Corbett’s makes casual statement with addition of Jack’s lounge

It was three years in the making, and then it happened in less than three days.

After lengthy consideration about making over his fine-dining restaurant, Corbett’s: An American Place, into a more casual spot, owner Dean Corbett made the switch in under 72 hours earlier this week.

Well, at least partially. One of the city’s longstanding gastronomy temples is now one half quiet dining room, one half casual lounge; and the latter half bears some of the name of its St. Matthews sibling, Jack’s Lounge. Under the new shared brand of Corbett’s An American Place/Jack’s at Corbett’s, all visitors will share a single menu while having a choice of spaces in which to enjoy their food and drink.

“I’ve thought seriously about doing this as sales in the fine-dining segment have declined,” said Dean Corbett, owner and chef. The new restaurant bears a similar model to his first restaurant, Equus, originally next door to Jack’s Lounge, until customers expressed interest in having two experiences. Convinced, Corbett opened the wall between them, allowing guests to move freely between both.

Yet this evolution at Corbett’s, however, was a financial decision, he said.

“It’s clear to me that a change in direction had to be made for sales to grow,” he said. “The era of three- to four-hour meals are over—or at least they’re exception and not the rule.”

Fans of Corbett’s will recognize the leftward space as unchanged: white tablecloths, cushy seating, candlelight and more formal service. On the Jack’s side, however, dining tables have been removed and replaced with coffee tables, cushy chairs and couches. More TVs will be added for those who want to watch games. When weather permits, Jack’s relaxed service will extend to the veranda and patio.

The menu will blend many favorites from Equus/Jack’s Lounge, such as Yankee pot roast, fried chicken, shrimp Jenkins, parmesan-crusted halibut, mushroom fumé, calamari and nachos and pizza. Those eager for more premium bites can expect choices such as prime filet mignon and lobster tails.

A view from the bar area at Jack's Lounge, within Corbett's: An American Place. | Photo by Jerry Zegart

A view from the bar area at Jack’s Lounge, within Corbett’s: An American Place. | Photo by Jerry Zegart

“We’ve taken the best of what’s worked in both spots and married them in a relaxed format,” Corbett said. “Frankly, after I decided to pull the trigger, I thought I should have done it sooner.”

In 2007, Corbett, then-chef-owner of Equus/Jack’s Lounge opened his namesake dream restaurant to both rave reviews and a nation feeling the onset of the Great Recession. Committed to his vision of owning one of the city’s best spots, Corbett pushed ahead, winning numerous awards along the way from local and national press, as well as AAA’s Four Diamond Award. The restaurant eventually became the host site of the annual Bourbon & Bowties fundraiser for the Kosair Children’s Hospital Foundation. The event has grown from 15 chefs serving 300 attendees to more than 40 feeding crowds of 1,200, and has raised more than $1 million for KCHF.

Over the past five years, as fine dining sales began drying up across the United States, Corbett sought the advice of an old friend, Danny Meyer, one of New York City’s most celebrated restaurateurs and owner of several high-end spots. Meyer was friendly and frank, telling Corbett the shift toward relaxed dining was a force not to resist, but one to accept and adjust to.

“He said I could lead the charge (from fine to casual dining) or follow it in Louisville,” Corbett said. “And he was right, of course, that this is the direction the country is leaning.”

Last year, the Oakroom, one of the city’s most formal dining rooms, relaxed a bit by moving a small bar and cocktail lounge into the space, in addition to adding small plates and lowering some menu prices. This year the Germantown Crafthouse–already a casual restaurant–rebooted with a sports bar concept that is doing well. And further down Goss Ave., Eiderdown also backed off its sort-of-serious gastrobpub theme to recreate itself as a casual neighborhood spot.

Several years ago, Lilly’s Bistro relaxed its food and mood, a move owner Kathy Cary told me two years ago was “one of the smartest things I’ve ever done for my business. Who can blame people for wanting to relax with their meal?”

As Corbett demonstrated this week, that logic’s hard to argue against.

Editor’s Note: For more photos by Jerry Zegart, including a look at the new menu, click here.

Drinking Fehr’s with Jeff Faith; The Ideal Journey of Jenn Desjardins

It’s been an exceptionally eventful week for the EatDrinkTalk crew, as we spent a delicious week scoping out the city’s restaurant and bar scene to bring you this excellent podcast. In the news, we start with word that a big change is coming to Corbett’s, the fine dining destination in the East End. Chef Dean Corbett is taking a page from his Jack’s Lounge location in St. Matthews and offering a new menu and concept called Jack’s Lounge at Corbett’s. In Clifton, we learned that the Hilltop Tavern is temporarily closed, thanks to faulty plumbing. We’ll tell you what you need to know about the Bourbon Classic and the American Brandy Dinner in town, and fill you in on an innovative program at Copper & Kings to develop and train bartenders.

In our popular favorites segment, Steve recommends the papadzules at the Mayan Cafe and a rare Knob Creek barrel pick he recommends keeping in the freezer. Rick’s experience at the Gravy Cup competition left him satisfied and full, but he chose the Con Huevos version of the Southern staple as his pick of the week, along with a cold Fehr’s Beer at Akasha Brewing in NuLu.

Speaking of Fehr’s, the first interview of the show is with Jeff Faith, who acquired rights to the brand three years ago and is now brewing Fehr’s in Louisville for the first time in four decades. He’s also an airplane mechanic and a local musician who plays several times a week at various venues. Jenn Desjardins’ story is an inspiring one — she worked her way through school in the hospitality industry, and now heads up the Ideal Bartender program at Copper & Kings.

We’ve got all that and plenty more at the web site, so download the podcast and check us out online.


Jenn Desjardins


Jeff Faith


Drunk driver’s bad choice leaves Celeste Downey injured, out of work 4-6 months

“I’ve always been—and I kind of hate to say it, a mother figure with my friends—but people perceive me that way at work, so I guess I am,” says Celeste Downey.

Or perhaps better put, the voice of reason when people have had too much to drink, the friend who begs friends not to drive while intoxicated.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve paid for people to cab home without expecting anything in return,” says Downey, a bartender at Against the Grain and a whiskey guardian at Angel’s Envy Distillery. After a close friend was killed by an underage drunk driver several years ago, she resolved to prevent it as best she could by “hiding people’s keys from them or have them sleep at my house.

Celeste Downer and her daughter, Lydia O'Renick.

Celeste Downer and her daughter, Lydia O’Renick.

“That’s why it’s so difficult to understand why this happened to me.”

Early on the morning of Feb. 4, Downey left a bar and headed for home in the front passenger seat of a hired Uber car. As the late-model Honda she rode in entered the intersection of Main St. and Wenzel St., a drunk driver in a car coming from the opposite direction T-boned the Honda on Downey’s side of the vehicle. Its door was crushed inward 2 feet, necessitating emergency responders cut Downey from the wreckage. (The Uber driver was not seriously injured.)

Within 20 minutes, she was out of the car and at University Hospital, where the trauma team determined she had a broken femur, a fractured hip and clavicle, plus an array of cuts and bruises. Emergency surgery was required to repair the femur, which included the installation of a titanium rod into its center.

Uninjured, the drunk driver was taken to jail. (Downey’s lawyer requested she not discuss many details of the accident.)

After five days in the hospital, Downey was discharged and sent home to recover. Unable to walk for weeks and with medical bills adding up, for now, to $250,000, Downey is entering physical therapy and still trying to take it all in. She’ll have plenty of time to consider the events of that night, as it’s likely she’ll not return to work for four to six months.

Downey's broken right femur x-rayed after the crash.

Downey’s broken right femur x-rayed after the crash.

“Saying don’t do it, don’t drive drunk, isn’t working,” Downey said. In the days just following the accident, she became privately angry as she lay in her hospital bed thinking about it. Then the thought occurred to her, “it could be one of my friends who did this to me. … The whole thing … woke me up to a lot of stuff.”

Such as the fact that she’s still alive, will recover and to continue being as mother of her 6-year-old daughter, Lydia O’Renick. That her boyfriend and countless others have visited and moved to support her financially: a GoFundMe page has been set up to raise funds; and APRON, a local non-profit that helps restaurant workers facing health-related crises like Downey’s, is covering several of her monthly expenses.

APRON approved a grant for a sum of money that will cover my rent, phone, car insurance, my daughter in childcare—it’s a lot,” Downey said. She has medical insurance, but she’s not certain yet what it will cover. Of the friend who launched the GoFundMe page, “her goal was to raise $1,000, but in 48 hours, there was $1,700 given by 12 different people. … People have signed up for a meal train, bringing me dinner every night since I can’t cook for myself.  I don’t know how many times I’ve cried over people’s generosity.”

And over the needlessness of the accident. Downey said she understands why, in the past, that people were reluctant to call a traditional taxi—“it was expensive and took forever to get one”—but with services like Uber and Lyft, drivers are more numerous, meaning fares and wait times are far lower. Still, she adds, there’s ultimately no excuse for driving drunk.

“Getting an Uber is easy, just a couple of clicks of a button on my phone, and about $7 to get home from any place in Louisville,” she said. “Seven dollars. That’s it. If you don’t have $7, don’t go out drinking.”

Eat Drink Talk will follow Downey’s progress with follow-up stories. In the meantime, if you want to help financially, visit the GoFundMe and APRON links above.

* Eat Drink Talk is a supporter of APRON. We encourage you to join us in this cause.

The Surprising Fourth Street Live! Strategy — Going Local

For all its success as a dining and nightspot destination, a significant number of locals still refuse to frequent the bars and restaurants at Fourth Street Live!, dismissing the 13-year-old entertainment district as a place for out-of-towners.

Cordish, the Baltimore company that owns and manages the complex, has adopted a purposeful strategy to change all that and bring locals to its 11 restaurants and seven bars. Part of that strategy has been to recruit local owners and operators, including its big win with the recent announcement that Chef Edward Lee will open Whiskey Dry in the spring.

About a year ago, Cordish hired Ed Hartless as its top local executive, who says he spent much of his first year getting to know Lee and helping convince him to open in the complex.


Ed Hartless at Fourth Street Live!

“I think the second week I was here I met Ed Lee. We started talking about the possibility of him bringing a restaurant to Fourth Street Live! and our direction, which was to try to get somebody local,” Hartless said in a recent EatDrinkTalk podcast interview. “His personality was fantastic and we became friends. It took us a while to find something that would work. We’re glad that at the end of it we came to an agreement.”

Hartless, whose 25-year restaurant career includes opening 22 restaurants in the San Diego airport, acknowledges he’s seen and heard talk about some locals’ aversion to the complex.

“In my short time here, I think a lot of people have that stigma because of the Convention Center,” he said. “There are a lot of out-of-town tourists. A lot of time tourists do want something that’s recognizable and that’s where the chain restaurants do fit.

“We’re also seeing people’s habits changing a little bit in that people who go to cities they’re not accustomed to they do like to search out and find something with local flair. That’s why, with bringing Junior Bridgeman in with Birracibo, and now with Edward Lee, we’re going down that path of bringing in more of the local flair. I think there needs to be a good balance.”

With more than a year left in which the Convention Center will be closed for construction, and with the 2018 opening of the Omni Hotel and other downtown developments, Hartless said he’s discussed with current tenants the importance of appealing to locals, and he’s spearheading an effort to bring more local festivals and events to Fourth Street.

“We definitely are going after locals,” he said. “As downtown starts redeveloping, we’ve got Whiskey Row getting ready, the Omni, NuLu is growing, I can see there could be a resurgence of locals coming back downtown because there’s so much more to offer. In conversations with all of our tenants, we are becoming more strategic when it comes to how we market, going a little more grass roots.”

Hartless believes the business climate for local operators to come downtown is changing, and he’s intent on finding ones that fit in. Certainly there have been plenty of restaurants that have opened and closed there in the past.

“We’re looking. We’re a little bit more choosy,” he said. “We really look for great operators now. You really have to have great operators to keep a restaurant sustainable. And we will leave a space vacant until we find somebody who has a proven track record, like Edward Lee, like Guy Fieri, like Junior Bridgeman, those are the last three we’ve put in.”

To overcome the anticipated decline in convention business, tenants at Fourth Street are turning their focus to locals. Hartless pointed to the upcoming Pints for Parkinson’s charity event as an example. Last year, it was hosted by Gordon Biersch Brewery. This April 19, the event will take over the entire complex, with Gordon Biersch continuing to play host.

On April 1, the complex is partnering with the Louisville Urban League to host a Hospitality Industry Job Fair, with a goal of attracting up to 400 job seekers to fill hospitality openings in downtown restaurants and hotels.

“It’s a way to bring notice that there are jobs to be had in Louisville and we’re opening the doors to let them come in,” said Hartless. “It’s not an online application – it’s going to be face-to-face, I can hire you right now.”




Ideal Bartender School to train and boost Louisville’s hospitality ranks

Nearly two dozen hotels are planned for construction in Louisville, and at least that many new restaurants open annually.

Yet the local labor pool is shallower than ever and, many would argue, less skilled than needed for a city with a booming hospitality industry.

Joe and Lesley Heron, owners of Copper & Kings American Brandy Distillery, have a plan to remedy the shortage—behind the bar at least—with the creation of the Ideal Bartender School. The name is inspired by the pre-Prohibition cocktail book, “The Ideal Bartender,” authored by Tom Bullock, a Louisville native and the son of slaves, who went on to gain prominence as a respected mixologist of his day.

This past Wednesday, Bullock’s legacy—made vague by time and minimal records about his life, which stretched from 1873 to 1964—was honored at a reception at Copper & Kings. Historian and local food and drink writer, Michael Jones, shared the results of his research into Bullock’s life. His service industry career began as a bellboy at The Pendennis Club, where he eventually became a popular bartender. In 1905, he was recruited for the same post at the long-gone Kenton Club, and later moved to work at the prestigious St. Louis Country Club.

The Ideal Bartender

The Ideal Bartender

In 1917, he published “The Ideal Bartender,” the first cocktail book published by a black bartender in America. Jones said its 173 cocktail recipes are an amalgam of originals and classics that always reflect Bullock’s own twists. (The once-out-of-print work was republished by Greg Boehm, founder of, and is available by clicking here.)

Sadly, his trade—in a public sense, anyway—disappeared with national Prohibition in 1920, and little is known about his work thereafter. Even Jones’ initial and ongoing efforts revealed little else about this influential man, though he did discover a grandson of the man who still lives in Louisville.

It’s in that spirit that the Herons want to see more Bullocks in this city, not only to bolster the bartending ranks here, they want to give a helping hand to men and women who are economically disadvantaged, but who want to learn the trade as a means of good paid employment. At the event—which took place 100 years to the day after Bullock’s book was published—they announced the creation of the Ideal Bartender School.

The 14-week, intensive training course will include 3-hour sessions that center on beverage history, types, distillation, brewing, practical bartending skills and, of course, cocktail making. The course runs from May 10 through mid-August, and accepts students by application only. (To get an application, at Copper & Kings visitors center,, Jewish Family Career Services Center, The Kentucky Career Center, the Kentuckiana Works College Access Center, the Louisville Urban League.)

“We will have high expectations of students in this program,” Heron said. The goal, he added is to prepare them for “bartending as a means of employment and economic mobility.”

The course, which will be hosted at Copper & Kings, has the support of Brown-Forman, Against the Grain Brewery, Moonshine University and other Louisville spirits and wine professionals. The classes will include homework, require students to study for exams that, as Heron hopes, turn out bartenders fit for hire in Louisville’s hospitality community.

“We need more Tom Bullocks in our community, but that won’t change without someone providing that opportunity,” Heron said in a separate interview. “Les and I see this as a realistic and practical way to help the hospitality industry in Louisville in a long-lasting way. We can’t wait to see it get started.”

What This Town Has for Lent is a Lot of Good Fish Sandwiches

For those who observe Lent, consuming meatless meals on seven consecutive Fridays is an annual ritual that involves the consumption of fish sandwiches. That’s not a bad thing, especially around here.

So here’s what you need to know — this year Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, falls on March 1. Lent lasts 40 days, ending on Easter Sunday, April 16. A lot of people choose to give up something, like a favorite food or a vice (like smoking or drinking) for the 40 days of Lent.

Of course, when it comes to food, the rules are simple — you can’t eat meat on Ash Wednesday or any Friday during Lent. Many of our favorite local restaurants strive to make this sacrifice easy for you by offering special meat-less meals.

Now, if you really want a good fish sandwich in Louisville, you won’t go wrong with any of the spots on this list:

  • Mike Linnig’s
    Address: 9308 Cane Run Road
    Phone Number: 502-937-8888
  • The Fishery
    Address: two locations
  • Patrick O’Shea’s
    Address: 123 W. Main St.
    Phone Number: 502-708-2488
  • Cunningham’s Creekside
    Address: 6301 River Road
    Phone Number: 502-228-3625
  • The Fish House
    Address: 1310 Winter Ave.
    Phone Number: 502-568-2993
  • El Taco Luchador
    Address: 938 Baxter Ave.
    Phone Number: 502-583-0440
  • Rumors
    Address: 12339 Shelbyville Road
    Phone Number: 502-245-0366
  • Hill Street Fish Fry
    Address: 111 E. Hill St.
    Phone Number: 502-636-3474
  • Moby Dick
    Address: Multiple locations
  • Uptown Café
    Address: 1624 Bardstown Road
    Phone Number: 502-458-4212

Of course, some of our favorite spots around town are going all out for Lent. Here’s a few more choices.

Lola’s Fish Sandwich – Looking for a savory sandwich to satisfy your cravings during the Lenten season? Louisville’s newest late-night lounge, Lola at Butchertown Grocery, has you covered. Chef Bobby Benjamin’s famous fish sandwich, featuring a sizable portion of fresh cod hand-battered with Belgium ale, can serve one person looking to gobble down, or be shared with friends. Served on a baguette baked in-house, diners can enjoy this crispy crowd-pleaser with house-made spicy tartar sauce and a side of hand-cut fries.

Butchertown Grocery’s – However you observe lent, Butchertown Grocery offers a variety of brunch, lunch and dinner items to fit your needs. Try chef Bobby Benjamin’s signature hand-rolled gnocchi, New Orleans-inspired BBQ shrimp, fresh beer-battered fish & chips or a crispy florentine panino featuring fried eggplant, peppers, onions, fennel, Capriole Farms goat cheese and toasted pepita pesto – just to name a few.

Decca’s Wood-Grilled Seafood – From wild shrimp to wood-grilled rainbow trout, Decca has a host of options for the Lenten season. Diners at Decca will find vegetarian and meatless items across the menu including octopus, silken tofu, squash ravioli and house made ricotta toast. Chef Annie Pettry loves elevating local produce like heirloom beets, spaghetti squash and oyster mushrooms for a meal that you won’t notice is meatless. Or head down to the Cellar for bar bites like an indulgent grilled cheese, house pickles and caramel corn. Giving up meat for Lent? The bar also offers ‘sober cocktails’ that are fizzy and fun.

Graham’s Café’s Meatless Meals– Looking for somewhere with something for everyone? Visit J. Graham’s Café in the Brown Hotel for its lunch buffet and filling meat-free menu items. From a portabella mushroom burger to a shrimp po’boy or margarita flatbread, the longstanding restaurant makes it easy for eating during Lent. Plus the daily lunch buffet has a bevy of salads, sides and soup sure to please.

Noosh Nosh offers a variety of fish and vegetarian options a plenty from chef Anoosh Shariat. In addition to a weekly Friday night baked trout special during Lent, seafood lovers can choose between tapas including garlic shrimp scampi, smoked salmon bruschetta, Thai or saffron mussels, and stuffed oysters Rockefeller; pasta including linguine with clams; a fish sandwich big enough to share; and entrees including salmon al forno and fish ‘n’ chips. Those looking to stick to vegetarian and vegan items can opt for charred eggplant with house-made pita, the Nosh salad, creamy mushroom soup, veggie pizza, and Bombay sandwich. And don’t forget breakfast – a smoked salmon omelet, variety of crepes, vegetable frittata and tofu scramble are a few of the many meatless dishes sure to hit the

LouVino – Meatless Southern-inspired small plates can be found in the aquatic and veggie sections of the menu. In addition to daily rotating fish specials during Lent, seafood dishes include seared scallops; lobster and crab cakes; and salmon and asiago stuffed gnocchi. Veggie items like the popular warm Brussels sprouts salad; wild mushroom risotto; and garam masala roasted carrots and cauliflower, lentils with sauce soubise and crispy chickpeas are also satisfying meal options. Lunch at the Douglass Hills location includes a variety of meatless salads, blacked redfish tacos, and crispy rock shrimp tacos.

Bristol Bar & Grille – With four locations offering four unique menus throughout town, there’s always a place to enjoy Bristol Bar & Grille’s signature seafood dishes and vegetarian options during Lent. Try Bristol Highlands’ lightly grilled or fried Basa fish sandwich; Bristol Downtown’s crab cakes served with house-made chipotle sauce; Bristol East’s track salmon salad featuring fresh fruit, feta, spinach and almonds; and Bristol Jeffersonville’s shrimp and scallops basilicato served with linguine tossed in a white wine and basil pesto sauce.

Shelby Park May Become City’s Newest Hotspot, Starting with the Safais

If Mike and Medora Safai have their way, Shelby Park will become the city’s newest vibrant neighborhood. They’ve already moved their massive coffee roasting operation, Safai Coffee, to the old Axton Candy and Tobacco Company building at the corner of Shelby and Logan.

Mike and Medora Safai. Photo by Bill Brymer

Mike and Medora Safai. Photo by Bill Brymer

But for Mike Safai, a Type A personality with a visionary attitude, the 61,000 square feet he and Medora purchased is a playground for entrepreneurial businesses, many of which he plans to play a major role in helping to create.

“I like any kind of beverage,” he said during a tour of the new space. “The reason I got into the coffee business was that I loved coffee. I paint. I wanted to open a coffee shop and paint, so it was a hobby.”


packaging has been created for Safai’s bourbon

Well, it turns out that Safai also likes beer, and bourbon. And now that he’s got the space, Safai has sectioned off the area where his brewery will go, and he has a bourbon brand that’s already aging. Mike Safai said the brewery, Wild Hops, is scheduled to open in May. He showed me the shell, a giant corner of the warehouse, where brewing equipment is already installed.

The coffee roasting operation, and their coffee shop in the Highlands, together employ 29 people, a number they expect to grow to 40 in the near future. Safai said the roasting operation does about a million pounds of coffee annually for national and international customers, all packaged into single servings that are placed in hotel rooms. He estimates it adds up to 70 million cups a year, and he said he’s close to closing a deal that could nearly double the output.

While the Safais aren’t ready to announce who it is, a bakery operation has made a commitment to move into another part of the building. During our tour, the Safais showed me space for a Farmer’s Market that could operate year-round. And there’s a 5,700-square foot space Mike is saving for a restaurant operator, with a rooftop view.

“There’s big potential in this part of town,” he says. “We have a brewery, in three years we’ll have bourbon that’s aging right now. Then the coffee, the Farmers’ Market. Our goal is to become an anchor here, like the Mall, so other businesses will move down here and build the neighborhood up.”

For Medora, a native Californian who met her husband on the West Coast, the move to Shelby Park from LaGrange represented a big change in lifestyle, reducing their commute to 1.7 miles. She said part of her inspiration for Shelby Park comes from many trips to the Pike Place Market in Seattle.

A brewery will take this spot. Some equipment is already in place.

A brewery will take this spot. Some equipment is already in place.

“The space is a lot bigger than what we needed,” she said. “So we were looking for ideas for some synergy. We love the idea of people coming in and tasting our coffee, and coming in and experimenting, delving into wonderful things that can happen. We want to create a community within the building. We also want to do tours, so people can see what we do, how we roast and package it. The fun thing is a Farmer’s Market, bringing in fresh produce, prepared foods. We have the space to do it.”

Medora said her husband has never been one to remain idle. Until 1996, he was an aeronautics engineer at UPS, a prestigious and well-paying position, but was always working on other business plans during his days off. They started the coffee business known as Java Express in a former Fotomat store in 1998. They kept outgrowing locations before finding Shelby Park.

“He had four days off AND A.D.D.,” Medora jokes.

“I had a full-time job at UPS but 3-4 days off. We got into coffee.  I brew beer at home, I started making bourbon and I have a bourbon now,” said Mike.

Mike Safai’s drive for success is common in his family. Mike grew up in Iran, and decided in his teens that he wanted to come to America. It wasn’t easy, he said, and loves telling the story of getting help from a young journalist to obtain his VISA. He said he happened upon the young woman, who volunteered to help. She turned out to be Christiane Amanpour, now the famous CNN broadcaster.

He has four siblings in the U.S., all of whom, he says, are successful. One is a nuclear physicist, and another is a physician.

“The reason we succeeded is the way people treat immigrants here,” he said. “They gave us the opportunity to become what we are. I couldn’t do this anyplace else.”



Bourbon Classic returns next week, kicks off with Top Shelf event at Lola

If you’re a bourbon fan and haven’t been to the Bourbon Classic, you’re shorting yourself on a terrific experience. It’s a bucket list item if you like great whiskey, a large and friendly crowd and the chance to meet some of the most famous names in the industry.

This is the fifth edition of this event, held always at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, and this year from Feb. 28 to March 4. In addition to its three marquee events on March 3 and 4—the Friday night Bourbon Classic Cocktail & Culinary Challenge, and Saturday Bourbon Classic University and Bourbon Classic Taste—the Classic features some run-up events earlier in the week that will pique interest for those who might not have time for the weekend show.

The first of which is Top Shelf, held Feb. 28 at Lola at Butchertown Grocery (upstairs at 1076 E. Washington St.) There, guests will enjoy the comingling of Pappy Van Winkle whiskeys and chef Bobby Benjamin’s food. Brand ambassador Preston Van Winkle will be on hand to share stories and pour 10-, 12-, 15- and 20-year expressions of his family’s namesake whiskeys, which will be served along with passed appetizers by Lola and the Butchertown Grocery. On his menu are tastes such as hamachi with pickled jalapeno, Calabrese chiles, bourbon barrel aged white balsamic; pork belly with curry apple sauce; fried chicken oysters with bourbon maple reduction; gnocchi with bourbon mushroom conservera; cauliflower with carrot hummus and bourbon barrel aged white balsamic; and beignets with bacon crème anglaise.

Last year's Top Shelf kick-off event was held at Copper & Kings Distillery in Butchertown. This year's event will be held across the street at Butchertown Grocery's Lola lounge upstairs.

Last year’s Top Shelf kick-off event was held at Copper & Kings Distillery in Butchertown. This year’s event will be held across the street at Butchertown Grocery’s Lola lounge upstairs.

According to Benjamin, some of the appetizers will be done on the spot in a cooking demo, while others will be passed.

“I want the food to be the backup singer to the bourbon,” he said. “When it comes to Pappy Van Winkle, I want it to be the highlight.”

Asked whether beverage manager and mixologist Nic Christiansen had any special cocktails planned, Benjamin declined to share details.

“Oh, she is, but that’s kind of a secret,” said Benjamin, adding that tastes of Elmer T. Lee and Weller 12 will be in the whiskey lineup as well. “Wait ‘til you show up and see what’s up her sleeve. She does with beverages what we do with food—fun things.”

Tickets are $250 per person. Click here to buy them.

On Thursday, March 2, two more pre-events are scheduled: A Bourbon and Culinary Experience with Maker’s Mark and Dickie Brennan at Maker’s Mark Distillery; and the Bottled-in-Bond Anniversary at the Frazier Museum.

The first begins with a bus ride from 21c Museum Hotel to the Loretto distillery. There, host Dickie Brennan and a crew from his three-restaurant company in New Orleans will prepare hors d’oeuvres, dinner and cocktails served during and after a tour of the historic distillery. Expect gumbo ya-ya, crawfish ragout, seared strip steak with green peppercorn bourbon au poivre, and tarte a la Bouille.

Expect excellent bites on Friday and Saturday nights during the Classic.

Expect excellent bites on Friday and Saturday nights during the Classic.

Tickets are $175 per person. Click here to get yours.

The Bottled-In-Bond Anniversary party, hosted by Old Forester, will celebrate the 120th anniversary of the passing of the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897. The brand’s master bourbon specialist and longtime Louisville mixologist, Jackie Zykan, will walk guests through bourbon history, focusing on that significant day when legislators passed a transformative standard of identity to protect some of our nation’s most important spirits.

The evening begins with a cocktail and light appetizer reception, followed by Zykan sharing samples of Old Forester’s Whiskey Row Series to illustrate the brand’s long heritage of bourbon.

Tickets are $65. Click here to get yours.

On Friday, the big party gets rolling with the Bourbon Classic Cocktail & Culinary Challenge. This event sees some of Louisville’s top chefs paired with top mixologists in a whiskey and bites battle like none other. (Personally, I’ve been to several of these, and there’s no better place to be in the city that night than this contest. The food and cocktails are that good.) The goal is to have their small bites and small cocktails voted the night’s best by a panel of judges.

Click here and scroll down to see the evening’s teams and their sponsor distillery. It’s a lot of local talent under one roof.

* Word to the wise: There’s a lot of food and drink at your disposal that night, so take a date and split everything. There’s no way to taste it all safely or comfortably.

(Ticket prices are varied and explained below. Keep reading …)

The following day sees Bourbon Classic University, an afternoon of whiskey and cocktail-centered seminars that includes tastings, pairings and distillers’ panels where you learn lots about the industry.

Session 1 includes four early afternoon events:

  • Women of Bourbon
  • Small Grains Paired with Big Flavors
  • 21st Century Bourbon Cocktails: Modern Classics
  • The History of Bourbon Through Bluegrass Music

The midday general session includes:

  • Up Close and Bourbon: New Masters, New Perspectives

Session 2 includes for late afternoon events:

  • Bourbon Creations
  • Bourbon Legend: Bill Samuels
  • A Pairing of Country Ham, Bourbon & Chocolate (* I’ll be co-leading that session, and it’ll be amazing!)
  • Entertaining with North American Whiskey

The evening’s main event is the Bourbon Classic Taste, where distillers pour endless sips of their whiskeys—neat or on the rocks—and local chefs pour on the small plates. You needn’t plan the evening out anywhere else as there will be lots to consume this night also.

Here’s the price breakdown for Friday and Saturday events.

  • Pricing for Friday and Saturday events are tier and packaged priced as follows:
  • Standard Package for both nights is $269.
  • VIP Package for both nights is $375 and includes all events and access to the VIP lounge where there are special pours, food and lots of cushy furniture on which to rest—because it’s a long day!
  • Friday Only Admission is $135
  • Friday VIP Admission is $195
  • Saturday Only Admission is $155
  • Saturday VIP Admission is $215.

Click on this link to buy tickets.

710-bottle release of Old Rip Van Winkle 25-year-old bourbon set for April

FRANKFORT, Ky.—Yes, you read that correctly. Buffalo Trace is releasing 710 bottles of an extra-special, one-time bottling of Old Rip Van Winkle bourbon in April.

As you can imagine, it’ll put a rip, slash, beat-down on your wallet if you can even get one.

According to a news release, only 11 barrels comprise this very small batch bourbon, making the release especially rare. Translation: Pappy 23 will be well whiskey before you even see one of these. Bourbon unicorns will be as common as stray dogs compared to this.

Suggested retail price is $1,800 for a 100-proof, 750 ml bottle—likely half of what it’ll cost on the secondary market. No word on which retailers will get it, whether fans have to stand in line for a lottery pick to get a chance to merely bow before the box or provide their first born as collateral to actually get one. Details to be released, we’re certain.

For whiskey historians out there, here’s the backstory: The barrels were distilled in the spring and fall of 1989 and stored on the lower levels of a metal clad warehouse at the Van Winkle family distillery in Shively. In 2002 those barrels were moved to Buffalo Trace, where the whiskey continued aging another 12 years on the lower, cooler floors of its brick warehouses. In 2014 the whiskey was dumped into stainless steel tanks to halt the aging process.

Each bottle of ORVW 25 will come in a handmade, decanter from Glencarin Crystal Studio in Scotland. The bottle information is engraved on each decanter, individually numbered, and hand finished with a silver stopper. In case you don’t like silver, a glass stopper is included as well. Each bottle will be ensconced in a handmade wooden box crafted in North Carolina by James Broyhill II of Heritage Handcrafted. The lid is constructed using the oak staves from the 11 barrels that held this bourbon. The outside of the box bears a metal plaque with the Old Rip Van Winkle logo and states “asleep 25 years in the wood.” And inside each box will be a bourbon certificate of authenticity, numbered and signed by Julian Van Winkle, grandson of original founder Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle, Sr.

“We are excited to be able to offer something so unique and rare for our most devoted fans,” Julian Van Winkle, president, Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, said in a news release. “This is a once in a lifetime offering and the beautiful decanter and wooden box just take it to the next level and make it something in which I’m very proud to be associated.”

Doug Gossman’s 40-Year Run at Bristol; Ed Hartless Goes Local for Fourth Street Live!

The tastiest podcast in these parts is back with another deep dive into the local dining and drinking scene. We start this week with a few laughs from our afternoon at the Tailspin Ale Fest, where we were pouring plenty of little glasses of great beer. Across the river, we learned the long-awaited Parlour pizzeria will open at the foot of the Big Four Bridge on March 15. Rick talked with Mike Safei last week about the coffee company’s new digs in Shelby Park and some exciting plans being made, including a brewery and bakery. We’re looking forward to a few big events this week — The Ideal Bartender event at Copper & Kings Wednesday, Das Meal in Shelbyville on Thursday, and the 5th Annual Gravy Cup on Saturday.

Steve’s guest is Doug Gossman, who started a business in the Highlands known as the Bristol Bar & Grille four decades ago. The success story was an unlikely one, as Gossman explains that he never expected multiple locations and this kind of longevity. Rick talked with Fourth Street Live! exec Ed Hartless, who is focused on bringing in local restaurants (like the upcoming Whiskey Dry from Edward Lee) and becoming more involved in local events.

In our Favorites segment, Rick chose a Traveler Beer Co. Pineapple Shandy at Tailspin, while Steve picked an as-yet-unnamed concoction involving Green Chartreuse concocted by barkeep Daniel Mahony at The Portage House in Jeffersonville. His favorite bite there was a perfectly prepared whole roasted trout. Rick was amazed at the speed of the service, and the quality of the meal, when he ordered a Buffalo Chicken Salad at Double Dogs in Middletown.

And finally, we want you to make a reservation with our sponsor, Harvest Restaurant, for a special Chef’s Table on Feb. 23. The fantastic meal, led by farmer Judith Schad, features courses accented with Goat Cheese. It’s $85, plus $35 for wine pairings, and you’ll save 10 percent by mentioning EatDrinkTalk when you call 384-9090.


Doug Gossman


at Fourth Street Live!, Ed Hartless