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    Eat & Swig

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    By Kelly Dean Birge

    Around 9 p.m. Saturday, Steve Cooley sat down in a corner in the Monkey Wrench. He wore a big gray beard and glasses, his white hair thinned away from the top of his head. The Oregon vs. North Carolina game was on, a real nail biter, and the floor was saturated with people. Neon buzzed along the discolored wooden walls, a familiar sight to Cooley, who had been playing the Monkey Wrench for five years. Tonight, the iconic Highlands bar’s last night, he plucked at his unplugged mandolin, unheard beneath the din of the crowd. Soon his bluegrass band would take the stage one last time.

    “I’m a proud friend of Dennie,” he said, referring to bar-owner Dennie Humphrey. “This is not just a bar or music venue, but a supportive community of musicians.”

    Hundreds of folks packed in to say goodbye to the 12-year-old bar, known for the mural of Hunter Thompson on one outside wall. Despite the crisp temperature, people filled the open upstairs patio overlooking the corner lot, kept warm by candles, body heat and strong mixed drinks.

    Near midnight, it seemed that hundreds more bodies had sardined into the bar’s two floors, spilling outside onto the sidewalk. People lined up to sign Humphrey’s whiskey barrel head, lucky to find even a smidgen of blank space for a legible signature.

    “Is it okay if I light up a cigar inside my own bar?” Humphrey asked. He grinned as he sparked one.

    Before last call, I caught Humphrey behind the bar. “I love being around people so much. I love having the respect of people. I love knowing a lot of people,” he said. “Plus, everyone likes a guy who runs a bar, especially on a Saturday night in the greatest city in America: Louisville, Kentucky.”

    As the alt-rock band Electric Garden finished their set, Humphrey walked up on stage, looked around and spoke two simple words over the crowd: “Thank you.” Before exiting his stage, he held the mic to his heart and dropped it to the ground.

    Cover Image: The Monkey Wrench - Facebook

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