Ahhh....the old Seelbach Hotel. Founded in 1905 by the brothers Louis and Otto Seelbach, the aim was to bring the best of swanky European living to America—to Kentucky, no less. Sitting in the lobby, sipping a glass of fine Kentucky Bourbon, that splendor lives on today more than a century later. To think: F. Scott Fitzgerald was inspired to write The Great Gatsby while staying here! Elvis slept on these beds while playing in town! The Stones threw parties in these rooms while touring the states! Al Capone played illicit poker games in these halls and was even chased out by the police on one occasion! That's where I am right now. I'm sitting in the middle of an American pop culture landmark. I'm drinking whiskey in a den of vice and venom. And let's not mention the ghosts!
Then there's the Old Seelbach Bar, mind you. It's not just the hotel that's of legend, it's also the in-house watering hole. With a list of Bourbons that spans multiple menu pages, you can have it your way just a few footsteps away from the main lobby. This is where Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Clinton drank while manning the White House! This is where they plotted and planned! My God, is that not enough for you? This is where Fast Eddie Felson stayed while downing a few glasses of JTS Brown. This is the pride of Louisville, in a nutshell. It's the epitome of everything great and grand from Bourbon's lascivious lore.
"Should we take a cab to the restaurant for dinner?" our host asks as we stumble out into the warm Kentucky evening. "God, no!" I reply indignantly; "Let's walk and see the sights." We're headed to the Garage Bar from downtown and on the way we must pass by a number of historical buildings. I need this, now more than ever. These are the edifices that fill me with romance. The old bricks. The Victorian stalwarts. The vestiges of Americana that line the road to Butchertown, the Star-Spangled Banner adorning each one—furrowed in the evening breeze.
Down the side streets I can see the bridges spanning the Ohio River, connecting Kentucky to neighboring Indiana. My thirst is building. The more I take in the sights, the history, and the atmosphere, the more that sweet brown water calls my name. I need whiskey—post haste! Barman! Fetch me a glass.
It is a happening Monday night at the Garage Bar, my all-time favorite Louisville locale. The old pump station that now houses a full-scale whiskey bar with a custom-built wood-fired pizza oven is just the place for me. The beer is cold. The room is full. The vibe is electric. There are families here. There are lovers. There are first dates, too. There are skaters, hipsters, nerds, and Louisville University jocks. There is a complete cornucopia of cultures. It's the full gambit. This is not a scene, my friends. This is an institution. It's a place to let your hair down and relax, not merely somewhere to be seen. This is real life. This is San Francisco's Mission without the shitty attitude or the pandering pretense. This is where I want to be.
It is night in Louisville. We are drinking Bourbon: first Blanton's, then Johnny Drum, then Rowan's Creek, and then on to Maker's Mark. We hit up the local CVS for my traditional 1.75 liter of Very Old Barton. We stop to inhale the essence of the evening.
It's back to the Seelbach for more rounds. Destiny awaits.