Welcome to The Closing Bell. This is your last stop for biz scoops and big news before the weekend — a roundup of stories that can’t wait till Monday.

Step into Louisville’s new speakeasy Hell or High Water

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The 1930s speaker on the shelf was refurbished, and the stained glass window was found in the space following the fire and still contains mostly 1920s glass. | Photo by Andrew Hyslop Photography

Walking through the speakeasy Hell or High Water with siblings Maud and Stirling Welch feels a bit like getting an early tour of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory, that is, if Willy Wonka specialized in cocktails and had a penchant for the Prohibition Era. It’s hard to keep the Owen Wilson-style wows to a minimum.

From the soft amber lighting to the plush booth seating to the childlike voice of Helen Kane singing “I want to be loved by you” out of refurbished 1930s speakers, Hell or High Water feels like a throwback to a time when drinking was done in secret and oftentimes below street level.

“Maud has gone to painstaking detail,” said Stirling Welch, who lives in California but travels back to Louisville often. The siblings are Louisville natives and the children of well-known businessman James Stirling Welch Jr., former vice chairman at Brown-Forman.

True to form, the speakeasy will look like a tiny curiosity shop with Kentucky-related oddities such as arrowheads and Muhammad Ali records. A shop employee will check IDs and instruct guests to push on a portion of drywall to reveal a staircase.

While the Welches presume that most guests to the curio shop will know about the speakeasy in advance, the dream is that at least some visitors will stumble upon the Washington Street shop and be delightfully surprised to find the small space is a portal to a speakeasy, Stirling said.

Down a hidden staircase and around a corner, visitors will be greeted by a hostess before moving further down the passage through velvet curtains into a large, yet somehow intimate-feeling room with dimmed lights, a long bar and booth seating with high backs that separate it from the bar area. Some of the booths have little doors so people can peek out to see what’s happening at the bar, and all have buttons that will alert servers when a table needs something.

Off the main room is a small private seating area, called the Gaga Room, that can be closed off by a velvet curtain and has it’s own private entrance if needed.

Moving further into the speakeasy is another room that one might refer to as the library lounge, with couches, chairs, a wood piano and large bookcase made from charred wood from the building and filled with old books that Maud and Heather Kleisner, owner of Kleisner Events, found a shops like The Crazy Daisy Antique Mall.

“We really wanted it to feel like you are going into somebody’s living room,” Maud said.

Along the right wall is a cast-iron staircase with an Art Deco design that leads up to a mezzanine overlooking the lounge that features additional secluded seating. Even after surveying the mezzanine from the ground floor, once ascending the steps it’s easy to miss a private four-seat space that is only revealed if someone nosy decides to take a peak into what appears to be a simple cabinet.

Hell or High Water is located at 112 W. Washington St. in the 111 Whiskey Row development, which was delayed by a massive fire and subsequent flooding from efforts to extinguish the blaze in 2015.

“The fire was catastrophic,” Maud said, “but one thing it did give us is a clean slate.”

It also gave the Welches the name of their speakeasy, because they planned to open come hell or the high waters that had flooded their space.

While waterlogged wood beams had to be replaced, they kept some charred beams to add more character. “We wanted to keep that (history) in the space,” Stirling said.

In keeping with the period, Hell or High Water won’t have any televisions and even its digital POS systems won’t be visible; they will be covered by the shell of antique cash registers. While it may have board games like chess or backgammon and some live music — think jug bands and jazz trios — the speakeasy is about being present, they said.

“Hopefully, it’s going to bring people back to being more intimate and have conversations,” Kleisner said.

When Maud was living in New York City, she said, she loved visiting establishments including Death & Co. and Attaboy for that reason.

“It was such a haven from the chaos and hustle and bustle,” Maud said, later saying that she and Stirling want Hell or High Water to be a place of connection “in a time of division.”

Be on the lookout in the next couple of weeks for Hell or High Water to quietly open. The space has capacity for nearly 200 people, though the Welches will likely keep it below that given that there is seating for about 100.

The speakeasy will focus heavily on cocktails including the Old Fashioned, Manhattan and martinis. The cocktails, which were crafted with help from Doug Petry of Rye and Galaxie, will feature Kentucky ingredients like sorghum and will rotate to include the season’s fresh ingredients. Cocktails will cost $8 to $13.

Hell or High Water will have an extensive list of bourbons and gins as well, Stirling said, noting that he and Petry spent one afternoon trying 35 different gins.

Customers won’t be able to get a full meal at the speakeasy, but it will serve boards with Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheese, Quills coffee and Cellar Door Chocolates, along with other light snacks. —Caitlin Bowling

Morels’ pop tarts pop up on PETA’s ‘Top 10 Vegan Sweet Treat’ list

Vegan pop tarts | Courtesy of Morels Cafe

Who says vegans can’t have their cake and eat it, too?

Inspired by Valentine’s Day, folks from PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) came up with a Top 10 list of their favorite vegan treats across the country, and Louisville’s Morels Cafe was mentioned for their delicious pop tarts.

“Morels Cafe is known for its vegan take on hearty fast-food classics, so its handmade fresh-fruit pocket pastries fit right in,” said PETA President Ingrid Newkirk in a news release. “PETA’s new ‘dessert directory’ will help diners indulge in the best compassionate confections from coast to coast.”

Morels’ pop tarts are free of dairy and eggs, of course, and they come in various flavors from strawberry to brown sugar. Other restaurants making the list include Asheville’s Plant, Phoenix’s Nami, Detroit’s Vegan Soul and Kansas City’s Mud Pie Vegan Bakery, among others.

Morels is located at 619 Baxter Ave. —Sara Havens

Waterfront Park playground renovations to be completed by spring

Adventure Playground gets a face-lift. | Courtesy of Waterfront Park

Waterfront Park’s Adventure Playground has gotten a face-lift of sorts, and this spring, it’ll show off a new 13-foot water structure called Versa Splash.

So far, work has included resurfacing, painting and restoration to the playground equipment, and two new musical instruments — kodo drums and a xylophone — have been added. Underway are improvements and repairs to the water-play area, construction of the Versa Splash and repainting those cute, colorful spraying fish.

The playground first opened in 2003, and this is its first major renovation. —Sara Havens

Con Huevos chef named James Beard semifinalist

Con Huevos signature dish is Huevos Rancheros. | Courtesy of Con Huevos

Chef Paco Garcia of the tiny brunch spot Con Huevos is garnering national recognition.

Garcia was the only chef from Louisville to be named a semifinalist for a James Beard Award this year. He, along with 19 other chefs, are vying for the title of Best Chef in the Southwest.

The only other Kentuckian in the mix is Drew Kulsveen of Willett Distillery in Bardstown. He is a semifinalist for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional.

Garcia and Kulsveen will find out if they are finalists on March 14, and the winners will be announced at a gala on May 7.

Con Huevos was recently in the news because the restaurant is opening a second location and plans to expand its flagship restaurant on Frankfort Avenue. —Caitlin Bowling

New Visionworks location opens near Jefferson Mall

Dr. Mark Lynn, owner of Visionworks, has opened his latest location at 655 Outer Loop near Jefferson Mall.

Lynn owns more than 90 Visionworks in the Louisville region. The store offers eye exams, as well as sells contacts and glasses.

“Louisville and the surrounding area has been a great market for us so far, and we’re looking forward to servicing more patients in this area,” he said in an announcement. —Caitlin Bowling

In Brief

White Lodging Services has tapped Angela Kretzer to serve as general manager of the 157-room Fairfield Inn & Suites and TownPlace Suites dual hotels, located at 10241 Champion Farms Drive. The hotels will open in April 2018.

The Center for Women and Families has named Elizabeth Wessels-Martin as its new CEO and president. Wessels-Martin succeeds Marta Miranda Straub, who is retiring after seven years. The Louisvillian has more than 18 years of senior-level experience in the nonprofit world and has a background in social work. She starts March 1.

Revenue declines have prompted CafePress to cut $4 million in annual costs by reducing its workforce in Louisville by 5 percent and cutting the annual base salary of CEO Fred Durham by 58 percent, to $125,000.

Louisville distiller Brown-Forman has agreed to annually buy 30 megawatts of electricity from Solomon Forks Wind Project over the next 15 years and “retain ownership of the resulting renewable energy credits to offset the greenhouse gas emissions from electricity usage at its U.S. facilities.” The wind farm electricity will be sold on the wholesale market.


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