If you turn east on Renwick Street off of Highway 165 in Monroe, Louisiana, you will soon come to the intersection of Griffin Street, where you will notice a massive, two-story building that resembles a school gymnasium more than anything else. A sign outside announces that it is the Elite Lounge, and a closer look reveals that the complex of buildings is truly massive, including what appears to be a motel as well. Although it has been closed for many years now, the Elite Lounge at 1207 Griffin Street is a part of a forgotten part of Monroe history. Built as Cain’s Lounge and Motel,opened by Willie and Edna Cain, it was one of the city’s biggest night life spots, often serving as the site of performances by local singing star Toussaint McCall, and other singers and bands, and the adjacent motel met a need during the dark days of segregation when white-owned motels were closed to Black people, no matter how wealthy or famous. Later it became the Elite Lounge, serving as the center of a thriving blues and southern soul scene in Monroe. Unfortunately, Monroe became wild and violent in the 1980’s and 1990’s, and eventually the woman that owned the building chose to shut it down. However, the building doesn’t seem quite abandoned, as there are cars about, and it seems that a least of couple of people might be living in the old motel. The owner’s request for a city liquor license earlier this year led to speculation that the historic lounge might reopen. But so far, that remains merely a wish.
Grambling State University and the University of Louisiana at Monroe have only played football against each other since 2007, and have only met three times, despite the fact that the schools are only 30 miles apart. Such were the legacies of college segregation, but when the Tigers and Warhawks started scheduling each other, the event became known as the I-20 Classic, since that interstate connects the two campuses (as well as a third, Louisiana Tech, for that matter). Grambling hasn’t fared well in any of their meetings with ULM, but I decided to drive down to Monroe for the day to attend the game, hear the bands (particularly Grambling’s), and the check out the tailgating and festivities. Although the weather was somewhat hot, it was a perfectly beautiful evening for football, and there was a huge crowd of people tailgating and partying outside the stadium, which is directly beside Bayou DeSiard. Unfortunately, Grambling’s team has been struggling this year, and they lost the game 48-7, and there was very little band activity and no Fifth Quarter. Grambling’s Chocolate Thunder drumline played a couple of cadences in the stands, and the full band played an abbreviated halftime show, and a couple of tunes in the stands, and that was all. 100.1 The Beat was advertising all kinds of “official” after-parties after the game, one at Club Encore, one at the Members’ Club, one at Club Siroc, and an old-school set with a band at the Monroe Civic Center. I would have liked to have gone to any or all of them, but as the drive back to Memphis was going to take five hours, I grabbed a frozen yogurt from Orange Leaf and hit the road.
One of the beauties of Monroe, Louisiana is the abundance of water. Downtown sits on the Ouachita River, and the north and east are along Bayou DeSiard, so lovely waterfront views are everywhere, and several restaurants in the city take advantage of that, including the Waterfront Grill, built on the shore of Bayou DeSiard near the campus of the University of Louisiana at Monroe. For over 20 years, the Waterfront Grill has been treating Monroyans to gorgeous sunsets and some of the best food in Louisiana, from seafood of all kinds to filet mignon, to casual sandwiches and burgers. True perfection in restaurants is rare. Sometimes good food is marred by indifferent service, or an attractive setting is ruined by mediocre food or high prices, but the Waterfront Grill offers consistently good food, with impeccable service in a lovely setting at prices that might not be cheap, but are reasonable. And in 19 visits or so over as many years, I have never once had a disappointment. Few restaurants can meet that standard.
5201 DeSiard Street
Monroe, LA 71203
After the Grambling game, I drove back to Monroe to have dinner at the River Grille with my homeboy Vitus Shell, who is a graphic designer and hip-hop promoter in Monroe. The River Grille is a relatively new restaurant, located in north Monroe near the junction of Bayou Desiard with the Oauchita River. It’s a fairly small place, with a neighborhood bar-and-grill feel, but it features great food and a beautiful view of the water. You can like them on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-River-Grille/259318470777820.
The Richwood High School Marching Rams Band is from the little town of Richwood which adjoins Monroe, Louisiana on its southern boundary. Here they are marching in the Grambling Homecoming Parade, 10/20/12
The marching band from Monroe, Louisiana’s Carroll High School marches in the Grambling State University Homecoming parade on October 20, 2012.
Hwy 165 Friday 4/27/12 at Club Jewels in Bastrop, LA
I decided to eat dinner Friday night at the Warehouse Number 1 Restaurant in Monroe, Louisiana, which is built on the levee directly beside the Ouachita River. I hadn’t eaten there in nearly ten years, but it’s still good.
Driving from Memphis to Dallas through Monroe and Shreveport #texassummermusicconference