I Love Clifton
When I moved to Clifton last year, a friend and fellow Cliftonite told me in an e-mail: “You’ll love Clifton; it’s the new Highlands!”
Kind of cheesy, but Clifton certainly does seem to be a recent focal point of the city, thanks to its restaurants, real estate and Trolley Hop. Still, Clifton as a place to drink is quite a different creature from the Highlands. There’s no Phoenix Hill Tavern. No Bambi Walk. And comparing the Highlands’ Molly Malone’s and O’Shea’s — which draw raucous crowds of college-age revelers — to Clifton’s Irish Rover is strictly an apples-to-oranges proposition.
Why? Basically, if the Highlands is where the “action” is, Clifton is the place to have a few drinks with friends and chill.
“It’s a pub atmosphere,” Irish Rover bar manager Erin McCormack said, “not just a bunch of kids getting drunk. That’s why we have so many regulars — they can sit and talk.”
It’s a Clifton thing, actually. At one end of the neighborhood, on Mellwood Avenue, there’s the quaint Rush Inn with its incredible chili and Old Milwaukee on tap (not to mention pool tables, a jukebox and Yankees memorabilia all over the walls), and Mac’s Point, a tiny watering hole that also serves up barbecue and has a beer garden, along with L&N Wine Bistro, an elegant spot for wine-tasting, and the artsy/upscale North End Café.
At the other end, it’s the Rover, El Mundo, Clifton Pizza, Bourbon’s Bistro — you get the idea. It’s primarily restaurants that also double as bars if you want to slip in and have a drink or two unnoticed.
El Mundo, for instance, is best known for its food, but check out the tequila list — the roster is more than 40 strong. And like a true Irish pub, the Rover features imperial pints and a great selection of import beer on draft, not to mention my personal favorite, Irish Rover Red, the house ale.
Longshot Tavern is about as “bar” as Clifton gets and is basically a neighborhood watering hole, a place where visitors and regulars alike can play a few rounds of pool and sip their drinks in relative peace — at least until the bands start. But even on live music nights, like most of Clifton’s pubs, it’s still a place regulars can call their own.
“I love them to death,” McCormack said of her estimated 30 to 35 Rover regulars. “But sometimes it’s like, Jesus, Mary and Joseph, don’t you have homes?”
They’ve found their homes — in their favorite Clifton bars. —Kevin Gibson
I Love Downtown
Sure, a healthy business climate, solid infrastructure, efficient public transportation, even a world-class stadium are all well and good, but the true mark of a vital downtown? Lots of places to have a drink. In this department, Louisville acquits itself nicely.
Where to begin? How about the upscale, sophistimacated joints? It’s nice to clean up and act like a semi-responsible adult every now and again, and plenty of downtown establishments are perfect for this. Proof on Main springs immediately to mind — yeah, it’s hoity-toity, but it’s still pretty cool, what with the art installations and such. Also worthy of a visit: Jockey Silks in the Galt House and the Bourbon Bar in the Old Seelbach Bar.
Speaking of Fourth Street, there’s an 800-pound gorilla in downtown nightlife, and its name is Fourth Street Live. And as can be said of any “entertainment district” that features a TGI Friday’s, Fourth Street Live is pretty corporate, but there are plenty of non-cheese aspects if you know where to look. The Pub sells Strongbow on tap, and Sully’s and Red Star Tavern both have Woodchuck on tap. They get a pass from me.
But Louisville has had its own homegrown version of Fourth Street for years in the complex of nightclubs that is O’Malley’s Corner at Second and Liberty streets.
Freddie’s is one of the few genuine neighborhood bars in downtown Louisville, conveniently located between a florist and a Subway — handy! There are brewpubs, like Browning’s and BBC, in case you want artisan beer. And there are plenty of places to troll for dates, including Petrus, Elmo’s or Stevie Ray’s. Or you can cut to the chase and visit some of the “gentleman’s clubs,” which I prefer to call by their Christian name, “titty bars,” including P.T.’s Showclub and Louisville Gold, but if you’re going to any of these because you like the way the bartender makes your vodka gimlet, you’re a better man than I.
But my personal favorite downtown watering hole is Third Street Dive. It’s way too clean to be a true dive, but the bar is well stocked, prices are more than reasonable, the music is always killer and sometimes the owner breathes fire behind the bar. Suck on that, bitches. —Jay Ditzer
I Love Germantown
Germantown is a quirky neighborhood in Louisville. Its boundaries aren’t official, but Wikipedia says Barret Avenue, Eastern Parkway and the south fork of Beargrass Creek are the lines of demarcation. Another way to define it: It’s the part of town in between the Highlands and Downtown.
Still, more than a few Louisvillians have no idea that Germantown exists. These tend to be the same people who think everything south of I-64 is the West End, but for those of you who don’t mind a little blue-collar grit, Germantown offers several drinking options, as long as you don’t desire anything too pretentious.
Practically every watering hole in the area can be classified as a “neighborhood joint,” and many of these also function as restaurants, so you can get your eat on while you’re getting your drink on. The Come Back Inn, Jockamo’s Pizza Pub, Check’s Café and Flabby’s Schnitzelburg all offer up hearty fare as well as reasonably priced libations (be forewarned: many places in Germantown serve beer only — no hard stuff).
Flabby’s full name brings up a Germantown conundrum: There seem to be several tiny sub-neighborhoods within Germantown. For our purposes, Schnitzelburg, Paristown Pointe, et al, are Germantown. So deal.
I can’t write about Germantown saloons without mentioning the Barret Bar on Barret Avenue (some might argue it’s in the Highlands, but they would be wrong), mainly because I’ve spent more time there than I should probably admit. A great bar with a nice array of spirits and the best staff in town (yeah, I said it), the Barret also serves as a pool hall. What more could you want?
Well, if it’s live music, Uncle Pleasant’s is the place for you. Uncle P’s regularly showcases local and national acts that range from metal to hip hop to singer-songwriters to indie and punk rock. Lisa’s Oak Street Lounge showcases local and regional bands, while a recent newcomer to Germantown’s live music venues, the Pour Haus, features local and touring bands, karaoke and the occasional spelling bee. The new Nach Bar is also a place you should check out soon.
Then there’s Seidenfaden’s. During the week it serves admirably as a neighborhood joint, but as day turns to night, Seidenfaden’s attracts a younger crowd, especially on the weekends.
The overriding connection between Germantown’s watering holes, besides geography, seems to be cheap drinks and fried food, which means Germantown is quintessential Louisville. —Jay Ditzer
I Love the Highlands
Where do I start? Everyone loves the Highlands. It’s our Beale Street. It’s the place to show off to out-of-town visitors. And it’s a place void of corporate interference, save for a few restaurants and fast-food joints. The Highlands bars are a diverse lot. If you want pizza, you go to Wick’s. If you want fish and chips, you go to Molly Malone’s. If you want to dance, you go to Flanagan’s Ale House or Willy’s. But if you’d rather catch up with friends over a few pitchers, you go to Dundee Tavern or Shenanigans. If you want to take in some loud live music, you get in line at Phoenix Hill Tavern. Or if you want to confine yourself in a room with only a pool table and a jukebox, you head for Za’s Pizza.
It certainly has its characters — you’re practically guaranteed an evening of strange debauchery at Cahoots or the Back Door. Whereas if you drop in at O’Shea’s or the Outlook Inn, you pretty much know what you’re getting into.
On down Bardstown Road, toward the expressway, you hit even more personality. The Highlands Tap Room offers live music every night, and Cumberland Brews keeps its taps flowing with delicious micro-brewed beer. If you haven’t tried the Cajun fare at Big Dave’s, you’re truly missing out; and the same goes for Bambi Bar’s burgers. Kern’s Korner is a favorite spot for its neighborhood regulars, while Left Field Lounge offers great specials every day — and it’s open the latest, or at least it always seems that way.
I love the Highlands for many reasons — a few I can put into words. Here’s what I know: The cheese fries at Cahoots are life-altering. You can sneak into O’Shea’s without paying a cover before 9 p.m. Maryanne at the Back Door makes the strongest drinks in Louisville, and if you’ve never experienced closing time there, you’re not as adventurous as you think you are. The Dundee Dip at Dundee Tavern is almost as yummy as its staff. I’ve got my own mug hanging up at the Highlands Tap Room, and their TV room in the back makes a great spot to run to if your power goes out during “Grey’s Anatomy.”
The Highlands rules. You know it, I know it, your mom knows it. See you around. —Sara Havens
I Love Lyndon
The East End of Louisville is the fastest growing region in our city — expensive town homes are monopolizing the pastoral region of Old Henry, monster outdoor shopping areas like the Summit and Springhurst are a stone’s throw away from each other, and the Tinseltown theater complex now babysits adolescents until 10 p.m. when their mommies pull up in their SUVs.
So where can a working stiff go to loosen his collar and grab a beer?
Enter Lyndon. This area is more ethnically diverse than its neighbors and the most down to earth — this is where the first-, second- and third-shifters, blue and white collars alike, go to grab a beer, relax and maybe shoot some pool. Four great bars — Willow Lake Tavern, R Place Pub, Joe’s Older Than Dirt and Jimmy and Richie’s — welcome the humble, the over-worked and the thirsty.
Willow Lake Tavern sits right across the tracks from Anchorage and is the place to karaoke on a Friday night or catch up on sports in front of a wide-screen. Twentysomethings kick back with sixtysomethings as they spin everything from rock ’n’ roll to country.
R Place Pub is a proud Irish watering hole in Lyndon. If you are serious about your pool game, this is the place to go. You can also take in a game of darts, shuffleboard and even sand volleyball in the summer. Or you can perch yourself at the long bar and pass the time chatting up the friendly locals.
The most appealing aspect of Jimmy and Richie’s is that it feels like a Mom-and-Pop’s. If you like to sip your beer in low-key, cozy places, this is the place. The smallest of the four, J&R’s manages to squeeze in two pool tables, dining tables and a small area for karaoke. The crowd is a bit more experienced, but that’s not a bad thing if you’re looking for a quiet corner.
Joe’s Older Than Dirt’s crowd, however, is always a toss-up. One section of this huge tavern looks like a hunting lodge, literally with a tree growing through the center. And the outdoor area — open year-round — houses four pool tables and several picnic tables scattered about. In cold weather, a large circus tent incubates the area, while in the summer the outdoor atmosphere resembles the kind of a party Tim McGraw would sing about. —Claudia Olea
I Love New Albany
Most Louisvillians rarely cross the great divide that is the Ohio River. But I grew up in Southern Indiana, and I’m here to tell you something: Hoosiers know how to drink.
I’m not just talking about Rich O’s, the well-known center of the Kentuckiana beer universe. There are at least 15 places to get your drink on, and that’s just in and around New Albany alone: You’ve got Steinert’s Tavern, with sports on TV and/or live music pretty much all week; you’ve got the Grant Line Road strip that includes the aforementioned Rich O’s plus The Menu, Kelsey’s Bar & Grill and Jack’s; you’ve got the well-traveled Sam’s Food and Spirits (try the steak bites); and you’ve got the downtown watering holes on Market Street.
And at the edge of Floyd County on State Street, there’s Tucker’s American Favorites Bar & Grill, which also serves as an Indianapolis Colts fan bar, and Sammy O’s, just up the road on Paoli Pike, that serves the country-music crowd much like Jim Porter’s and Coyote’s do in Louisville.
I ventured to New Albany recently with a couple of friends in search of places we’d never been, and Michelle Voyles, the friendly bartender at Tucker’s, not only sold us a couple of $1.50 longnecks but also pointed us toward Mac’s Hideaway.
Tucked into a small strip-mall complex just off Charlestown Road, Mac’s might be the Back Door of New Albany, as it’s open until 3 a.m. nightly, has plenty of seating, plus video games, pool tables, pub food and more. The specials when we were there included $1.75 domestic drafts and $2 margaritas.
Bartender Jenny Huffines said Mac’s is a regular spot even for some Louisvillians. “It’s kind of close-knit here,” she said. “Everyone knows everyone. And if you don’t, you feel like you do.”
But it was Hugh E. Bir’s downtown on Market Street in New Albany that really captured our hearts. This is like a Germantown gathering spot, brimming with chatty locals and cheap beer. The $1 Bud and Bud Light drafts were enticing enough, but Kenny Rouck, the friendly bartender who claims to work 11 a.m.-3:30 a.m. shifts daily, also helped us feel at home in the unfamiliar environs.
And at 10 p.m. on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays, owner Hugh E. Bir (yes, that’s a real person) and his band play live music, ranging from Hank Williams to Gordon Lightfoot — on a stage that appears to be fashioned from an old shuffleboard table.
Keep the frosty ones coming, Kenny. I may never go home again. —Kevin Gibson
I Love Old Louisville
I live in Old Louisville, but I rarely drink there. Partly, it’s because compared to most LEO staffers, I’m Donnie freaking Osmond (really, you put the editorial staff in a bar, and it’s like “Leaving Las Vegas”). But also, I harbored the popular misconception that Old Louisville bars were brimming with frat boys chanting “chug, chug, chug” and gussied-up teens testing out their new fake IDs.
What can I say? I was wrong. Frat boys do their chugging in their frat houses, teens try their fake IDs in the Highlands, and Old Louisville has a selection of relatively low-key and agreeable local bars.
The most local, most modest of the Old Lou bars is probably The Tavern. You can’t get much less pretentious than a place with a deep fryer next to the bar. And while it might have a distinct olfactory impact on the ambiance, for many, nothing beats welcoming bartenders, $1.45 drafts during happy hour and some fried shrimp.
The Magnolia Bar and Grill, a.k.a. The Mag Bar, may lack a bit of the Tavern’s unpretentiousness. This is the place to go for if you are in your 20s or early 30s and just came from either ear X-tacy or a tattoo parlor. It’s darker than the Bat Cave and boasts one of the best jukes around; when I was last there, they were alternating between the Stones and Hank Sr., but they can also call upon the Pogues or the Smiths in a bind. It’s the local equivalent of a Brooklyn hipster bar.
It’s easy to think of The Rudyard Kipling as mostly a music venue and host of live theater, but it’s also the only neighborhood bar I can think of whose signature dish is not wings, but crepes. It’s in a historic house in this most historical part of Louisville, and has those aforementioned crepes, but The Rud is far from elitist. It’s just a neighborhood bar with some actual personality.
In the area, The Granville Inn can be considered student-friendly, but it’s not like people are wearing red body paint and giant “No. 1” foam hands. They have a pool table, a juke with Black Sabbath, better-than-average bar food and reasonable prices.
But if a taste of college life is really what you’re looking for, there’s always the Cardinal Hall of Fame Café, where red body paint and chants of “UK sucks” are entirely appropriate. —Alan Abbott
I Love Shively
It’s not just lively in Shively, it’s downright dively. Small, unassuming neighborhood pubs are scattered about Dixie Highway, which intersects this classic South End borough. The bars offer a place to relax after the daily grind. The lights are low and the music stays in the background, at least during the happy hour shift. But when the sun goes down, all bets are off.
D.T.’s Bar & Grill occupies a building that used to be a bank. But once you step inside, you leave the rigid feel of suburbia at the door. Prices are cheap and friendly banter is free. A frosted mug goes for 90 cents, and a decent meal will only set you back six bucks, if that. Nascar is the name of the game here, and No. 8 and No. 3 are the clear favorites.
Same goes for Hacker’s Sports Bar & Grill, but this large establishment offers a little more than TV and gossip. Pool tables, video games and darts help fill the large dining area.
If Hacker’s is the largest bar in Shively, Ott’s Tavern would have to be the smallest. Not small in personality, though. This little pub tucked behind the Holiday Inn on Dixie has been holding court since 1964 and offers to-go options for beer and liquor. Bartender Wendy is always quick with a joke, sometimes laughing with her favorite regulars, but most of the time at them. “That’s just Wendy being Wendy,” one patron said as he shrugged off her insults.
While Ott’s is holding steady 43 years old, Bud’s Tavern is 72 years young and just received a much-needed facelift. If you haven’t been in awhile, you must see for yourself. The same motley crew of personalities have reclaimed their bar stools — be sure to say hi to Blind Larry and Kevin for me — but the new ownership has restored dignity and cleanliness to this Dixie dive.
Perhaps one of the most unusual bars in Shively is Bentley’s on Crums Lane. Bentley’s used to be Slammers, but the address is all these two have in common. Bentley’s could very well be situated downtown with the Main Street nightclubs. The interior is fancy — at least 11 flat screens line the walls and the entire establishment, including the bathrooms, is spotless. But the upscale feel doesn’t spill over to the prices — you can get a domestic bottle for a mere $1.50.
Shively: You can’t beat it, so join it! —Sara Havens
I Love St. Matthews
Saint Matthew was one of Jesus’ 12 apostles, so I was surprised to see on his resume that he spent time as a “publican.” Now, in those days, that probably meant he was a tax collector. But in our days, he would have been an owner of a bar. And something just tells me his bar — Matthew’s Holy Spirits & Suds? — would’ve fit in perfectly among the handful of pubs sprinkled throughout the suburb of St. Matthews. (I also read that Matthew was often depicted in Christian art as a winged man, ironically making him the first Wing Man, in bar speak, of course.)
All roads lead to the largest concentration of bars in St. Matthews — and by “all roads,” I literally mean all roads (Breckenridge, Frankfort Avenue, Shelbyville Road, Lexington … should I continue?). And in this one area, there’s a bar for any mood you can muster. If it’s home-brewed beer you’re after, Bluegrass Brewing Company can help quench your thirst. If you’re looking to hear some local live music, Dutch’s Tavern and Gerstle’s Place is the place to listen. Brendan’s and Saints offer an upscale college bar atmosphere, if that makes sense, while Buffalo Wild Wings caters to a constant crowd clamoring for sports, hot wings and cold draught beer. Newest addition Diamond Pub & Billiards makes a fine place to shoot pool and sing karaoke, not at the same time, though. And tucked discreetly on Bauer Avenue is ZaZoo’s, which is a catch-all bar featuring low prices, live music and great grub.
If you can rip yourself away from this notable cluster, you’ll discover a hotbed of nightlife activities, if you know where to look. Of course you can’t bring up St. Matthews without mentioning the chic atmosphere of Jack’s Lounge, which is connected to Equus Restaurant and was one of the first in this area to go non-smoking. Business casual is the name of the game at Rick’s Ferrari Grille, a popular neighborhood staple that returned to Chenoweth Square a few years ago.
Others worth a shout-out include Oliver’s Billiards & More, where you can always find a game of pool seven nights a week, and Havana Rumba, which supposedly has the best mojitos in town. And finally, several chains score points for their fun and extensive drink menus — Bahama Breeze, Fox & Hound, the Cheesecake Factory and Hooters all come to mind.
Thank God for St. Matthews! —Sara Havens
I Love the West End
When you think of partying in the West End, most of us think less of parties-to-be and more of parties-that-used-to-be — like West Broadway during Derby (thanks, Mr. Abramson). But the West End, especially that stretch of West Broadway starting shortly after 20th Street that forms its main artery, is a vibrant part of town. From hole-in-the-wall social clubs (what a friend calls “joints”) to local legends like Billy’s, the West End is a good, unpretentious — but rarely dingy — place to get tanked.
To state the obvious, it’s primarily a black neighborhood, and I am only slightly more soulful than Bob Newhart, but it would be ridiculous to let that prevent me from taking in the scene.
With a co-worker from there in tow to show me around, I unsurprisingly found the bar scene in the West End welcoming and happening. Not only that, it’s thrifty as hell — you can get buzzed with pocket change and still have money left over for some quality bar food.
When we walked into Syl’s Lounge, the bartender had turned to two patrons who were rather innocently arguing about politics and basketball and reminded them that Syl’s is like “Cheers.” Add that friendly attitude to the occasional smooth jazz on the juke, and you have a relaxed atmosphere. Syl’s is a classic neighborhood bar.
In places big enough to dance in, the great dividing line in the West End tends to be music. With hip-hop nights, you tend to get a younger crowd — like those at Joe’s Palm Room. These places usually have DJs spinning hip hop and contemporary R&B. Jazz, blues and classic R&B get older crowds — a bit more relaxed than the young’uns, but still talkative and lively.
A classic pool and dart hall, the 24th Street Blues Lounge caters to that older crowd. The same goes for Billy’s Place, a Louisville institution. It’s big and bright, with lots of mirrors, a nice dance floor and a steady stream of blues and R&B acts stopping through. Despite its size, it also has a neighborhood bar feel — the proprietor even gives dance lessons on weeknights. By reputation, Billy’s soul food beats the hell out of commonplace pub grub. And I can vouch for their knee-buckling stiff drinks. —Alan Abbott