Dennie Humphrey closed the Monkey Wrench April 2. | Photo by Sara Havens

Twelve years is no easy feat in the bar business.

After 12 years of offering Louisvillians a place to gather, cheer on the Cards, meet new people, commiserate, dance, hear live bluegrass and more, the Monkey Wrench closed its doors for good in the early morning hours of Sunday, April 2.

For owner Dennie Humphrey, the decision wasn’t easy, but he knew it was time to conclude that chapter of his life and embark on new adventures.

The Monkey Wrench was located on Barret Avenue. | Courtesy of Monkey Wrench

The venerable Barret Avenue bar meant many things to many people, and although it continued to transform and reinvent itself through the years, Humphrey says the building just needed more than what he and his partners could give it.

“It brought together so many different types of people and became a sort of crossroads of culture in Louisville,” Humphrey tells Insider. “I know people who met their significant others or future business partners there … or who can forget the legendary Michael Jackson dance party that broke out the night he died, the Cards games, the New Year’s Eve parties, the Halloween gatherings? There’s nothing we didn’t celebrate.”

Humphrey is involved in several projects — from creating festivals like this weekend’s GonzoFest and this summer’s GrateVille Dead to having a role in the NuLu bar Taj — and realized the energy and effort he was putting into the Wrench took him away from endeavors he was more passionate about.

He says he decided to close the bar around the first of the year, but it took him a while to come to terms with his decision. After all, the Monkey Wrench had become a dominant part of Humphrey’s life, almost as if it was part of his family.

It was a tough decision to close the bar, Humphrey says. | Courtesy of Monkey Wrench

“That was the hardest thing — I’m usually the one being left in life, so this is the first one I’ve broken up with,” he says. “It was tough having to say goodbye like that.”

Humphrey smiles when he recalls the last night, which he says was one of the best nights of his life. Friends, regulars, former coworkers and anyone else whose life was touched by the welcoming spirit of the neighborhood bar celebrated with the owner for one last hurrah.

“I got 500 hugs that night, easy,” he says. “It was a special moment — it reminded me of when I graduated college. And this was more like me getting a doctorate in the bar business. If I played a significant part in someone’s life, it makes me feel real proud.”

(That night and the Michael Jackson dance party are in his Top 3 favorite nights in the Wrench’s 12-year history. This writer was there for the Michael Jackson night and documented it for a Bar Belle column at the time.)

For now, Humphrey and his partners are cleaning out the space and have showed it to a few interested buyers. His only stipulation? Whoever buys it can’t paint over the giant Hunter S. Thompson mural on the side of the building. “It’s a piece of the neighborhood now,” he says.

The Hunter S. Thompson mural on the side of Monkey Wrench

He also hopes whoever buys it can make some needed improvements to the building and give it that extra level of care and attention. At the end of the day, Humphrey knew that someone wasn’t him.

“The Monkey Wrench ran its course, and it’s time for someone to come in and give this neighborhood something else,” he says. “We made our mark. I’m proud of what we did, and I’m proud of the decision I made to move on and work on other things.”

‘We can all get a little Gonzo’

One of those “things” Humphrey is most passionate about these days is the seventh annual GonzoFest, which will be held — for the first time ever — at the Louisville Free Public Library on Saturday, April 15.

Many have questioned if a festival that honors a man known for debauchery can rightfully be held at a public library, but for Humphrey and the other organizers, the decision was a no-brainer. In fact, that very library is a place Hunter S. Thompson knew well.

“What ties all this together is Virginia Thompson, Hunter’s mother, worked at the library for 20 years and eventually retired from there,” explains Humphrey. “Hunter went there many times with her to work.”

It’s a move the organizers anticipated doing for a while, he adds, and since the festival is more about celebrating the hometown hero’s legacy than making a profit, it made sense to team up with a nonprofit organization like LFPL. And for those still scratching their heads at the thought of a loud festival being held at a quiet place — Humphrey says you should leave those worries behind.

For one, the music stages will be located outside on York Street, which will be blocked off for the event. Beer, bourbon and food vendors will be situated outside, with sponsors like Falls City (which is tapping its Colonel’s Kolsch for the festivities), Old 502 Winery, Four Roses, Tito’s Vodka, Red Bull and Pepsi.

GonzoFest art | Photo by Chris Petot

Humphrey likens the atmosphere to a smaller St. James-type street party, and along with speakers, poets, musicians and discussion panels, artists from the UnFair also will be there with Thompson-inspired art and more.

Bands include Nellie Pearl, Otis Junior, Brother Wolves, Satellite Twin, Brooks Ritter and Sativa Gumbo, and the movie “Where the Buffalo Roam,” a semi-biographical film about Thompson starring Bill Murray, will screen at noon. (See the full schedule below.)

“I’m looking forward to the camaraderie at the festival … and getting a library card. I don’t remember the last time I had one,” says Humphrey. “We’ll all have to get our cards. We can all get a little Gonzo.”

GonzoFest runs from noon-8 p.m. on Saturday, April 15, at the Louisville Free Public Library, 301 York St. Admission is a suggested $10 donation.

Full GonzoFest schedule:

  • noon-2 p.m. — “Where the Buffalo Roam” (1st floor auditorium)
  • noon-8 p.m. — Art display featuring GonzoFest Louisville 2017 submissions (2nd floor lobby)
  • 2-2:30 p.m. — Book signing with Juan Thompson and Ron Whitehead (1st floor lobby)
  • 2-2:45 p.m. — Brother Wolves (parking lot)
  • 3-3:45 p.m. — Otis Junior (parking lot)
  • 3-4 p.m. — Young Poets of Louisville (2nd floor auditorium)
  • 3-7 p.m. — Spoken Word Performances (2nd floor auditorium)
  • 3:15-4:15 p.m. — “Politics: Decadent and Depraved Literature” lecture (1st floor auditorium)
  • 4-4:45 p.m. — Satellite Twin (parking lot)
  • 4:30-5:30 p.m. — Literary Impact of Hunter S. Thompson” panel (1st floor auditorium)
  • 5-5:45 p.m. — Brooks Ritter (parking lot)
  • 5:45-6:45 p.m. — “Freedom of Speech/Media Literacy” panel (1st floor auditorium)
  • 6-6:45 p.m. — Sativa Gumbo (parking lot)
  • 7-8 p.m. — Nellie Pearl (parking lot)
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Sara Havens
Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville, known around town as the Bar Belle (barbelleblog.com). She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."