Our favorite bar: Old Seelbach Bar [Food and dining]

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This article appears in the January 2011 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.

Don’t know about you, but we could really use a drink right about now. So we’ve scoured the city to find our 21 favorite bars — from upscale jazz joints to dives where your beer bottle sticks to the table. We’ve also tossed in some personalities familiar with local nightlife and quotes we overheard while out on the town.

For some, the most impressive number might be 60. That’s the count bartender Cindy Kebbell gives for the different brands of bourbon offered at the Old Seelbach Bar (500 4th St.). But for us the astonishing number is 22, which represents the number of years vibraphonist Dick Sisto estimates he’s held a standing gig in this classy room inside the Beaux Arts downtown hotel. It’s a guess because he’s too busy counting out jazz standards and his own arrangements with the SWAT Trio — an acronym for Sisto, bassist Tyrone Wheeler and drummer Jason Tiemann — which holds forth Friday and Saturday evenings from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.

No bar in Louisville projects such a sophisticated, big-city vibe. Seelbach lodgers from out of town, formally dressed wedding or special-event guests, music-loving couples of all ages — they all stop by for drinks or appetizers in this acoustically tuned, low-ceilinged room. Dark wood trim and a massive bar on the end opposite the stage recall an era of American opulence. It’s an open, all-comers room, yet with railings separating tables in the sunken center section from others along a side wall, the large chamber becomes more intimate.

Sisto’s trio fills this intimacy with restrained virtuosity. The Seelbach Hotel may have hit its zenith with Jazz Age flappers dancing to the Charleston, but these are more circumspect times — and what better tonic for our post-Great Recession souls than the soothing, dulcet chiming of Sisto’s vibraphone.

Overheard: "He gave us $300 to play an extra half-hour. He must've won at the track." – Dick Sisto, on a generous Old Seelbach Patron

Photo: John Nation

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