Well, thus concludes another year covering the always dynamic, sometimes dastardly and ever-entertaining Louisville restaurant scene.

It’s fair to call it a personal success to have not gained any weight in the process, but truth be known, the long haul proves I’ve not lost any either.

Since it would be an absurd quest to try and mention every high and low occurring in the past year, let’s focus on a few notables. And please, add your faves in the comments section.

Lynn's Paradise Cafe
Lynn’s Paradise Cafe

The curious and capricious closing of Lynn’s Paradise Café: Is there a restaurant in the city whose closure, sudden or forewarned, could cause such surprise as the shuttering of Lynn’s Paradise Café?

Not that I can think of.

No Louisville restaurant had a bigger national reputation than the craveable-kitschy, pajama-party-throwing, ugly-lamp-judging, World of Swirl tourist bus magnet at 984 Barret Ave. Its local rep for good food, proven by long lines owner Lynn Winters claimed numbered 7,000 heads a week, goes without saying.

Yet on the evening of Jan. 11, amid swirling controversy tied to a bitter and public dispute about server tip-sharing practices, Winter shut it all down without explanation. Months would pass before she’d claim a severe bout with shingles and two heart attacks led her to close a business whose reported annual revenue was $4 million a year.

The restaurant has been on the market officially since spring, but despite discussions with at least a few potential buyers, it remains closed.

Azalea eyesore green-lighted for development as Mesh: Preservationists lost their longstanding and pointless battle over proposed developments on the historic Bauer’s 1870 Tavern property in the city’s East End.

In January, Indianapolis-based Cunningham Restaurant Group signed a letter of intent to develop a restaurant on the grounds beside the neglected, rotted and water damaged restaurant structure, last operated as Azalea’s, which stood unused for several years. This was great news to everyone except preservationists (who are sometimes correct in their cause, but not this time).

The old Azalea Restaurant on Brownsboro Road
The old Azalea Restaurant on Brownsboro Road

Despite numerous sources calling the depleted structure a dump, preservationists fought for years to keep the Bauer family from doing something completely legal, financially prudent and visually more appealing than a rotting rat hostel that they owned free and clear.

Perhaps preservationists—who never seem to have any skin in the game when trying to ensure rightful property owners make independent decisions with their landholdings—are happy that the restaurant, whose name will be Mesh, is still far from development.

Burgers, burgers and more burgers: If there was ever any doubt that hamburgers are near and dear to locals’ cholesterol-threatened hearts, it was dispelled with the openings of Mussel & Burger Bar, Game and Sidebar at Whiskey Row.

The better burger boom was already well under way at places like Four Pegs, St. Charles Exchange, The Grind Burger Truck, even the upscale Corbett’s: An American Place. (Yes, we know we’re leaving many more off the list.)

Cows, beware!

Bloody Mary: It's what's for breakfast
Bloody Mary: It’s what’s for breakfast on Sundays

Back off, Blue Laws! After years of endless and fruitless lobbying of city government, restaurateurs finally prevailed in their quest to serve alcohol before 1 p.m. on Sundays.

Much to the pleasure of almost everyone, in late April, restaurants with approved licensing were freed to serve drinks as early as 10 a.m.—something nearby restaurants in Southern Indiana have done for years, while laughing at us for not doing it.

Though to our knowledge no official research has been conducted, churches aren’t reporting attendance declines at Sunday services. Restaurants open on Sunday mornings, however, have reported modest sales increases.

Bad Meat poisons, kills off Blind Pig: Meat, an avant garde cocktail bar in Butchertown, learned that ABC isn’t easy as 1, 2, 3 when it comes to the sale of booze. When the local body charged with controlling alcohol sales in the River City discovered Meat was, um, you know, well, kinda-sorta sharing the alcohol license owned by its downstairs neighbor, The Blind Pig, it ordered Meat into the cooler.

Soon after, the relationship between Meat and The Blind Pig began rotting.

We all learned there was no love lost between owners of the two businesses, and their failures to fraternize favorably led to the Pig’s closure this fall.

In case you want to keep your mind in the warm-fuzzy, snow-speckled Christmas mode, know that it’s a truly crazy story filled with no holiday happiness.

Big love for hometown bourbon: Angel’s Envy Bourbon’s super premium “Cask Strength” was rated the world’s top spirit by “Spirits Journal,” an esteemed distilled spirits publication penned by respected booze wonk Paul Pacult.

That’s a big deal.

Cask Strength tied for the 2013 top spot with Highland Park 25 Year Old Orkney Islands Single Malt Whisky, which sells for $250 a bottle. Cask Strength is close to half that at $149.

Sadly, Angel’s Envy master distiller Lincoln Henderson would die a few months later, but what a fitting end to a great career.

Louisvillian Damaris Phillips, Food Network Star
Louisvillian Damaris Phillips, the Next Food Network Star

Hey, we’re on the teeevee! Louisville restaurants and personalities got some terrific national television exposure this year.

Damaris Phillips won the Next Food Network Star contest to receive her own show, Southern at Heart. One can expect this marks a bump in pay for the culinary instructor at Jefferson Technical and Community College.

The Coach Lamp got an extreme makeover on Robert Irvine’s Restaurant Impossible show, when it was turned into Brooke & Billy’s Back Patio.

And several locals were featured on Andrew Zimmern’s show, Bizarre Foods America, during its Bourbon and Burgoo episode.

One big barbecue bash: September saw the city’s first Cochon Heritage BBQ event, which was a feast for the ages (if not for the organizer, who didn’t sell too many tickets. About 90 of the 340 in attendance paid to get in, perhaps because regular tickets cost $125, and VIP entry was $200).

The feast featured five restaurant chefs in a contest to make multiple pork dishes and sides using a whole hog, and all of that was washed down with a bottomless supply of bourbon.

Decca’s executive chef, Annie Pettry, wowed judges with her plate to take home the gilded hog trophy. Her victory ensured big names such as Coby Ming (Harvest), Levon Wallace (Proof on Main), Tyler Morris (Rye on Market) and Edward Lee (610 Magnolia, MilkWood) went home empty handed and likely tired. Several of the chefs we spoke with had cooked for a solid week to ready their foods.

Despite the promotional investment in freebies made by event organizer Brady Lowe, he said he expects to return to Louisville in 2014. Those who attended and are now familiar with the event will probably vouch for tickets being worth the price. It was a dandy.

Bonus stuff …

Must do events for next year: This is not meant to be a complete list. These just came to mind.

  • Fest of Ale, in Clarksville in June. Just incredible, and the beer options are unparalleled locally. Can’t believe only 1,200 people turn out for this thing.
  • Louisville BrewFest. Great party, great location, vibe, etc. Plus, it’s the coda to Louisville Craft Beer Week, which was amazing this year.
  • Butchertown Pork Fest. The first-ever rendition was a smash hit. Schedule it for next year.
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Steve Coomes
Steve Coomes is a restaurant veteran turned award-winning food, spirits and travel writer. In his 24-year career, he has edited and written for multiple national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. He is a feature writer for Louisville magazine, Edible Louisville & The Bluegrass and Food & Dining Magazine. The author of two books, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke," and the "Home Distiller's Guide to Spirits," he also serves as a ghostwriter for multiple clients.

5 thoughts on “2013 Revisited: Highlights from a year in Louisville’s restaurant scene

  1. Ignorance in print is simply lazy journalism. If you don’t get Bauer’s fine. Not telling the story to advance a personal opinion, labeling people and pitting “preservationists”against you “sane rational “folk “is truly juvenile.
    What you got is a lovely building rich in history lost forever once the poor little rich mockingbirders got what they wanted (no ookie drugstore ), then abandoned their own ship. Then you got the bait and switch (won’t a lovely replica doctors office be nice?), when no such office really existed.
    What did you really get? A suburban, out of state, likely vacant in five years suburban restaurant called Meh-shhhhhh. And a vacant lot with a sad dislocated patio, gorgeous trees that have no relationship to the new shiny yawn restaurant……..and more asphalt.
    Win win.
    Not.
    But sure, preservation didnt give you anything sweetie. 21c/Proof, Decca, Rye, Morton’s, St. Charles Exchange, Doc Crows, Bearnos, the Side Bar, Patrick OSheas, well, I could go on.
    Damn us economic development idiots, after all.

  2. As I wrote, CruellaD, sometimes preservationists have correct causes, but the Bauer’s case wasn’t one of them. And what you don’t seem to recognize is preservationists who gave us all the lovely properties listed above–they came with money and a plan to preserve and refurbish them. No one did anything like that on the Bauer’s property, nor will they on Colonial Gardens. On Bauer’s, preservationists blocked any progress and bad mouthed anyone who wanted to do anything with it that didn’t fit their whim. BIG difference. I don’t want to pave paradise and put up a parking lot either, but I say we should preserve only that which can be preserved. Fact is, man-made stuff doesn’t always last too long.

  3. Again conjecture replaces facts and you have now conjectured yourself into a laughable corner on Colonial Gardens as well. Now, get on a plane like other smug Americans, fly to Rome and sit yourself down in the coliseum. Or the Vatican…..
    Fact is, man made stuff used to last a long time. That’s why we try to preserve some of these things.

  4. Well, Cruella, not every building is made from stone, which, by the way, isn’t man made. It’s shaped by man, to be sure, but its durability comes naturally. Not even man made concrete and steel have such durability. Edifices less than 200 years old in this country are made of multiple materials that clearly don’t stand the test of time. We can do our best to maintain them, but unless they’re truly priceless historical treasures like the Roman Colosseum, no one’s going to spend money on them eternally. Eventually it may have to go and like it or not, I say that the owner gets to make that decision. If people want to preserve that as historical, let them buy it and do it. But merely blocking change in the courts gets nowhere.

  5. What courts? Where on earth do you get this priceless useless info?! Let me put this as simply as I can – local genre matters -shop local? Preserve local. Small seemingly insignificant buildings matter in real cities like Paris. And people actually do spend money to ensure they stick around a few hundred or thousand years . The beams alone are felled from hundreds of years old trees, like Lincoln’s log cabin, or the four hundred year old apt I stay in when I am in Paris. The owners of Bauers let the building get in the condition it was, it’s called demolition by neglect . Call it the Blue Syndrome, or what comes of worshipping green paper…
    And FYI the site was Landmarked at the behest of the public. That’s the process or was until equally ignorant government neophytes decided they should control what had been an open TRANSPARENT ( are you listening Mayor Green Sustainable Local) process for forty years. What makes any community matter is what sets it apart from someplace else. If you prefer your tacos from the drive thru at Taco Bell, fine. Just don’t go telling the local ethnic population that it passes for real Mexican food.
    And please. Educate yourself before you blah blah blah about stuff you seem to know very little about. I’ve been doing this work for over 35 years . If Bardstown Road and its nasty not long for this world frame and brick buildings don’t look like Shelbyville Road, you can thank the people who actually got out there and kept it weird.
    But hey. You’ll always have Oxmoor………

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