Sometimes it’s good to step away from your favorite bar stool and go explore all the intricate nooks and crannies Louisville has to offer. I admit I am a creature of habit, and I like the familiarity of my favorite haunts, where everybody knows my name and sometimes buys me a shot of Old Forester Birthday Bourbon.
OK, that only happened once. But it’s a day that will live in infamy.
Most of the time when I venture out, you’ll find me at The Back Door, Big Bar, Chill, The Post or The Pearl, which are all great places to catch up with friends, drown your sorrows, toast your achievements or just sit and stare at millennials who insist on keeping vodka companies in business. Those places also are a cheap Uber ride home, which is important to my weekend budget.
But I’ve realized that by only swimming in my tiny two-neighborhood pond, I’m missing out on an entire ocean of cool bars saturating Louisville’s nightlife. So I’ve decided to do a little Bar Belle series on all the hidden gems out there, neighborhood by neighborhood.
Me and a handful of friends I can coax into joining me will explore some not-so-known (to me) watering holes around the city and bring you the four best from each part of town.
Perhaps these are your favorite places to perch up for happy hour or croon at karaoke — so I thank you in advance for showing me the ropes and welcoming me into your Southern comfort zones.
First up in the series are the Dives of Dixie — mostly located in Shively, but one that we drove slightly out of the way for. It was a fun, interesting and eye-opening way to spend a Friday night, and let me just say Shively knows how to throw down in style — and make you feel like part of the family.
Bud’s Tavern — 4014 Dixie Highway
Bud’s Tavern has been serving up hot wings and cold beer to Shively residents for decades, and the small but bustling spot is known for its legendary fish fries and fried chicken. It’s been under new ownership for about six years now, and the atmosphere is warm and welcoming.
We started our South End journey here and loaded up with cheese balls, chicken wings and salads (I was watching my carbs — don’t judge). There were only two of us on this expedition, which made it easy for us to squeeze in at the bar.
My buddy Elizabeth made quick friends with the two bartenders, and we were happy to have landed in time for happy hour, when domestic bottles are only $2.
(In case you’re worried about my carb intake, I did research: Michelob Ultra, 2.6 carbs; Miller Lite, 3.2 carbs; Bud Light, 6.6 carbs. So I stuck with Ultra most of the night. Also, bourbon has 0 carbs.)
Our food came out quickly, before we were even halfway done with our first beer, and each dish was delicious, especially my hot wings that had been in a smoker all day. As a band set up in the corner, I had one more beer because my mouth was on fire from the hot sauce — and that’s a good thing — and then we were off to the next stop …
Ott’s Tavern — 4229 Hillview Ave.
Just a few blocks away from Bud’s is this little gem, which I was worried wasn’t open anymore because its Facebook page hadn’t been updated since 2013. But screw social media — this neighborhood watering hole was hopping on this night, as there was a breast cancer benefit going on for one of the regulars.
It’s a little hard to find because it’s tucked back behind a hotel off Dixie Highway, but it’s definitely worth the effort.
There were so many people that the crowd spilled out into a newly constructed patio and tiki bar, but the weather was nice, so it felt great to be outside. We were instantly welcomed and made our way to the bar for yet another cheap round of beers — less than $5 for both.
The outside decor featured bourbon barrels, a bulldog and lots of tables and chairs, and a dreadlocked dude with a guitar sang hits from the ’90s. Also, several people played corn hole in the parking lot while others lounged in the fairly authentic-looking tiki area.
We loved the music and ambiance of Ott’s, but we were on a mission and still had two more stops, so up next, we found ourselves at …
Gilbert’s Bar & Grill — 4950 Terry Road
So we stepped away from Dixie just a bit to venture to this little pool hall lounge that is kinda connected to a package liquor store. We were a bit confused and went in the wrong door, but we found our way eventually, walking past a handful of serious pool players, to a large oval bar surrounded by tons of dance floor space.
The sign says “Dance Club, DJ, Pool, Live Bands & Karaoke,” so I’m guessing Gilbert’s is a happening place the later it gets. We were here around 8 p.m., however, and there were only a few people scattered around the bar.
The friendly bartender welcomed us and got our beers — again under $5 for both — and we admired the creepy Halloween decorations that filled the room.
I’m not exactly sure if we were still in Shively or not, but you could tell the bar had many great stories to tell — once the regulars show up around 10. I saw a sign that advertised Margarita Mondays and Taco Tuesdays, so after this low-carb diet is over, I’ll have to swing back by.
After our beers were done, we then headed back toward Dixie Highway to our favorite find of the night …
Bone Headz Pub — 7844 Dixie Highway
Normally a biker bar wouldn’t be the kind of place I’d choose to unwind at after a long week, but Bone Headz is now in my Top 10 favorite Louisville bars. We were a little skeptical and cautious as we made our way to the front door, passing at least six tricked-out motorcycles and the burly men who were polishing their prized possessions.
Elizabeth told me not to whip out my camera and to just be cool, but I had to get a photo of the awesome skeleton-bone sign and neon glow that was oozing from the place. This was either going to be very interesting or pretty awful — and I suppose from what I said earlier, you can guess which it was.
It was so much fun, let’s just say we stayed long past midnight and called CityScoot to take us home. We even coerced another friend to Uber out to Dixie and join us, because karaoke was about to start at 10!
Donny the bartender greeted us immediately, and we took our seats on two overly large bar stools. The stools were so wide and comfortable, I had to take another picture (see below).
We ordered our beers and then watched as Donny whipped up shot specials for a couple sitting two stools down.
They looked so delicious — yellow liquid topped with a white cream that made it look like a tiny beer — that we had to investigate.
Called “43” after the main ingredient, a Spanish liqueur called Licor 43, the shot was so tasty, we ordered a round … and then another one. And when our friend finally arrived, we may have had another one — or at least I did.
We made friends with the regulars, met the cool owners, and I even consumed enough liquid courage to sing karaoke — twice.
While waiting for our CityScoot driver, we vowed to everyone we’d be back and made sure to hi-five the room as we departed.
Finding a treasure like Bone Headz — and all the others along Dixie and beyond — is exactly why it’s nice to get out of your comfort zone from time to time and make friends with cool riders.
Here are more photos from the Dives of Dixie (and beyond):