Welcome to Havana-ville: Louisville is a mecca of a fresh and evolving culinary and beverage scene

I’m well-aware that by the time this issue has been on newsstands for a few days, most of LEO Land will be convinced that I have a major girl-crush on Ashley “Smashley” Towning, local bartendress of at Fontleroy’s. I’ve mentioned her inexorable talents and presence in the cocktail scene before, I know. And now, not only has she proclaimed her stake as a Goddess of Toothsome Intoxicants, but she’s bringing ardent passion and drive with a new and unique concept to the Church of Spirits. Red Lane Jane, Smashley’s baby, is the culmination of her experience in the bar industry, and the historical allure of the birth of all-things-libation — it is a new pop-up cocktail soirée that will take place each month (or seasonally) at a different bar, with a different theme. I was fortunate enough to attend Red Lane Jane’s commencement event, Welcome to Havana, at Fontleroy’s, and ayyy papi, I’m ready for next month.

Louisville is a mecca of a fresh and evolving culinary and beverage scene: We all know this. But what if there were a themed, pop-up-style event that showcased craft cocktails and paid homage to these respective themes through mixology and light bites? I’d say Louisvillians would clamor to attend, and we should. “Every Red Lane Jane night out will be one full of new memories and tastes,” said Towning. “The goal is not only to invite you out to eat, but [for you] to experience something new.” Red Lane Jane’s inaugural party took place at Fontleroy’s, but upon entering the southern eatery after hours, my friend, Sam, and I were immediately intrigued. Red Lane Jane had completely transformed the room from contemporary Kentucky to Prohibition-era Cuban nightclub.

We were greeted by a handsome, bow-tie-clad host — Spenser — who, for the mere price of $45, handed us five tickets and explained the process. One of the tickets was for the raffle. “Tear it off, and place it in the raffle box over there,” he said, pointing toward the far end of the bar where gift boxes encircled ambient candles and tropical flowers. We later found out that the ticket entered us to win a themed gift, such as a box of Cuban cigars, or a round of shots for yourself and four friends. The remaining four tickets were numbered one through four, each representing a cocktail in sequence. If we had a ticket with a large black star on the back, we would win a vintage piece of glassware in accordance with the theme. Spencer also reminded us that light Cuban fare was available and would be replenished each hour, ranging from mofongo to plantains to carnitas. $45 for four craft cocktails and food? This is borderline impossible in our current restaurant climate, and, “the ticket price will never be over $45,” Towning told us.

Meandering around the room was like traveling through time, and Red Lane Jane curated each and every corner with craft and detail. From the antique ram skulls adorning tables, to the Virgin Mary candles, salsa music and smell of cilantro permeating the neon-lit air, I felt as if any moment I’d look over and find Nucky Thompson and Sally Wheet brokering a deal with Bacardi rum, as the end of Prohibition came near. Tiny remnants and facts of Havana history were laid on tables, including a guestbook with photos of Cuban cantinas and, often, Ernest Hemingway indulging amidst them. Sam and I made our way through our drink tickets, snacking occasionally, until we reached the culmination of Towning’s Cuban cocktail evolution, the “Varadero Vixen,” which was our favorite. A “gelatin dessert fizz,” said the menu, with Kaffir lime juice, pear-infused vodka, lavender water, agave nectar, Prairie gin, Bacardi, coconut puree, fresh lime, pineapple juice, orange flower water and sugarcane syrup, garnished with Angostura bitters and a pineapple leaf. A beautiful and delightfully-transcendent nod to the past, and an ode to Towning’s talent.

The term, Red Lane, was coined by cowboys, referring to the sting we all know of a whiskey shot making its way down the throat, while Jane was a common term for a “working girl that had her wits,” said Towning (i.e., Calamity Jane). Thus, Red Lane Jane was born — Towning’s interest in the history of cocktails spawned the idea to “pay respects behind the bar with creativity … bringing these cocktails to life.” Red Lane Jane’s future pop-up concept ideas include Gleaming the Cube, a nod to psychedelic California surf culture, and Strange Magic, evoking the voodoo and underground history of New Orleans. While we aren’t sure when or where the next RLJ soiree will be (we plebeians shall follow their Facebook page for updates and ticket sales), I’d venture to say the crowd and the concept will be thick with distinction, and a paramount uniqueness I hope all of Louisville can experience at one time or another.