Dive Bar Diary: Lisa's Oak Street Lounge

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The wood-paneled room in Lisa’s Oak Street Lounge vibrates as the Appalachian screaming sensation Globsters (one person) screeches into a tiny microphone. He flings sweat from his hipster haircut into the faces of his loyal followers as they shout his provocative lyrics back at him. He bounces around the crowd and rubs his chest, adorned in a shiny atomic bomb T-shirt. I was disappointed, because I was told he only performs in women’s underwear.

I plug my ears and jog down a ramp toward the bar to seek refuge. Lisa Dolson is leaning on the counter, shaking her head slowly. “You picked the wrong night for music,” she says. I order a $3 gin-and-tonic and hang my coat on a neighboring stool. Dolson sets a plastic cup of ice on the bar and gives me a generous pour. “This is the last straw,” she says as she stabs the ice. The middle-aged Louisville native has run the bar for 11 years.

Not far from the border of Germantown and the Highlands, Lisa’s sits just before a deep curve in the road, causing careful drivers heading east to slow down. The street display features vintage neon beer signs framed in weathered brick and ornamented with plastic tables scattered across the sidewalk. An overturned chair adds a suggestive touch, as if it’s winking at those who bypass its invitation for a pricey cocktail on Bardstown Road.

I hop down from my stool to join my friends in the poolroom, where retro teal chairs line a lavender wall and a rusty meat-slicing machine pouts, unplugged, in the corner. A silent boom box sits above a small stovetop oven. It reminds me of the unfinished basement we all knew in high school, where towers of forgotten household items protect us from drinking in an ordinary space.

Eventually I return to my barstool, where Dolson is finishing her late-night meal of sausage pizza and salad.

“Same thing?” she asks.

I nod as my eyes fall on the shelves behind her. Statues, trinkets, power tools and framed inspirational quotes form a chaotic village above ice buckets and bottles of liquor.

“What’s that?” I ask, pointing to a both voluptuous and headless stone woman.

“That’s a fertility statue,” Dolson says. “My regulars rub it when they’re trying to get pregnant.” She explains the significance of her other treasures, elaborating on her favorite quotes and fondly describing her regulars, some of whom she hasn’t seen in a while. “When the economy is bad,” she says, “people just drink at home.”

Germantown has changed dramatically during Dolson’s years as both a neighborhood resident and a business owner, and she accepts the challenge of roping in the new crowd.

“I’ve been here 11 years,” she says, “and I’m finally making some changes.” She describes the future she sees, stretching out her hands to look through a frame she constructs with her fingers. She plans to host karaoke nights, dance parties, trivia contests and live music. I wish her good luck as I sip melted ice from the last straw. 

Photo by Lynn Hafele

Article by Wesley Bacon

 

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