Driftwood Cask & Barrel closes, raising questions about Baton Rouge’s entertainment threshold

    Downtown gastropub Driftwood Cask & Barrel—despite expanding its offerings and operating hours a year ago in a bid to boost business—has closed after two years of operation.

    Another bar is already slated to move into the space, says Downtown Development District Executive Director Davis Rhorer, who declines to name the business but says specifics will be announced soon.

    A year ago, Driftwood’s owners, who could not be reached for comment before this afternoon’s deadline, began serving food and extended its weekday hours to be open for lunch.

    Driftwood’s demise follows on the closure of other Third Street businesses in the past year, including John Delgado’s 1913 nightclub and Huey’s Bar, as well as Lava Cantina Downtown and Somos Bandidos, which was supposed to be filled by a grilled cheese shop that’s now stalling its plans to move into the space. Last fall, Register Bar took over the former Roux House building after restaurateur Ian Vaughn nixed plans to open Repeal 33 gastropub there.

    The downtown closings and lease swaps are happening at a time when a Mid City stretch of Government Street is adding more bars and restaurants, including Red Stick Social in Electric Depot, where several announced restaurants and quick-serve concepts are also slated to open. Also, neighborhood bar Pelican to Mars is opening later this summer as will the long-planned Mid City Beer Garden. In the works is an upscale cocktail bar that would be next door to Elsie’s Plate and Pie, along with a brewery near Soji, which opened last year.

    To be fair, White Star Market has seen a steady stream of eateries come and go from the gourmet food hall, with rotating vendors.

    Still, does Baton Rouge have the market to handle what amounts to two entertainment districts? While mixed in their assessments, local retail experts generally agree downtown is at something of a disadvantage.

    “It all depends on where people are working and living, but living is the key to that,” says Jonathan Walker of Maestri Murell, adding downtown’s parking problems create another barrier for business. “If people aren’t downtown and aren’t close enough to walk or get there after a quick Uber ride, they’ll go somewhere else.”

    Each area attracts a different crowd, says Lynn Daigle of NAI Latter & Blum. Mid City fetches more locals, she says, while downtown—not having the residential market to support its existing retail supply—leans more on tourists and business visitors.

    Rhorer says the closures are not unique to downtown, each business shuttered for its own reason and it’s not symptomatic of a larger problem. When Mid City does well, says Rhorer, so does downtown.

    Regardless, downtown is in a better place now than it was in the ‘80s, when festival marketplace Catfish Town flopped, says Mark Hebert of Kurz & Hebert Commercial Real Estate, noting an influx of hotels and casinos has since spurred economic growth there.

    Instead, Hebert chalks up the Third Street closures to natural market forces, saying “the strong will survive and the weak will not.”

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