February / March 2014
Drive through the picturesque streets of Natchez is like stepping into a time machine. It’s not everywhere that you can catch glimpses of grand antebellum estates through the magnolia trees. However, turn down Jefferson Street and you are sure to find one structure that catches your eye. It’s an imposing wood and brick structure that predates anything else still standing in Natchez.
The King’s Tavern has a long and colorful history. It was originally constructed in the late 1700’s from the wood of scrapped ships as part of Fort Panmure, which housed a large detachment of British troops that occupied Natchez at the time. Eventually an entrepreneur named Richard King purchased the building and set up a tavern and inn for weary travelers. The tavern also housed Natchez’s first post office and soon became a popular gathering spot for the town.
As the rise of steamboat travel began to hurt Mr. King’s profits, the tavern eventually fell into the hands of the Postlethwaite family. The Postlethwaite’s would live in the structure for nearly 150 years, until 1973 when it was purchased by an investor and was once again reopened as a restaurant.
The King’s Tavern sat abandoned for almost a year until 2013, when Doug and Regina Charboneau purchased the property. Regina Charboneau is no stranger to the restaurant business, having owned and worked in restaurants from Alaska, to San Francisco, to New York. When the couple returned to Natchez in 2000, Regina thought she was through with the restaurant business. However, all that changed when Doug decided he needed a “project.”
“I really had no intention of getting back into the restaurant business,” Regina reveals. “But Doug wanted to open a rum distillery, the King’s Tavern was available, and it seemed like the perfect place.”
Regina had just ordered a wood-fired pizza oven for her home. When a concept for the new restaurant began to take shape, she decided to construct the oven at the restaurant instead. Several months of renovations were needed before The King’s Tavern could open for business. Finally, in September 2013, the historic restaurant welcomed the general public once again.
The restaurant’s specialty, under the direction of Executive Chef Allison Richard, is handcrafted, wood-fired flatbreads topped with an array of mouthwatering toppings such as brisket and horseradish cream, smoked bacon and shaved Brussels sprouts, or shrimp and smoked tomatoes.
Like many chefs, Regina is enthusiastically embracing the farm-to-table movement. Her menu items are seasonal and she is even making her own mozzarella for the flatbreads. The bar features craft beer and cocktails, unique Italian sodas, and craft bottled sodas. Bar manager Ricky Woolfolk frequently offers mixology classes on weekends.
In Spring 2014, Doug and the Charboneau’s son Jean Luc plan to open Charboneau Rum Distillery in the restaurant’s former bar. The pair plan to sell white rum and eventually aged rum in small quantities. It will also have a tasting room and provide tours.
Rum may not be the only spirit residing in the King’s Tavern. The restaurant is notorious for ghost sightings, the most famous named Madeline, a young girl who was supposedly murdered and then buried within the building’s walls. Regardless of whether the story is true, the lore has earned Madeline her own dish on the menu. However, staff and visitors over the years have reported seeing apparitions walking throughout the tavern, including Regina herself.
“I don’t believe in that kind of thing, but there was one instance during renovations when I was meeting with the construction crews and we all saw a shadow move across the room and block out the light. Whether it was Madeline, I don’t know.”
Maybe there is a reason the tavern’s tagline reads, “Spirits of All Kinds.”