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    Eat & Swig

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    Photos by Jessica Ebelhar

    THE LIMBO
    411 W. Chestnut St.

    When Olivia Griffin decided to open a tiki bar around the corner from the hat shop she owns on South Fourth Street, she wanted something “secret-ish. And minimal instead of Disneyland-y.” The Limbo has no sign out front, just a nondescript door that leads to a vestibule and another nondescript door. Inside, though, fishing netting hangs overhead. Parrots, fish and hula girls decorate the mugs. The main room, the Grotto, features lots of bamboo: barstools, curved chairs, an entire wall. Fringe from a hula skirt lines the stage, where the house band is a Hawaiian group called the Bluegrass Shack Boys. Speakers play calypso, surf rock, ukuleles. The Luau Room is for private parties. “During the holidays, we’ll ‘Mele Kalikimaka’ that shit,” Griffin says. Frankie, the green parrot who lives in the back of her Mysterious Rack hat store, makes appearances. The Scorpion Bowl serves four and contains gin, vodka, three kinds of rum and orange and pineapple juices. Bartenders light it on fire. At midnight, everybody does the limbo. “Rattan and mermaids. And every shade of teal there is,” the 31-year-old says. “This bar is like the inside of my head.”

    — Josh Moss

     

    HELL OR HIGH WATER
    112 W. Washington St.

    Hell or High Water isn’t open, but it is. “I wonder what it will be like when it’s officially open,” a man at the bar says to no one in particular, which is odd, because it is obviously open, though the website says otherwise. It’s not packed this Saturday night in mid-March, but it is full, the tables populated, the bar lined with mostly middle-aged folks in sharp attire. This is how speakeasies work in 2018. They’re open and they’re not. They’re full and they’re not. About now, the bouncer, who is so meticulously dressed and polite that it seems ridiculous to call him a bouncer, is turning people away from the brightly lit curio shop tucked between the Duluth Trading Co. and Patrick O’Shea’s on Whiskey Row. There’s no signage advertising the bar, just trinkets like arrowheads you can ostensibly purchase. It seems oxymoronic that a speakeasy would take reservations, but if the party leaves their names on the list and comes back later, the bouncer might open the secret door in the wall, however he does that, and usher them down dimly lit stairs and along an even dimmer hallway, where attendants in period attire — white shirts and suspenders for guys, sequined flapper getups for gals, a term that seems not antiquated but decades early here — figure out seating arrangements. Round the corner, part the velvet curtain and the place opens up, crooners crackling through refurbished speakers from the ’30s, books lining a handsome shelf along one wall. If it’s in Hell or High Water and it isn’t wooden, it’s red velvet or leather, and either way it’s upholstered. Cocktails range from $8 to $13, the menu divided into “Hell” drinks and “Highwater” drinks. But why go to a speakeasy and order anything but an Old Fashioned? It’s on the Hell side. You may not be breaking the law in this speakeasy. But that doesn’t mean you can’t sin a little.

    — Dylon Jones

     

    BARBARELLA
    116 E. Main St.

    If it’s anything like it was on New Year’s Eve, Barbarella’s semi-secret downstairs bar will shine come Derby weekend. (Remember the Petrus lounge from the early 2000s with a circular bar? That place.) Unless somebody rents it out. Then you’re relegated (if you can call it that) to the disco ball-glimmering dance floor, where mirrors lining the walls show you how good your dance moves are — in case there was any question after a day of liquid-courage-ing your way through crowds while sporting those heels that you blew your entire tax return on. If that sentence has you out of breath, you have some shaping up to do before the late-night dance party, where one of the owners, Chauncy James or Harvey Graham, will be in the DJ booth, releasing the fog machine and playing everything from ’70s and ’80s Donna Summer dance grooves to ’90s R&B to contemporary pop remixes to anything that sounds like LCD Soundsystem. If the bar itself were a song, it would probably be “Doses & Mimosas,” by electronic duo Cherub. And as cavernous and industrial as the place feels, the sound is clearer than that blanco tequila you just threw back. No longshot about it — Barb’s is a winning place to show up.

    — Mary Chellis Austin

    This originally appeared in the April 2018 issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazineclick here. To find us on newsstands, click here.

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