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    Eat & Swig

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    Veins of lightning reach every inch of South Louisville’s Tuesday-night stormy sky, charcoal clouds ordering a raindrop ambush as I leap over potholes in Iroquois Manor’s parking lot toward an unlit sign that says “Peppermint” in fading red letters. Tess and Casey are at my heels, splashing with each stride.

    The Peppermint Lounge is best known for its location in the crusty strip mall that is also home to locally renowned Vietnam Kitchen. Peppermint patrons are often seen sipping their beer and smoking cigarettes on the sidewalk, adding amusing contrast to the parade of highbrow foodies enjoying their favorite "hole in the wall” next door. Casey, Tess and I drip into the bar, where two women are watching Janice Dickinson consult with her plastic surgeon on the E! network. The brunette steps behind the bar and greets us with spirited steps and a sincere smile.

    “Been here before?” she asks, knowing the answer. “I’m Jessica. Make yourself at home.”

    Peppermint’s interior is a public man cave. Mounted televisions line the wood-paneled perimeter, which surrounds pool tables, dartboards, punching-bag arcades, a jukebox and a diverse liquor selection. Christmas lights spiral around each support beam. A collage of unframed photographs wallpapers the room: glassy eyes and gold-teeth smiles; arms braided over shoulders; a man in a hotdog hat waving a spatula in the air, his mouth open in a silent shout. Expressions line up cheek to cheek, revealing zero consistency in terms of age or race.

    Jessica and Tess are chatting about menthol cigarettes when Jessica’s eyes dart to the front window. “One sec, honey,” she says, holding up her index finger and taking long steps toward the fridge. She pulls a frosty Jim Beam bottle from the freezer and holds it upside down over a freshly iced glass. She splashes in some Coke and sets it at an empty seat at the bar, stabbing the ice with a straw as the door swings open. “I already made your drink, Sammy!” Jessica sings as the man collects his cocktail and thanks her with a nod. “Sammy’s one of my regulars,” she tells us. “He’s the reason we keep the fridge. He has to drink his Beam cold.”

    A man in a patriotic hat leans over the bar and says, “I think I’ll do pepperoni tonight.” Jessica laughs and turns a dial on the tiny toaster oven next to the fridge. “Jessica makes the best pizza,” the man says to me. “You gotta try it.” Jessica smirks as she peels the Tony’s label from the frozen box.

    “You guys should come back this weekend,” she says to us. “Saturday is karaoke night, and the place is packed.”

    Karaoke night.

    A middle-aged man affectionately whispers into the ear of an older woman wearing a sequined and strapless Bohemian dress blanketed with her waist-length hair. A younger man in dreadlocks shoots pool with a friend while his girlfriend huffs in the corner, one hand on her hip. A group of men in golf clothes raise their Bud Ice bottles to the college couple onstage chasing the words to Sublime’s “What I Got.”

    Fashion from every decade seeps between the doors, littering the crowd with seashell necklaces, salt-and-pepper mullets, tube tops and sky-scraping bangs. Time-capsuled trends greet one another with a shrill gasp and a long embrace. I admire a woman’s tie-dye Peace Frogs shirt paired with a tie-dye fishing hat.

    A younger bearded man wearing seven strands of Mardi Gras beads asks if he can take my empty glass. 

    “Do you work here?” I ask. He has a pool stick in his hand and has already sung three rounds of karaoke. 

    “Nah,” he slurs. “Just helpin’ out.”

    The ear-whisperer leaves his lover’s hip and steps onto the stage. He closes his eyes, places an open palm over his chest and begins to sing the Righteous Brothers’ “Unchained Melody.” The words flow elegantly. The woman of his affection sways back and forth, soaking in the warmth.

    The tie-dye ensemble takes the hand of a gentleman in his Kellogg’s uniform and sets her chin on his shoulder as they move across the floor in perfect sync. One by one, Peppermint patrons pair up, hypnotized by the sincerity of the performance. They melt together like fresh s’mores, equally as sweet.

    A soft crescendo is cut short by a familiar beat that splits each pair. The women snap their fingers in unison and jerk their hips back and forth as the men hoist their drinks in the air with approval. “Laffy Taffy” by the forgotten hip-hop group D4L pops through their bodies as all modesty fades into the wood paneling. The smooth singer and his sequined goddess join the movement. She rewards him with a show. The Peppermint tribe washes away the workweek and makes a grand entrance into early morning.

    Article written by Wesley Bacon

    This article appears in the August issue of Louisville Magazine. To subscribe to Louisville Magazine, click here

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