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    Eat & Swig

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    It’s 9:30 p.m. and I’m walking up the single set of steps that leads to Butchertown Grocery’s upstairs bar. Three years ago the space at 1076 E. Washington Street used to be Meat, and it was my absolute favorite bar. There were couches and high-backed chairs instead of booths. Not a single television hung on the walls, and the drinks were $10 a pop with complicated ingredients like lingonberry jam and house made falernum. I had no idea jam could be used in a drink, but after trying the “Viking 75” I knew I couldn’t go without it. Meat had sparked a cocktail revolution, and the day it closed I was heartbroken.  

    I am a little nervous standing under the single red light outside of the unmarked door. Will my love for this bar be rekindled? Or will I only be pining for what this space once was and left with only it’s ghost to haunt me? As I step into the familiar hallway, I notice the first of many wonderful changes. Where there was once cured meat hanging in a display case there is now a working kitchen. Behind the glass wall I see two men hurriedly putting together a charcuterie board.  Their expert fingers deftly pile a mouth-watering assortment of meat, cheese, and other tasty treats on to wooden boards. I try not to drool all over the glass as I watch them place black gouda cheese with prosciutto alongside candied pecans and local honey.

    Parting the heavy velvet curtains as though a play is about to open and unfold before me, I venture into the bar space and gaze around for open seating.  Luckily there are stools available at the counter.  Most everything is taken already.  It looks like a cozy sitting room everywhere I glance.  People are gathered among the soft cushions sipping delicious concoctions.  

    I inquire about the menu and my bartender helps me choose “Between a Pawn Shop and a Chapel” (Old Forester Signature, demerara, house bitters, orange oil, frankincense, $10). It’s fragrant, rich, and my senses are immediately immersed in the beverage. The taste is similar to an Old Fashioned, but with a subtle difference from the added tweaks of this staple cocktail. They aren’t trying to reinvent the wheel, they only want to put some rims on it. I can enjoy this beverage even if my palate could not detect the frankincense lingering in my glass.

    As I order another round I watch in awe as the bartender, Jinx, lights citrus peels on fire to put in my drink. I ask him if he’s ever caught himself on fire, the answer is “no” but once he came close. Eventually my questions lead him to stories about his former circus days as a trapeze artist. His Irish accent alone captivates my friend and I as we listened intently. I ask another bartender what the difference is between this and his other bartending job. He responds that while other places have great drinks, this is a TRUE cocktail bar. The reason being there are more hard-to-find ingredients behind this bar than most.


    Tonight is a special night, Sam Sneed is up on the small stage in the front of the room spinning records. Awarded “Live DJ of the Year” from the Louisville Music Awards, he is now playing Thursday nights at the Butchertown bar (which intends to officially remain nameless) from 9pm-1am. The music floods my ears like the libations flood my tongue. I tap my toes while scanning the select food menu trying to decide what to get. I decide upon the chicken sandwich with spicy mayo and the Butchertown Board. I couldn’t be happier in this moment, it feels like my birthday. As the hours pass and conversation flows, we realize that it’s midnight.  Which means the kitchen is open for orders of beignets.  These are lighter than some of the other choices around town, more like delicious pockets of air.  They remind me of the ones my mother used to make when I as a child.  And nothing says superb than food that sparks your fondest childhood memories.  As the night winds down, and the tasks for the day ahead grow closer, I close my tab and prepare to leave.  I’m elated though, I have finally found my new favorite bar, and it’s better than before.  

    Lauren O'Neil's picture

    About Lauren O'Neil

    Champagne, sequins, high heels, and mermaids.

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