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    8UP is a brand-new restaurant that will open to the public (barring any complications!) this Monday, November 17, 2014, on the eighth floor of the downtown Hilton Garden Inn at 350 West Chestnut Street. 8UP, as a concept, almost sounds too good to be true. There’s a Le Cordon Bleu trained Executive Chef, several menus featuring “progressive American” food, an artisan cocktail program, an outdoor rooftop seating area, and a plush bar/lounge with an exposed kitchen. They’re pretty much hitting on all trendy foodie cylinders, which is what one would expect from a restaurant designed and developed by Atlanta-based restaurant group Concentrics.

    Yesterday, 8UP put a call on their social media for the general public to make reservations to try their food for free on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday nights. A few hours after the announcement, unsurprisingly, they were full. I managed to snag a spot in the lounge during that time, but sadly couldn’t get a dining room reservation. I can’t wait to go back and try the whole menu at 8UP, but a sampling of their drinks and bar bites was an incredibly pleasant Wednesday night diversion.

    The downtown Hilton isn’t quite finished yet, but the lobby is pretty gorgeous. We went directly up to the restaurant, and were really impressed by the space. The bar and longue area is tastefully swanky: big, interesting, plush furniture, hanging exposed lights, a great view of the lit-up Louisville Downtown. There’s a clean, stainless-steel laden open kitchen and a bourbon-decorated bar area. The bathrooms are even cool, all shiny black and chrome.

    We started our evening with the cocktail menu, developed by Sean Thibodeaux and featuring seven cocktails, (three bourbon, one rum, one gin, one sherry, one brandy). The Devil in Cider (Evan Williams, apple and lemon juice, ginger syrup and house-made vanilla bitters) was served hot with a dried apple slice: just the ticket for a chilly night. There’s a good wine and beer selection but the cocktail menu is really where 8UP shines: there’s something for every taste here.

    8UP’s gulps/bites menu certainly lives up to the “progressive American” promise, or at least the American part. There are upscale versions of French fries, a po’ boy, pizza, even nuggets (duck nuggets!) on the bar menu. Perhaps the staff at 8UP shares my belief that we are all three drinks away from being a seven-year-old watching cartoons on a Saturday afternoon, albeit a gourmand seven-year-old with great taste.

    The chorizo-stuffed dates were a little acidic, but like all the small bites, beautifully presented. The pork rinds (when did pork rinds become an artisan food?) were large and incredibly crisp, the duck nuggets came perched on a little pool of umami sauce. The cheese toast (goat cheese, cured cherry tomatoes, shitake mushrooms and balsamic drizzle) was our favorite bite of the night, really a great flavor combination.

    The four wood-fired pizzas on the menu looked delicious as they came out of the kitchen, which provided some fantastic entertainment by the way; the bar staff, wait staff, and kitchen staff we observed were all professional and friendly to a fault, and the inner workings of the place seemed to be running like a well-oiled machine. The three days of free food is meant to hone the skills and presentation of the restaurant staff, and get the word out about this hot new place.

    8UP is certainly set to be a special-occasion restaurant. I’ve rarely seen a more beautiful space, and once the weather gets warmer their rooftop dining and drinking is sure to be a hot ticket in town. But will this become a sustainable, locally-visited operation? Time will tell. And in the meantime, I’ll suspend my judgment and be back for another drink and dinner. There’s a bacon-wrapped pork chop on that menu calling my name. 

    Elizabeth Myers's picture

    About Elizabeth Myers

    Big fan of bacon and bourbon, deep fried anything, sweet tea and sweet nothings.

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