-lined channel ahead. I was gripping the handles of the rear seat behind my host and brand-new friend Rob Arrington, a.k.a. River Rat Rob, as he veered around bends and shot through straightaways. Three other brand-new friends followed on their own Jet Skis, matching Rob’s maneuvers. But otherwise we were all alone in the massive expanse of swamps, rivers, and channels between Lake Maurepas and Interstate 10.
The beautiful desolation of all these miles of water and cypress was so overwhelming that I almost lost track of our objective on this high-speed afternoon outing. But then a signpost up ahead pulled me back in. The sign was a simple plywood square nailed to the stump of a dead tree, with the stenciled words “Black Lake Club” and a spray-painted arrow pointing toward a turn in the onrushing channel. It proved the first in a series of such signs, staked out through the swamp like breadcrumbs, directing us right to the door of an eminently out-of-the-way barroom.
“See, they don’t want you getting lost out here,” Rob shouted to me over his shoulder as the Jet Ski boomed along.
A few miles ahead, we found the Black Lake Club sitting on the edge of another channel branching into the great watery maze of Livingston Parish. The club was a low, small, humble building with a big covered deck facing the water. It sported a letter board sign advertising drink specials and band schedules, not to any street traffic but rather to boaters like us cruising past.
I found it incredible that we had arrived at this remote bar by water, and that we were led to it to by signs plotted at the twists and turns of seemingly trackless swamp. What was more astonishing though was that the Black Lake Club was only one of sixteen bars we would visit that afternoon as Rob continued his tour of interconnected rivers and canals. We found all of them on Jet Skis over an unbroken, eighty-mile loop. While most are car accessible too, a few can only be reached by watercraft, and along the way we even dropped by a quiet, lovely country chapel that is similarly accessible only by river. Had we expanded the tour a bit further, we could have boosted the bar crawl to nearly thirty waterfront watering holes all within daytrip range.
This is Louisiana’s most intense river rat country, and I was touring with its chief impresario, River Rat Rob.
There are college towns that don’t have this kind of bar density, but here all of them were stretched along waterways and clustered in towns that barely register boldface mention on state highway maps. I had stared at and studied a detailed, sixty-four-page Louisiana road atlas for months while planning my trips around the state, going so far as to scan the thing on lunch breaks and in bed at night before sleep, looking for interesting curves and nooks to explore around south Louisiana. Places like Port Vincent, French Settlement, Warsaw Landing, Blind River, and the Tickfaw River seemed too obscure to warrant a trip, the towns appearing as little dots along country highways, the rivers just thin trickles of ink snaking through large patterns of the map’s printed swamp symbols. It turns out I was using the wrong map. . .(NOTE: this is an excerpt from the full chapter)