Photos by Kevin Gibson.
Photos by Kevin Gibson.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, Alison Freels may have seen something others did not. And even she wasn’t sure she was seeing it when she toured the old Club 21 building early this year in her search for a place to convert into a lounge.

But see it she did, and just over a month later, that 1887-built Frank Ziegler Building at 1481 S. Shelby Street that generations ago was a grocery/saloon, is The Cure Lounge, a throwback-meets-modern bar, hangout and eatery.

“At first I was like, no,” Freels said, sitting on a leather couch in The Cure during its grand opening weekend recently. “It was daunting. I’m telling you, though, I am absolutely in love with this building.”

Those who recall Club 21’s crowded-pool-hall vibe will be shocked when they walk into The Cure. In fact, one gentleman who wandered in during my conversation with Freels looked about in utter amazement.

“It’s awesome,” the man said. “Real relaxed.”

Alison Freels
Alison Freels

He then departed and, Freels noticed the back of his shirt appropriately read, “Change Has Come.”

Change indeed. The lounge’s natural brick walls blend perfectly with the modern couches and chairs, while the “Beetlejuice”-inspired black and white stripe walls in the hallway past the bar, cast a whole different vibe just a few feet away.

The perimeter walls are red with black trim, and just inside the door sits a large, cast-iron, five-bulb streetlight that looks right out of a Humphrey Bogart movie.

Interestingly, it – along with some chic, 1920s-era light fixtures that now hang in the bar area – was found in the club’s basement. No telling how long that stuff had been there. Oh, and there’s an old fire hydrant that may yet make an appearance. Meanwhile, a side room holds one pool table and a vintage Frogger machine, with more vintage games to follow.

In addition, the resident chef, Francie Wilder, was told the dance floor in the back room of the building, which was once home to the Pour Haus, is the original flooring from the dance hall at former Fontaine Ferry Park. Meanwhile, the sign on the men’s room says “Dudes,” while the women’s room door reads, “Babes.” The place just oozes with retro-coolness.

“This place is shockingly different,” Freels said. “And the smoke smell is gone.”

the cure loung logoEven the haunting sign that replaced the old Club 21 sign has some cool throwback appeal, as it is a nod to the cover of The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry album, circa 1980.

While the place was serene this past Sunday evening, the fact the bar was out of a lot of booze is evidence the grand opening weekend crowd was ample. Four Roses, which is the “well” bourbon at The Cure Lounge, sold to the point that after seemingly over-stocking for the weekend with two cases of the stuff, only two bottles remained on Sunday.

The bar features a handful of craft beers, some bottles and cans (yes, hipsters, you can get your tall-boy PBRs at The Cure), and a fairly basic stable of liquor from which drinks of all types are created: bourbon, vodka, gin, rum and tequila. Fresh basil, cucumber, watermelon, blueberries and the like are on hand to make craft cocktails at “dive bar prices,” Freels said.

“And I say [dive bar] with love,” she added.

The Cure Lounge bar

Freels bartended at the Monkey Wrench for eight years before opening The Cure. A Pittsburgh native, she had lived in Louisville a short time before moving around the U.S. for several years. She always planned to return permanently.

“Everywhere I moved to, this was it,” she said. “I love Louisville; I just love it.”

Apparently, Louisville loves her right back. When she decided to snatch up Club 21, she said, friends and family came out in bunches to help her strip the place and turn it into the nearly-finished lounge it is now. She admits she couldn’t have done it without them, perhaps most of all her husband, Floyd. For the last month, she said, life has been beyond hectic, trying to get the lounge open as fast as possible: “Basically, we were just not sleeping, really.”

But the afterthought to the décor and back story is the food, and it should not be forgotten. Not at all. A basic menu of what Freels calls “easy eats” includes pierogie (delicious), and a few sandwiches and other snacks that can be eaten mostly with one’s hands, a strategy to allow people to munch while sitting in the lounge area.

The German roll may have been my favorite – it is like a reuben sandwich meets a wonton, and it comes with spicy mustard for dipping. The Hawaiian and Italian stuffed sticks were darn tasty as well. And much of what is on the menu, which will expand in the near future, comes on a skewer. Soon, you’ll even be able to get a salad on a stick.

The Cure Lounge bar 2The Cure Lounge will be open every day except Monday, and the event-minded Freels said Louisville can expect lots of activity, as she plans to host everything from fashion events to dinner-and-a-movie nights, to outdoor events in the huge parking lot and live music. She may even do a haunted house in the back room, which is the next renovation project, come October.

Meanwhile, her love affair with the old Schnitzelburg building that now houses her dream will continue to blossom.

“I wasn’t planning on a place this size,” she said. “I wanted something smaller, just a small, little lounge. But when I walked in here, my brain went crazy. I couldn’t sleep — I was like, ‘I have to have this place.’ And I will take very very good care of her.”

Kevin Gibson

Kevin Gibson

Kevin Gibson tackles the 3Rs — retail, restaurants, real estate — plus, economic development. He loves bacon, loathes cucumbers and once interviewed Yoko Ono. Check out his books, “Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft” and “100 Things to do in Louisville Before You Die.” He has won numerous awards for his work but doesn’t know where most of them are now. In his spare time, he plays in a band called the Uncommon Houseflies.Email Kevin at [email protected]