Come to Pass Christian
A Mississippi Gulf weekend with Hotel Whiskey, Sazerac Square, and other coastal charms
BY CHERÉ COEN
The Mississippi Gulf Coast, my family’s summer vacation destination, has evolved since my youth, both growing in sophistication and struggling to rebound from hurricanes and oil spills.
One town hit particularly hard by recent disasters is Pass Christian; but in the last few years, much has changed in this quaint, sleepy town broadcasters can’t seem to pronounce correctly (Pass Christ-ee-an). Although empty lots still dot Scenic Drive, a seaside boulevard where historic homes line up like a postcard image, Pass Christian is bustling with trendy restaurants, unique shops, and a boutique hotel. It’s the perfect weekend getaway, whether for peace and quiet with a beach view or during one of the coast’s many spirited events.
Bustling it is, but expansive it’s not. The heart of Pass Christian, whose population is a manageable seven thousand residents, consists of about three blocks on Davis Avenue, starting at the Pass Christian Municipal Harbor and the Gulf beaches and working up to the railroad tracks. At its center, holding court, is the new Hotel Whiskey, a two-story boutique property that features eleven rooms, one of which is a thousand-square-foot master suite with full kitchen, separate living room, bunkroom, and master.
The hotel is the brainchild of Thomas Genin, proprietor of the popular Blind Tiger bar in Bay St. Louis, and his business partner Travis March. The duo opened the hotel last fall to fill a niche following Hurricane Katrina, Genin explained. Post-storm regulations, requiring that homes be built twenty feet off the ground, and high homeowners insurance costs were turning off prospective buyers of second homes along the Gulf Coast. What Genin kept hearing was that people wanted more accommodations. “They don’t want the hassles of owning a second house on the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” he said.
Genin loves creating new business—he recently opened the second Blind Tiger in Biloxi and plans on a third location in Slidell this year—so a hotel in Pass Christian was a natural fit. The building fronts Davis Street with a restaurant on the ground floor. Three upstairs rooms open to a comfortable balcony ideal for spotting sailboats in the Gulf and piano music heard from the apartments across the street.
That sums up the atmosphere at Hotel Whiskey. There’s elegance for sure, from the decadent bath products and wine glasses in the room to the extensive selection of whiskeys, USDA prime steaks, and fresh seafood served at the hotel’s Whiskey Prime restaurant. On the other hand, staff members work hard to make guests feel at home. Complimentary cocktails are served upon arrival—guests check in at the bar—and services include helping book charter fishing excursions and other tourist requests. Rooms upstairs can be easily combined for wedding parties and family reunions. “It turns into one big house,” Genin said.
ALTHOUGH EMPTY LOTS STILL DOT SCENIC DRIVE, A SEASIDE BOULEVARD WHERE HISTORIC HOMES LINE UP LIKE A POSTCARD IMAGE, PASS CHRISTIAN IS BUSTLING WITH TRENDY RESTAURANTS, UNIQUE SHOPS, AND A BOUTIQUE HOTEL
Within walking distance of the hotel are several restaurants and unique shops, all looking brand spanking new thanks to post-Katrina reconstruction. Sazerac Square is a prime example; the shopping inlet houses The Pass Christian Soap Co., which locally creates bath bombs, soaps, and lotions, and Martin Hardware, a throw-back to the old days. There’s the Pass Olive Oils and Vinegars, Pass Wine & Spirits, Cigars in the Pass, the long-running Parker’s Jewelry & Gifts, and Robin’s Nest in the Pass, owned and operated by Dorothy Roberts, a jewelry designer whose sisters include Sally-Ann Roberts, broadcaster on WWL-TV in New Orleans, and Robin Roberts of Good Morning America.
At the Gulf end of Davis Avenue lies Cat Island Coffeehouse, named for the island just off the coast that was once home to Frenchman Nicholas Christian Ladner, who gave the town its name. The square building offers an outside patio and a second-story loft that comes with an incredible view. The building is co-home to Pass Christian Books; so visitors may enjoy specialty coffees, Cat Island cookies or cheese crackers, and macarons from Sucre of New Orleans while perusing a nice selection of Mississippi- and Louisiana-themed books. The store is a magnet for authors, so it’s likely visitors will spot a book signing or two. Best-selling author Greg Iles, a past resident of Baton Rouge now living in Mississippi, makes an appearance on April 3, and award-winning author Katy Simpson Smith visits April 12.
For breakfast, a latte and pastry at Cat Island Coffeehouse make a nice complement to the sun rising over the Gulf. If a heavier breakfast is on order, Hook Gulf Coast Cuisine, on Davis Avenue, and Bacchus on the Beach, on Scenic Drive, both host Sunday brunch; the choice may come down to walking a few steps or a few blocks.
Whiskey Prime serves dinner nightly with lunch on weekends; and the full-service bar features local beers, fine wine, specialty cocktails, and one of the most unique and sophisticated margaritas. Not to be confused with its alcoholic cousin, the lump crabmeat martini makes an excellent starter to either meal, as does the raw tuna appetizer topped with a garlic mayonnaise and Sriracha sauce. For something unusual, try the roasted bone marrow that melts in your mouth, served with crostinis and yeast rolls. (If you’re brave, waiters will help you shoot whiskey down the bone.) All of the restaurant’s steaks arrive fresh daily, and seafood is purchased off the docks of the Pass Christian Municipal Harbor, one block away.
Bay St. Louis, with its numerous bars, restaurants, shops, and casino, is only a short drive to the east, while Gulfport is equal distance to the west.
Rest of the Pass
When French settlers first landed on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, they named the area “Passe aux Huîtres” for the oysters they found in the “pass,” or deep-water trough, between Cat Island and the shore. For years afterward, the area was known for its oyster reefs and commercial seafood industry.
The Pass Christian Municipal Harbor, around since the mid-1800s, still caters to local fishermen and is home to the Pass Christian Yacht Club. Recent expansions include more commercial and recreational slips, restrooms, and the Ricky Levy West Harbor Park with two covered pavilions, playgrounds, and beach volleyball.
The War Memorial Park, one block off Davis and fronting the Gulf, received a vibrant shot in the arm following Katrina and now includes a gazebo, restrooms, fitness path with workout stations, and several memorials beneath graceful live oaks.
Of course, no visit to Pass Christian would be complete without a walk on the world’s largest man-made beach or a dip in placid Gulf waters. “It’s like a miniature vacation,” Genin said. “I think it’s a winner.”