This article appears in the Winter 2014 issue of Louisville SWIG. To subscribe, please visit loumag.com.
Ah, the Bambi Walk. A pub crawl that now attracts college kids on their 21st birthdays, or on Dec. 23 during Christmas break. “I hate when I get calls from some blond girl asking, ‘Do we get a T-shirt?’” says the Bambi Bar’s Pete White, mentioning how some believe the Bambi in fact sponsors such foolery. White’s been serving drinks at Bambi for more than 10 years and has yet to hear of anyone actually completing Louisville’s Everest of bar hops. And we all know what the walk involves.
Or do we?
Do you stop at Jack Fry’s? That’s more of a restaurant, right? What about the bar down the side street? Is the mandate to get a drink at every stop? Can you drink water? Do you have to make T-shirts?
We didn’t know either! Thus, the Definitive Bambi Walk.
1. You must start at the Bambi Bar and end at Phoenix Hill Tavern. Not backwards, not limiting the adventure to your favorite segment. The whole. Damn. Thing.
2. Each stop must be on the main drag of Bardstown Road and Baxter Avenue.*
3. Each stop has to feel more bar than restaurant. You know what we mean: A bar just, well, feels like a bar. Is there a hostess stand? Better not be. Could you rowdy up the joint with a crew of 20 in ugly Christmas sweaters? No to the Bristol; no to Seviche; no to Jack Fry’s.
4. Get a drink at every bar. No Shirley Temples! No virgin anything! Water is allowed if and only if it accompanies a drink whose alcohol by volume is one percent or greater. We’re not trying to make you finish every drop, but do the walk some justice.
5. Yeah, what the hell: Make some themed T-shirts.
*The Back Door does not apply for reasons explained below. However, it does boast a Bardstown Road address, so main drag, shmain shmag.
Our Bambi Walk took more than nine hours. The journey went down on Friday, Dec. 13. Friday the 13th. Uh oh.
Bambi Bar (4:25 p.m.)
2701 Bardstown Road
Drink: Bud Light. Try not to break the seal this early.
If you’re starting the journey empty-stomached, the Bambi Burger is a good base for the next, oh, eight hours of boozing. One down. On to the next. And give a nod to the poster of Barney Fife on your way out.
2600 Bardstown Road
Drink: Vodka and tonic, Old Forester on the rocks.
A self-described “tavern” near Lakeside Swim Club, its mostly over-45, mostly male loyalists come here for the homemade soups and hand-pattied burgers, as well as for the libations and animated bonhomie.
Left Field Lounge
2282 Bardstown Road
Drink: “The Devil’s Shot.”
Feed the jukebox, dance a little, chat with the bartender. Unlike most area bars that stay open till 4 a.m. but have last call at 3:30 or earlier, this dive pours drinks until closing time. Ya know, in case you get a late start. The bartender wouldn’t tell us what’s in the Devil’s Shot. He set a fire extinguisher on the bar, put a fireman’s hat on our head, and set the alcohol ablaze. Had to suck it down through a straw. Tasted like molasses.
1607 Bardstown Road
Drink: Pabst draft or Rolling Rock in a bottle.
You can gauge the inside crowd from the size of the gauntlet on the front stairs. It’s a hidden live-music dive bar owned by a musician — not a good gathering spot for tidy, proper people but a great party bar for grungers and weed whackers.
1576 Bardstown Road
Drink: Cream ale.
The cream ale is one of Cumberland’s lighter options. At this point, you could use light.
River City Drafthouse
1574 Bardstown Road
Drink: Country Boy Wet Hop Saison. (It’s a beer.)
River City opened for business at 9 p.m. on Derby Day 2012. Which sounds kinda perfect. Owner Patrick Smith says he never has two kegs of the same beer at the same time, and it’s evident by the chalkboard full of selections that’ll overwhelm a newbie. Ah, hell, just tell ’em to bring you something good.
1565 Bardstown Road
A cozy piano bar with fancy cocktails. Don’t just throw back a shot here. Treat yo’ self.
Highlands Tap Room
1279 Bardstown Road
Drink: Any of the 13 craft beers on tap.
This Bardstown Road staple is low-lit, narrow and packed with beer and liquor. Hallelujah! A true dive bar, you may catch a whiff of bleach and/or vomit in the air. Regulars like to drink, drink some more, and sing karaoke.
The Back Door
1250 Bardstown Road
Drink: Tequila sunrise. Or whatever’s on the $2.75 special board.
Near-perfect dive bar. Strong drinks, great price (seven bucks for two gin-and-tonics!). Super-friendly barkeeps who seem as if they were born and raised here. Fried food served in baskets. Mural of regulars on the wall. Near-perfect? It is perfect. The address says Bardstown but you’ll never find it if you haven’t been here before. It’s on the side of the mall. No, the other side.
1202 Bardstown Road
Drink: Bourbon slush.
The smallest bar. Go figure. Big Bar’s a taste of Chelsea, Manhattan, with a welcoming neighborhood vibe. The music playing overhead will make you want to dance!
1133 Bardstown Road
Drink: Vodka, stat!
Does your liver need a quick break from this marathon? Nowhere’s got plenty to offer. You can lounge in a graffiti-inspired sitting area, play pool or hop over to the dance floor. Let the booze lube up those stiff old joints!
1123 Bardstown Road
Drink: Whatever gives you that karaoke courage.
You’ll probably have to wait more than an hour for your turn at the karaoke mic, and that’s precious time during a Bambi Walk. Suggestion: Slip the DJ an Andrew Jackson to move up the list. Please don’t sing anything from Grease.
1117 Bardstown Road
Current-hits music videos playing on six synchronized TVs; DJ-spun disco, remixes and throwbacks; “kewl” karaoke; and $5 happy-hour Long Island iced teas. Dress-up (mostly) place with not much room to move around.
Highlands Tap Room Grill
1058 Bardstown Road
Drink: Crack open a West Sixth IPA. (Cans are better than draft — didn’t you hear?)
Don’t compare this Tap Room to its louder, dingy older sister. The spiffed-up sibling makes some killer barbecue pulled-pork nachos, which are vital at this point.
1034 Bardstown Road
Drink: One of the hard-to-pronounce European beers.
Just close your eyes and point to one. This many drinks into the Walk, everything from a pilsner to a stout will taste heavenly. If you’re feeling extra religious (or just need to take a whiz), check out The Last Supper-inspired men’s restroom. Ladies, go ahead, take a peek.
1047 Bardstown Road
Drink: Anything to numb the pain: I just got steel-toe kicked in the mouth! Just kidding — I’ll take a Pabst.
Reliably sticky floors; a musty, dank atmosphere; stiff, cheap drinks; and you stand a pretty good chance of seeing a fight. Great place to enjoy loud, aggressive music, too. Smells like bleach.
975 Baxter Ave.
Drink: Beer me.
The bar side, not the restaurant side. Watch the game on one of the 4,319 television sets. And on the chalkboard in the men’s room, check out a “Brrr” graffiti logo, the kind that’s become famous in town. (Yes, ladies, we’re sending you into another men’s restroom.) We were slightly disappointed to hear that it’s had to be redrawn a time or two.
O’Shea’s Irish Pub
956 Baxter Ave.
Baxter’s 942 Bar and Grill
942 Baxter Ave.
Flanagan’s Ale House
934 Baxter Ave.
Molly Malone’s Pub
933 Baxter Ave.
On our Bambi Walk, these four tightly bunched bars — call them FlaMollO’Shaxter’s — were each charging $3 to get in. Twelve bucks. That’s more than the price of four tequila sunrises at the Back Door. After 17 no-cover bars, it makes for a soul-searching stretch. Do we declare, in a regal sweep of editorial unction and in deference to thinning wallets, that the Bambi Walk skips over FlaMollO’Shaxter’s and ends at Outlook Inn, also avoiding the cover at Phoenix Hill Tavern? (Free the Bambi Walk!)
Alas, tradition trumps miserliness. Thus, it is hereby proclaimed: Thou shalt include the Irish bars (plus Baxter’s) on the Bambi Walk. So it shall be written; so it shall be done! Plus, we like these places. Double plus: If you turn the Bambi Walk into a Bambi Sprint, you may hit FlaMollO’Shaxter’s before the covers kick in, usually about 10:30 p.m.
Drink: Beer, beer, beer, beer.
O’Shea’s: awesome street patio.
Baxter’s: live music.
Flanagan’s: best beer selection of FlaMollO’Shaxter’s.
Molly Malone’s: great view of the street scene from the elevated front patio.
916 Baxter Ave.
Drink: Bloody Mary. Because it’s gotta almost be morning, no? And a water.
Even though your mom probably frequented the Outlook in her day, it’s still cool. Good music, stiff drinks and pool tables never go out of style.
Phoenix Hill Tavern (1:41 a.m.)
644 Baxter Ave.
Drink: Does it matter at this point?
You look a little, um, drowsy, my friend. Open those eyes! Rally! Just one more drink! Yes, you’ll have to pay the few-bucks cover charge at this . . . well, it’s basically an amusement park for booze. Multiple levels. A you’ll-lose-count number of bars. A retractable “moon roof” (which means you’re technically outdoors and can smoke!). Live music. Foliage. The thing about Phoenix Hill Tavern anchoring the Bambi Walk is that, come morning, you probably won’t remember anything about Phoenix Hill Tavern. Up to you to decide if that’s good or bad.