Red Herring Cocktail & Lounge & Kitchen owner Brett Davis with chef Jacob Coronado. | Photo by Steve Coomes

If all goes according to plan, restaurateur Brett Davis will open the Red Herring Cocktail Lounge & Kitchen the third week of April in the old Hilltop Theater at 1757 Frankfort Ave. And strangely enough—especially for restaurants—construction of what he predicts will be the “most beautiful cocktail lounge in Louisville” is on schedule, and in one key respect, ahead of it.

“I haven’t had to advertise at all for employees because we’re already fully staffed,” said Davis, one of the city’s two Master Sommeliers. “That’s never happened before in my career. … But that’s happened because of what we’re doing here and how we’ll use our staff.”

With the backing of building owner and business partner Mo Deljoo, Davis is creating a space designed first for the enjoyment of cocktails and supplemented with an approachable food menu. Guests will choose from a 100-cocktail list created by Clay Livingston, former bar manager at 8UP, and eat from a still-in-design menu of burgers, hot dogs, halibut cheeks and more created by Jacob Coronado, 8UP’s former executive chef. Menu prices will range from $6 to $10 for cocktails and $15 or less for food. Operating hours are 4 p.m. until 2 a.m. daily, with food served until 1 a.m.

The Red Herring will be located in the old Hilltop Theater, right next door to the Silver Dollar. | Photo by Steve Coomes
The Red Herring will be located in the old Hilltop Theater, right next door to the Silver Dollar. | Photo by Steve Coomes

On the building’s main floor will be a large bar surrounded by high-top tables and seating for 45. The upper level, which overlooks the bar below, will seat the same number but on banquets and lounge chairs. There will be more seating outdoors on a sun-splashed patio with herb gardens for Coronado’s kitchen.

Davis said he was inspired by Houston’s Anvil Bar & Refuge and The Violet Hour in Chicago because of their approachability and ambitious cocktail menus.

“We’ll have a book of what I think are the 100 most-classic cocktails, but we’ll also have a blender behind the bar for frozen drinks,” he said. “You can get adult milk shakes and we’re going to have domestic lager poured at 29 degrees in to a frozen chalice. We’re not trying to be snooty.”

Some specialized drinks will break the $10 mark, Davis added, when they call on pricy ingredients, but he expects most customers will prefer choosing from the house list.

He said there will be a whiskey program, but not one as ambitious as that at his other restaurant, Doc Crow’s, that has “over 100 bourbons and 200 whiskeys. … It’s all about the cocktail.”

Davis said the front-of-the-house staff will consist of bartenders who can make drinks and serve them. Similarly, cooks will be dispatched to bring food from the kitchen to guests. This, Coronado allowed, will take training, but he said he’s excited to let the back of the house interact with guests.

“We cook for everybody, we’re a team, and they’re excited to see the other side,” Coronado said. “What we’re trying to build here is revolutionary.”

Davis said opening near Derby Week is ideal, since visitors to the city won’t know about Red Herring. That brief period of anonymity will give his staff a gentler ramp up toward busier periods. If that opening goal is missed, then the new date will be the second week in May.

Why the name Red Herring, you ask? Davis said part of the experience is to imagine you’re walking in to the elegant old movie theater, and then finding yourself in a modern cocktail lounge.

“That’s the red herring; it’s just a diversion,” he said. “We think it’s going to be fun.”