Beyond the City Lights

Shreveport’s riverside casinos might be what draw you in, but this Ark-La-Tex city has so much more up its sleeve
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Visiting Shreveport, Louisiana, for the first time, what first captures your attention are the lights. Bright reds and yellows, ceruleans, fuchsias and tangerines—all the shades of a neon rainbow—spill out from the casinos lining the Red River and form fingerlike reflections on the water’s surface. It’s amazing, really, what those lights do to the river. The otherwise ruddy, muddy body of water comes alive at night, much like the casinos that send out those bright beams.

Since the 1990s, Shreveport’s livelihood has in large part depended on those casinos. They employ thousands and have drawn millions of tourists to the economic center of the Ark-La-Tex region, spurring the revitalization that first rippled along the river’s edge in the Downtown Riverfront and has since spread south through the city. There’s no question that the casinos are integral to Shreveport’s well-being. But once you’ve played your last hand and spent your last nickel, when the casino lights have dimmed and you take a good look at Shreveport, you begin to see there’s so much more to the city than slot machines.

There’s evidence, for one, of how the residents respect the city’s history—something made clear in the painstaking restoration of the Strand Theater, a masterpiece of 1920s art deco, to its former glory as an opera house and performance venue. The same could be said for the Shreveport Municipal Memorial Auditorium, which reopened after a major overhaul in spring 2014. The former Jordan & Booth building, once a men’s department store (“for undergrads or dads,” one 1942 ad reads), has found new life as the elegant and modern Artspace. Outside of the Downtown Riverfront, there are stately Queen Annes and Victorians that have presided over the Fairfield Historic District since long before the casino lights first started to shine. And though the surrounding city has found its place in the 21st century, those pieces of beautiful architecture are more than ghostly relics; many are still in use as offices, bed-and-breakfasts and, of course, homes.

Shreveport_Final_HR-6881These juxtapositions of the old and the new are so much a part of the city that filmmakers have found Shreveport a particularly useful backdrop for just about any setting a script might call for. With its versatile landscape of Old South influence, flashy downtown and cozy green suburbs, you’d never guess the places this oft-forgotten corner of northwest Louisiana has played on screen—the list includes everywhere from Santa Monica to Guantanamo Bay. Tax incentives offered by Louisiana don’t hurt when attracting filmmakers, but it’s also the support from community organizations, such as the Robinson Film Center, that are to thank for the city’s strong film industry. The RFC is a two-theater facility offering education through film, media literacy classes and film-related special events, in addition to independent and classic film screenings. One of those special events is the still-newish Louisiana Film Prize, an annual contest and festival held downtown that pits short-film makers against one another for the chance to win a $50,000 prize. The only stipulation? The short must be made on location in Shreveport or Bossier City.

All of this is to say that the arts are alive and well in Shreveport—and not just in the regenerated Downtown Riverfront. In Highland Park, you’ll find sculptures dotting the yards outside residences, summer craft markets and afternoon studio tours—imagine a pub crawl, but through the homes, shops and restaurants of an eclectic Louisiana neighborhood’s studios, and you’ll have a sense of the area’s monthly Highland Open Studio Tour Sundays. Although the Louisiana Boardwalk outlet shopping mall is just across the river—and there’s no denying its popularity—this is a community that supports its makers through pop-up markets in parking lots (the South Highlands Summer Market) and coffee shops (Rhino Coffee has had a few), where you’ll find local goodies such as artisan soaps, fresh produce, homemade boudin and handmade cards.

The best thing about Shreveport, however, is that behind each aspect of the city—its talented artists, historic architecture, Southern accents—there’s a story. Take, for example, the Pine Wold House, one of those old mansions in Fairfield: The estate once served as wintering grounds for the Mighty Haag Circus, and it is the supposed burial ground for Trilby, a beloved circus elephant who suffered a nasty bout of pneumonia. There’s the mural of Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter and other great musical exports on the walls outside the Tipitina’s Foundation offices, which speaks to the work the foundation has done to support Louisiana musicians. And then there’s once-hole-in-the-wall Herby K’s shrimp po’boy—better known as the Shrimp Buster—which is so much more than a sandwich. The mom-and-pop’s signature trinity of crusty French bread, deep-fried shrimp and tangy red sauce will change lives or incite debate, depending on whom you ask.

In sum, if you’re a gaming fan, yes, head to Shreveport for the casinos—after all, it’s a heck of a lot closer than Las Vegas. But while you’re there taking a chance with Lady Luck, know that there’s more to the city than what you’ll find in the cards fanned over the poker table. Because while those lights reflected in the Red River may suggest a vitality and vibrance embedded there within, the true spirit of the city is even more alive, just a little bit beyond.

 


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Know Your Nor-La
What’s making waves in Shreveport

 

//STAY

 

The Remington Suite Hotel
Outfitted with 22 roomy, elegant suites, this boutique hotel is just a block removed from the restaurants and bars that dot lively Texas Avenue. But with a fitness center, salon and spa—to say nothing of the sauna, steam room, or indoor, heated, salt-water pool—you may not want to leave long enough to see anything else. (220 Travis St.; remingtonsuite.com)

The Fairfield Place
No need to feel green with envy while eyeing the beautiful homes in the Fairfield Historic District; several of them are open as bed-and-breakfasts, which means you won’t have to knock on any strangers’ doors to get a peek inside. The two-story wraparound porch at The Fairfield Place is to die for, and in addition to a full breakfast offered on weekends, there’s complimentary wine when you book one of the B&B’s seven rooms. (2221 Fairfield Ave.; thefairfieldplace.com)

Hilton Shreveport
With free shuttle service to and from the airport, the Hilton Shreveport is undoubtedly your best bet if you’re in town sans transportation. The shuttle will also ferry you to nearby restaurants, bars and shops that are just out of walking distance, so you’ll save on cab fare (and not have to worry about designating a driver). Also: If you’re visiting during the warmer months, get excited—there’s a rooftop pool. (104 Market St.; hilton.com)


//EAT & DRINK

 

Superior’s Steakhouse
With prime steaks, chargrilled oysters, vintage wines and after-dinner cigars, there’s little reason to doubt Superior’s status as one of Shreveport’s favorite steakhouses. Dark wood, white tablecloths and dim lights lend Superior’s a special-occasion vibe, but a friendly staff—happy to help navigate the wine list and bring by a tray stacked high with indulgent desserts—keeps this place from ever feeling stuffy. (855 Pierremont Road, No. 120; superiorssteakhouse.com)

Marilynn’s Place
Housed in a refurbished gas station, Marilynn’s takes brunching to another level by offering daily specials from chef Robert Baucom (think bananas Foster French toast or smoked pork loin biscuit with pear-jalapeno-pecan white gravy). And with a $10 bottomless bloody mary and mimosa bar, you’ll have plenty of reason to stick around for a while. (4041 Fern Ave.; marilynns-place.com)

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Strawn’s Eat Shop
Strawn’s is even more a staple of the city than the casinos. Opened in 1944, the self-proclaimed “home of the ice box pie” hasn’t changed much in its seven decades of operation. The menu is bursting with comfort-food favorites—fried chicken, meatloaf, pork tenderloin, BLT, burgers—most of which can still be purchased for less than $5. And that unwavering consistency might be the best thing about this Shreveport mainstay. (Multiple locations; strawnseatshop.com)

Twisted Root Burger CO.
Craving a gourmet burger? Head south on Line Avenue, where you’ll find the only location of Twisted Root Burger Co. outside of Texas. Though a chain by definition, Twisted Root—with a bar that boasts local brews and decor devoted to Shreveport’s rich music history—feels like anything but. Be sure to save room for an adult milkshake (our favorite is Bailey’s & Chocolate, a devilish mix of Bailey’s Irish cream and chocolate vodka). (8690 Line Avenue, twistedrootburgerco.com/shreveport)


//DO

 

Great Raft Brewing
Opened in 2013, this Shreveport brewery is tucked away in the Fairfield Historic District. Go for a free tour on Saturday afternoon (offered at 1, 2 and 3 p.m.), grab a pint of the brewery’s year-round Commotion Pale Ale, and start up a game of cornhole. Food trucks are usually stationed outside for those who inevitably work up an appetite—keep an eye out for burgers from Grill of the Dead and sweets from Lilah’s Mobile Bakery. (1251 Dalzell St.; greatraftbrewing.com)

Gardens of the American Rose
With 65 individual rose gardens and about 20,000 rosebushes, Gardens of the American Rose is the country’s largest park dedicated to this romantic perennial. Located just 15 miles west of downtown Shreveport at the headquarters of the American Rose Society, there’s never been a better place to stop and smell the, well, you know. Note: Admission is by donation, but if your visit falls during the week, you can opt for a golf-cart tour for $10. (8877 Jefferson Paige Road; ars.org)

Robinson Film Center
In addition to a constant lineup of indie and classic film screenings, this two-theater cinema offers special events in conjunction with its connected restaurant, Abby Singers’ Bistro, named for the Hollywood production manager and assistant director. Check the website for special dinner-and-a-movie events (usually $15-$25 per person). (617 Texas St.; robinsonfilmcenter.org)

Artspace
Dip in to Artspace during regular work hours to check out the current exhibition—or even better, try to catch one of the events held in the space, which is so much more than a gallery. It’s a place where you might stumble in on a singer-songwriter showcase, a poetry reading or a public forum about the arts. But if art adorning the walls is what you crave, you’ll find that here, too. (710 Texas St.; artspaceshreveport.com)


//SHOP

 

Louisiana Boardwalk Outlets

When it comes to shopping in Shreveport, you can make a day of it at the Louisiana Boardwalk across the river in Bossier City. The outlet mall has a Banana Republic, Coach, Nike, Fossil and, its most recent addition, a J. Crew. With a Bass Pro Shops and a Build-A-Bear Workshop, there’s something for just about everyone. (540 Boardwalk Blvd., Bossier City; louisianaboardwalk.com)

Shreveport_Final_HR-7063Day Old Blues Records
Vinyl fiends won’t want to miss the midcentury-style listening room and racks of records at this South Highlands spot. Whether you’re looking for classics or recent releases, pre-owned or brand-new, you’ll find the likes of Neil Young, The Doors and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers alongside My Morning Jacket, The Black Keys and Taylor Swift. (437 Kings Highway; dayoldblues.com)

Olive Street Thrift & Vintage
Don’t bat an eye, or you might miss Olive Street Thrift’s little green door. Nestled near Highland Park, this shop’s carefully curated selection of vintage, retro and just plain funky items matches the creativity of the surrounding community. The short list of things to look for: that perfect tacky Christmas sweater, vintage Valentino, black-and-white family photos, and any and everything that could make you nostalgic for the ’90s. (444 Olive St.; olivestreetthrift.com)

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