For generations, the Germantown/Schnitzelburg area of Louisville has been known for its plethora of friendly corner pubs — like Check’s, Old Hickory, Charlie’s Tavern (now Nach Bar) and Flabby’s (now Lydia House) — where you can grab a pint or a fish sandwich and catch up on all the neighborhood gossip.
And while those establishments continue to serve the area or have endured a makeover and name change, things are continuing to change in Germantown as more young professionals move in via the Germantown Mill Lofts and booming real estate market.
New businesses have begun to spring up from Burnett to Goss — like Monnik Beer Co., Germantown Craft House and Finn’s Southern Kitchen — which only continue to increase the neighborhood’s cool factor.
Joining the budding Goss Avenue landscape is Mr. Lee’s, a somewhat swanky cocktail bar located in the former spot of Groucho’s karaoke bar. Insider tipped you off to the development over a year ago, but the dream is finally a reality for businessmen and owners David Gilbert and Tommy Humphries. Mr. Lee’s officially opens to the public at 5 p.m. today.
We checked out the bar at Monday night’s soft opening, during which Gilbert and Humphries were anxious to show off all their hard work. When they took over the lease on the building, it practically had to be gutted from ceiling to floor, Gilbert tells us.
The owners envision Mr. Lee’s as a modern take on a classic cocktail lounge. The sparse decor out front gives it that speakeasy vibe — where if you didn’t know it was there, you’d probably walk right by it. Last year, Gilbert told us he drew inspiration from Chicago’s premier “secret bar” the Violet Hour, and he also liked the dark and mysterious vibe Meat had when it was situated above The Blind Pig (now Butchertown Grocery inhabits both spaces).
The space is certainly dark, and there’s a little bit of mystery lurking in the corners.
Mr. Lee’s is long and narrow, with a horseshoe-shaped bar that sits off to the left when you enter through the door. About a dozen barstools are situated around the classy leather-padded bar, and a few dim lamps emit just enough light to read the drink menu.
If you continue past the bar, you get into the more lounge-like area, with a long, inviting couch along one wall and a handful of small round tables and chairs where people can huddle in private conversation. There also are two dark, intimate corners that could be ideal for a date — if all is going well.
One interesting feature in the lounge area were the handles that hung from the walls between each table. If you pull on it, it alerts your server at the bar that you’re ready to order another drink, or close out.
The 13-drink cocktail menu was crafted by bartender Casey Kraft, and there are small snacks available by Susan Hershberg of Wiltshire Pantry. There are separate menus broken down by spirits, wines and bottled beers/cans. Mr. Lee’s makes its own syrups and will soon create its own tonics, sodas and other mixers.
The cocktails were classic with a twist. The House Smoked Old Fashioned ($8) was made with Buffalo Trace bourbon, black tea and bitters, and it had a nice but subtle hint of smoke. Included on the list are a Boulevardier ($10), a House Moscow Mule ($8), Mai-Tai ($9) with a suggested mezcal floater, Sloe Gin Fizz ($10) and a Brandy Crusta ($11) made with Copper & Kings brandy and served with a sugar rim.
Prices for drinks hover in the $6-$12 range, and a short but sweet bourbon list that includes Elmer T. Lee for $7 a pour — not bad since it’s hard to find this one on store shelves these days.
In a follow-up interview, Gilbert says he believes Germantown is the ideal spot for a cocktail bar considering its growth in property value and development throughout the past year.
“Tying into the historic nature of the neighborhood by using an original 1930s building (and not altering the exterior), combined with the timeless feel of the interior, is something that was very important to us,” says Gilbert. “In fact, this venture was something Tommy and I considered only if it could be in this particular building.”
Gilbert and Humphries spent a lot of time and money on small details — from the wooden walls, to the leather bar to the soft lighting.
“It was important to us to incorporate and emphasize the concept that the entertainment value would be conversation among friends and strangers as opposed to watching TV, playing video games or listening to live music,” adds Gilbert.
Mr. Lee’s is located at 935 Goss Ave. Hours are Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday from 5 p.m.-2 a.m.; Friday from 5 p.m.-3 a.m.; and Saturday from 6 p.m.-3 a.m. (closed Monday).