HopCat, the largest stop on Bardstown Road's restaurant row, is now open. | Photo by Steve Coomes

Saturday saw the opening of HopCat, the largest restaurant ever opened on Bardstown Road’s restaurant row. Despite the name, there’s nothing feline about this spot. The space is huge, loud and not the least bit stealthy. For with two stories and 400-plus seats spread over 13,000 square feet, it can’t help but cast literal and symbolic shadows over any nearby competitors such as Highlands Taproom.

This is the Grand Rapids, Mich., chain’s ninth unit and a concept created by Mark Sellers. The successful Chicago investment banker left that trade 10 years ago to create the ultimate beer bar. That vision, according to VP of marketing and communications, Chris Knape, means more choices than any hophead needs, and “food your mom would make if she were into craft beer.”

Rock 'n' roll superstar art is the decor theme here. | Photo by Steve Coomes
Rock ‘n’ roll superstar art is the decor theme here. | Photo by Steve Coomes

The beer menu features 131 craft selections—Pabst Blue Ribbon is on draft, too, but not credited as “craft”—and about 25 bottles. Featured on the same page as the food menu is the Local 20, a list of draft beers from Kentucky breweries, which rotates regularly. (Soon all will be available for sale to go by the growler for $12 each.) The bourbon, Scotch and Irish whiskey lineup includes an impressive 150 choices.

Another of Sellers’ obsessions is rock music, and that passion is reflected in the décor. The array of commissioned art is vast, gallery worthy and includes multiple mixed-media paintings of famous singers and musicians. Even the 11 prints of Muhammad Ali lining a stairwell to the second floor feature the champ with the Beatles, Sam Cooke and Bob Dylan.

Originally the building was a car dealership, a purveyor of Peugeots and Volkswagens in the 1950s, but it last served as the Spindletop Drapery showroom. Sellers loved the structure and the location, and spent about $4.5 million turning it into HopCat. The conversion is as amazing and attractive an urban redesign as you’ll see in this city. When it opens this week, the shaded, second-story patio overlooking Bardstown Road, will doubtless be a draw.

HopCat's main dining room bar. | Photo by Steve Coomes
HopCat’s main dining room bar. | Photo by Steve Coomes

The music—retro rock and roll—is played loud. On purpose. Because Sellers likes it that way. The result is you may find yourself talking in short sentences to hold simple conversations with your tablemates. It’s not the loudest in town, and not oppressive for an hour’s visit. Just don’t expect the soundtrack at HopCat to be as subtle as a purr.

The food menu is far more modest than the liquid selection, though it covers a wide range including tacos, burgers, Detroit-style pizza, sandwiches and wraps. Apps include a parade of the usual suspects (wings, spinach dip, various fried potatoes) twisted slightly. A group of four of us dined there Friday for a soft opening and found the food fine, but predictable. Nothing disappointing, but nothing ground breaking. It reinforces the message that beer is king here.

HopCat's upstairs lounge at night. | Photo by Steve Coomes
HopCat’s upstairs lounge at night. | Photo by Steve Coomes

Having so many brew choices is, frankly, pretty cool. Having a two-tap Kegerator at home, I’ve learned how essential beer line maintenance is, so I struggled to get my head around the notion of managing 132 kegs until touring the keg refrigerator last Thursday. The room is larger than many restaurant kitchens, yet the hundreds of kegs and lines are as organized a drug store’s pharmaceuticals. The task of caring for all and curating all that craft brew falls to one person, Chase Myers; beer management is his full-time job. A microbrewery will open on premise later this year.

The restaurant has three private dining rooms that seat about 50 guests each. Madeline Doolittle, the longtime private events manager at Seviche, manages this area of the restaurant. In addition to monthly beer-paired dinners (starting in late September and costing about $35 per person), she expects to host beer groups, social and civic groups, families, etc.

The organized chaos of the keg cooler at HopCat. | Photo by Steve Coomes
The organized chaos of the keg cooler at HopCat. | Photo by Steve Coomes

Given its location near the corner of Grinstead Dr., HopCat will battle the same limited parking problem all its neighbors face. With just 23 spots on the lot, it’s expected diners will do as they do everywhere else: find a spot, any spot, park and walk to the restaurant. Weekends will see a $5 valet parking; cars are dropped at the door and then parked nearby at St. Brigid Church on Baxter.

Knape said razing a portion of the structure to make a larger parking lot was discussed, but quickly dismissed because “we wanted to do everything we can to preserve the integrity of the building.”

Hours are Mon.-Weds., 11 a.m. to midnight; Thurs.-Fri., 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., Sat., 10 a.m.-2 a.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to midnight. Call 502-890-8676 for more info.