The Legend of Gagutsa:
How My Place Became the Worst Kept Secret in Lake Charles
By Daniel Fuselier
6:42 a.m., Friday
I walk in to see nine people seated at a long bar. I find a seat next to a friend and tell him that I’m irritated to be up this early. He looks at me and says, “At least you haven’t been working all night.” The bartender asks if I want my usual Coca-Cola Classic. I nod and laugh as I look around to take in the faces at the bar.
Tucked away in mid-town Lake Charles is an unassuming strip mall, and its residents: the obligatory cell phone repair store, a fitness center, even a suit and tie shop. It is your average run of the mill collection of stores that also happens to house, within the basic brick and mortar facade, one of the best bars in this area. Myplace American Pub has been owned and operated by Chris “Bird” Culotta since August 2013. He bought it for a chance to have a piece of what he considers to be the renaissance of Lake Charles. Chris was born and raised in Baton Rouge. He spent time working at a bookstore and immersing himself with the night-life of the college city. He made friends and a name for himself by becoming a dj for one of the longest running 80’s dance nights in the area. This was before the music scene was saturated by any person with a laptop, when it was considered an art. He also started his own business in the form of Hearthrob Skateboards. He had always been a skater and wanted to work with his passion and love, but sometimes passion and love don’t pay the bills. So in 2013 he packed up and headed to Lake Charles, a town he had seen as being on the upswing.
2:13 p.m., Friday
I step into the bar and chuckle to myself to see the same friend that I saw at 6 this morning still there. The day-shift bartender asks if I want a Coke as I sit in the far corner of the bar. I smile and say yes. They know me here. I look over at my friend and ask him if he’s eaten yet. Apparently the earlier bartender had bought him something to eat and had it delivered. Not bad service for a neighborhood bar.
Chris tells me a little about living in a few other places. He lived in California for a little while, Long Beach and Huntington Beach to be precise. He also lived in Austin, Texas for a little while as well. When I asked him what he thought about Lake Charles that set this town apart from everywhere else, his response resonated with me: “It’s an awesome city with a country-like vibe. Real laid back kind of place.” He went on to compare Baton Rouge to Lake Charles, citing that: “Baton Rouge is great, but it’s a little more yuppie, almost pretentious at times. Whereas Lake Charles is more loose.” It’s this thought that made his decision to relocate here a no-brainer.
The idea to run a bar had always been a novel idea. His brother and him would talk about it for years. Since the skateboard company was losing traction, he decided to take his brother up on an offer to own a bar together. The only condition was that Chris’ brother had to mentor him. “He is honestly the smartest business man I know. I wanted to learn everything that he knew about business and have him mold me into a success.” So, in 2013 they bought an already successful pub and went about running it as their own.
7:39 p.m., Friday
I’m still here. I haven’t even come close to finding a reason to leave yet. I’ve spent a majority of my time the last five hours having some very in depth conversation about music, movies, nuclear cannons, and even the wrong shopping carts at the grocery store. It’s like my own personal “Seinfeld” episode. People are filing in at a steady rate and the music on the jukebox has taken on a life of its own.
Since Chris and his brother took over Myplace, it has grown exponentially. What used to be your run of the mill neighborhood bar has quickly grown into a destination for all your night-life needs. Every weekend features live music that can’t be seen anywhere else. Chris understands the pitfalls of live music very well. “I know that it’s more about quality than quantity.” “I’m not looking to fill up every night with just anyone, I want the people that come here to catch the right vibe.” It’s this philosophy that helps create the mood of Myplace. This pub is not a stop off for your next adventure; it is the adventure. At any given moment, a veritable who’s who of Lake Charles twenty and thirty-somethings are here. It is the preferred service industry bar and a meeting point for all young movers and shakers. Upon walking in, you are greeted at the front door with a picture of the bar’s mascot “Gagutsa”. Gagutsa is Chris’ 7-year-old Boston terrier. He treats him as if he were his only child and cares for him as such. The reason they chose Gagutsa as the mascot was simple. “Boston terrier is the only American breed really, so it was a no-brainer since we were an American pub,” Chris says with a slight grin. He’s proud of the imagery and the link that he can provide.
12:00 p.m. (NOON), Saturday
There is still the remnants of last night's band on stage. The drum kit is there, and a few amps. Not a lot of people here at this time, but then again a lot were here last night. I look behind the bar and finally see Chris. His skinny jeans and v-neck t shirt are laughable, but to each their own. He walks all over the building jotting down notes. No one has played the jukebox, but I hear the sounds of classic rock in the background.
The reason that Myplace American Pub is the preferred service industry bar took some time to understand. It’s not uncommon to see waiters, cooks, other bartenders, and even casino employees gathered around tables inside. When asked why they come here the answer is always similar. “I have to give my best service at all times, so I go to the place where I know I will be treated the way I treat others.” It seems that only the best of the best serve the drinks at Myplace. On some mornings you can see local nurses still in their scrubs fresh off of a shift sitting at the bar. They come here to relax and unwind after stressful nights in the E.R. “I like coming here early in the mornings when I get off,” one nurse says. “It’s pretty chill and a great place to meet up and forget about the stress of the previous 10 hours.” The bartenders here have definitely perfected their craft. It’s very comical to watch the bartenders at Myplace showing other bars’ staff how to make drinks. Not only does the staff of Myplace know their drinks and cocktails, but they’re also some of the most friendly and down to earth servers in town. “I come here for them mostly,” says one regular patron. “I wouldn’t go anywhere else unless they all worked there too.” It doesn’t get much more diverse when it comes to staff either. From the tall Jamie, quiet Daniel, beach boy Danny, sultry Savannah, and blonde bombshell Christine, Chris has assembled a crew that has something for everyone.
6:13 a.m., Monday
The weekend is over but this place is busier than ever. They’ve been open since midnight and it looks like a Friday night. I find a place to sit and look forward to what conversations come my way. It doesn’t take long before I get involved with a discussion on football and what the new season is going to shape up to be. There must be 40 people in here but it feels like maybe 10.
Chris Culotta is extremely content where he is. He co-owns one of the best bars in town and is excited to see what Lake Charles’ community is doing. “It’s an exciting time around here,” he says. “I’m in mid town so it’s perfect. Downtown has its own thing and south of town is pretty sparse, so the location is ideal.” Indeed, the location has proven useful. With the influx of people from the Golden Nugget casino, the bar has thrived. Chris is also entering into a few different endeavors with the help of his brother. After all, the whole reason he came here was to be mentored. “We have no plans to expand; if it ain’t broke don’t fix it. So I’m looking into other areas [of business].” Again he credits Lake Charles and the community he’s in for his success. What he saw as an upswing in action he now sees as a constant rise in this area.
3:04 p.m., Monday
I have spent my entire weekend in and out of here. More in than out for sure. Not once did I feel out of place or bored. Eventually I will have to write about the real story and not just my journal entries, but I’d rather live the story than tell it. I know now why I have been coming here for so long, it’s not just a place to kill time, it’s a place to make time. To make time for friends, coworkers, and anyone else that walks through those doors. This is my home bar.
He has quickly turned Myplace into a must have for the Lake Charles community. Now he feels compelled to turn his sights towards other money-making ventures, without forgetting about what got him there in the first place. Chris knows that the cornerstone of his empire is the corner door of a shopping mall and he will see that it maintains its relevance. He vows to ensure that it always lives up to its namesake, an American Pub we can all call...
A Note From the Editor
MyPlace is not only the only venue my band Wyld Stallyns (Juxtapose) has played in our city, it's our favorite.
Daniel does not exaggerate when he says the staff is top-notch. It is more than apparent that they care about that place as if their jobs depended on it, but not just because they actually do. Chris and his team have found their purpose by serving as a refuge for our local service industry professionals, while emboldening our local musicians.
I've only had one complaint about MyPlace; I used to feel like a cigarette the morning after our shows. I never mentioned it to Chris, but one day, he locked eyes with me for (roughly) 7 minutes. I believe he was reading my mind, perhaps he is some sort of super hero (or villain). The next day, I see they installed sciencey smoke suckers. We played a few days later and I couldn't even remember what cigarettes smelled like. Even more bizarre, that same day, he started offering my favorite beer on tap... crazy. What an intuitive bastard.
I wish I was at MyPlace right now...
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