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March 7, 2006

Nightlife: Cheap drinks, singing celebs no laughing matter at Joker’s

If I said I knew of a neighborhood bar with good, cheap drinks and pool tables in the back, you’d probably remind me that we’ve already covered the Back Door and its wondrous atmosphere. Little did I know, Joker’s Bar & Grill in the South End had the cheap booze ($1.75 domestics, $3 mixed drinks) and everyone-knows-everyone feel, but with two celebs to boot. Stepping inside is kind of like taking your shoes off at home — you quit being pretentious and stop taking things seriously. Joker’s gives you the feeling that even if there’s a young and old divide, you could talk to a stranger and, by night’s end, be good buddies. Booth and table seating, strategically placed away from the smokers near the bar, greets you just inside the door. Past that and a giant poster of Dale Jr. is a spacious dance floor that welcomes frisky people on their third bucket of brew. Next comes the bar situated along the left wall, opposite more single-table seating. Two steps further and you’re at the grill portion of the bar, a jumping kitchen with an overhead menu that reminds you of a Catholic school refreshment stand — in a good way. The pool tables reside at the back of the bar, making Joker’s a pretty sizable watering hole. Local and part-time pool hustler Kenny Ray explained Joker’s appeal: “I’ve been coming here since I turned 21. The tables are cheap, we can always get one and my friends like it.” Smelling like a bowling alley is rarely worth it these days. If you’re a regular to the Bardstown Road scene, you know how it feels to get home and strip off all your clothes because they’d stink up your sheets like an ashtray-cleaning bar towel in its third night of use. Instead of recounting a night of hijinks and fair-priced fare, the morning after only reinforces your dislike for standing a lot and dropping $3 for a bottled American swill. Luckily, for your money Joker’s isn’t a pricey smokefest and is every bit worth the trek out to PRP (Pleasure Ridge Park for non-natives).The events of a recent Saturday night helped explain the rash of Elvis sightings that continue to fascinate the American public. If I hadn’t seen him first, the unmistakable sounds of Kentucky Rain pourin’ down would’ve tipped me off that an Elvis connoisseur was on the karaoke mic. Clad in a black leather jacket and blue jeans, the signature forehead curl told me that this was no run-of-the mill impersonator. As I learned, the PRP Elvis had a run-in with The King at age 5 in his own home. His father was a training instructor in the military when Elvis was stationed with the 3rd Armored Division. From the unlikely meeting, the PRP Elvis was heavily influenced. While belting out lyrics, the resemblance was uncanny, down to the Tupelo drawl and slicked back hair. Not to be outdone, another famous face waited for his turn on the mic. Looking every bit like Stone Cold of WWE fame and going by nearly the same name (“Stone Dogg”), the night’s second local celeb proved he had a softer side, dropping some heartfelt country music goodness. Along with his sister Spitfire and buddy King J.D., Joker’s adopted family feel gushed out.Jeans were stretched to the limit, bladders not far behind, and the requisite guy that takes the “Electric Slide” too seriously was also in the house. His gyrations taunted me, as if to say, “I can shake my ass harder than you, and somewhat in rhythm with other people dancing in formation.” Maybe I just read too much into the whole thing. The Cards had just finished dropping a heartbreaker to ’Cuse, but spirits remained high throughout the bar. It could’ve been the potent drinks or just a love for karaoke, a week-long affair at the bar. “Smurf Piss” was a nice house drink, a combination of Malibu Rum and some unknowns that blended to form a miniature aquamarine sea. Should you require sustenance, the cheese sticks are pretty good; I didn’t get adventurous with the grilled tuna steak, but kudos to the owner for even giving real food a shot. If you’ve got a pool game, bring it, but 20 bucks will get you grill grub and pretty sauced. Joker’s is a nice place to toss back a few and change up a Highlands/Fourth Street Live routine for a weekend. BY MATT MATTINGLYleo@leoweekly.com