Ladies and Gentlemen, there was a time in my life when the imposing atmosphere of “The Bar” moved like an ominous cloud over my young, and decidedly lightweight, self. The sticky floor, the museum of horrors on display in the toilet, the squeal of the heavily sloshed – it’s all a carnival of libation that intimidated my little, hermit life; “drinking” (as in, the art of) was, oddly enough, not something I learned in college (one’s already limited understanding of Ulysses tends to suffer under the influence). But I would mature, blooming like a delicate flower, and thus discovered the charming nature of the local watering hole. As it would turn out, a little social lubrication can sometimes generate a beautiful marriage between the glass and the wordsmith. Perhaps no one in our fair city knows this symbiotic union better than the lovely Sara Havens – The Bar Belle.
Currently spending her days immersed as LEO Weekly’s Managing and Arts Editor, by night, Sara Havens dons her popular persona and takes the pulse of Louisville’s nightlife. The Bar Belle column and corresponding blog feature Havens’ personal escapades, witty (and sometimes scathing) observations, as well as various local tips, trends and downright, damn-good hangouts. Havens took The Bar Belle a step further this fall, releasing a compilation of her 100 best columns in a new book forthrightly dubbed, The Bar Belle. Featuring a foreword by John Yarmuth and filled with Havens’ own special blend of comedy, The Bar Belle is everything you love about the Louisville bar scene with none of the calories. The lady herself treated me to a lunch hour of pizza, personality and the truth about “Sara-h with an H”.
So, let me know how this started; how did the whole “Bar Belle” persona/column come about?
Well, I had been at LEO for a few years – I started in ’99 – and around 2006 my editor just kind of suggested it. I would come in everyday – every Monday – and tell him stories about what I’d done on the weekend. I would come in often and be like “Oh, you’ll never believe what happened this weekend...” so I guess he just kind of got sick of hearing about my stories and he finally said “why don’t you write a column?” So, that was 2006 and it’s been running every other week since then.
Do you find that your notoriety as “The Bar Belle” affects your experience when you go out places? Do bartenders treat you differently – better, worse?
For a while, my picture wasn’t in the paper and it was actually the little person on the cover [of her book], so no one really knew and I didn’t tell a lot of people.
Was that the reason for [the Bar Belle graphic]?
No, I picked that little character out just because I really liked it – I still like; I didn’t really want to get rid of it…she’s still on the blog on the website and she’s on the wall of The Back Door.
Who thought of the name “Bar Belle”?
Actually, my production – editorial production – guy, Ben Schneider, he’s the one who came up with the tag.
Can you tell me a little bit more about “Sara-h with an H”? I’ve heard about her…
[Laughs] Uh oh!…that’s kind of my alternate personality. Actually, Buddy [Ben Schneider] kind of coined her name, too. She’s just kind of…my alternate personality that kind of comes out when I’ve had too much to drink.
Is there a certain liquor?
Yeah, usually bourbon. I can have one bourbon a night, but if I have more than two…[Sara-h with an H] comes out. And she’s pretty rude, very loud and doesn’t know when to stop – you know – and leaves bars and just takes off walking. But the thing is she won’t let me know what happened; when she comes in, I have no memory!
So, are you any different from the persona of The Bar Belle?
Yeah, I kind of take liberty and license. A lot of it’s exaggerated sometimes – at least that’s what I tell my mom. But yes, I actually think a lot of people when they meet me, they expect this party chick…But, I guess [The Bar Belle] is kind of my way of releasing. I kind of hide behind my column a little bit.
Did you start off in journalism? Was this a lifelong pursuit or did it just kind of fall into place?
Yeah, I went to school for journalism at Ohio University. And actually LEO was my first job and I’m still there!
What’s your favorite perk – if there are any – of being The Bar Belle?
I guess when people do figure out it’s me, maybe they’ll relate to something I wrote that week. It ‘s just good hearing that people read. Sometimes I write and I only think that my four friends read and it’s just for them. But it’s weird when I see people reading it or when people come up to me and tell me a certain sentence they like or things like that.
What direction do you see [the column] going? I’d imagine you can only write about the same drink so many times. Do you see it changing or evolving into something else?
Yeah, I think it’s pretty much been evolving since the day I started. I kind of felt the same way: “Oh, how am I going to keep writing about bars and drinks?” So I’ve kind of changed it over the years to just be more of a personality-driven column. But yeah, every time I sit down to write, I kind of get scared…what am I going to write about next? So I usually try to have something in mind, some kind of topic to stick on, but after I’ve written that, I don’t think about it for another two weeks. So then I just start panicking, thinking: “what am I gonna write about?? What am I gonna write about??”
How did you come up with the idea of doing a compilation?
You know, one of our other columnists, Jim Welp, he did something similar. I guess he put out a book two years ago with all of his columns that he does…so I kind of got to thinking and I talked to him about it. He’s self-published, which is what I ended up doing, too. So yeah, I guess I just borrowed his idea!
How did you pick which columns to put in [the book]?
I was working with a publisher at the time – a local publisher – and she was saying that we needed to narrow it. Originally I just took them all – compiled them all. And she said: “Oh, it’s a little too much, can you narrow it to 100?” So I just narrowed it down, and I kind of liked the idea of the “100 best”. It stops at 2010, nothing from this year’s adventures. That way I can have another one in five more years.
So, you do plan on doing another compilation. Any other kind of publishing?
I don’t know…I mean, maybe in five or so years when I have some more – another “100 best”. But no, I don’t have any other plans. But with self-publishing anybody can really be an author, so, I’ve got that vehicle. It was so easy that I think I might do another one.
How was the process of self-publishing? I’ve never really looked into that before.
I actually worked with this local company – it’s Jim Welp and his co-workers. It’s called Pansy Press, and what they did was take all my columns…my favorite ones in a Word document, and then they actually designed it on Lulu.com. So they knew how to measure the pages and things. Basically the biggest cost is designing, so you get a designer and then all you do is upload onto this website and you pick what kind of paper you want and what book…etc. You only really need to find a designer, or they can provide people, too. But the good thing about self-publishing is I can go today and order two books or 200 and keep ordering. I think I ordered 200 total the first time, and I have about 75 left.
Do you do any other creative outlets? Creative writing or any other artistic pursuits?
I minored in creative writing, and I enjoyed doing it while I was in college. But, it’s not something I kept doing afterward. But, I think it’s helped me in my writing of the column – and for the other things I write in the LEO, but, I haven’t started any fiction.
Do you have a favorite author or a favorite book?
Right now I’m reading a Chelsea Handler book, and I think I have Tina Fey on my list – and David Sedaris, of course. I don’t actually read a lot – except for magazines and stuff – but it’s just because I read all day. I’m the main Copy Editor at LEO, so the last thing I want to do when I get home is read. But, I do have books on my nightstand that I’ll pick up and turn through.
So, how do you balance having what I assume is a full time job with escapades and things of that nature?
If I’m doing something for the column [the LEO] will let me leave early or come in late. They work with me.
And what is your favorite drink?
It’s called the Sidecar. Basically, it’s just a bottle of Miller-lite and then you order a bourbon on the rocks to drink alongside of it. It’s not a one-to-one ratio, though. Maybe you might have three beers to every one bourbon. It’s just nice to sip while you’re drinking the beer.
Personally, when I imbibe heavily, I get cravings for Taco Bell. Do you have a favorite greasy spoon?
I used to live really close to Twig & Leaf and we would go there every weekend – I don’t know how I wasn’t 300 pounds. I remember I used to get the mashed potatoes and gravy and a banana split made with chocolate ice cream. I haven’t been in long time though; I like it, but luckily it never crosses my head to go there [laughs].
Do you have a hang-over cure or anything you do the morning afterward?
If I did I might be on Oprah. No, I just try to drink a lot of water. No charms really. But, usually, a Diet Coke helps – but it has to be a fountain Coke. Not the bottle.
That brings to another question: bottle or glass?
I like it draft. If they have it, I’ll get it in that form. I know draft gives some people headaches – all the CO2 – but that’s my favorite.
Any ideal drinking music or favorite bands?
He’s not my favorite, but whenever I hear Jimmy Buffet it kind of takes me to New Orleans. I want to be sitting on a bar on the beach, you know?
What are your favorite hangouts in the city?
Definitely The Back Door, that goes without saying. Every Thursday we have happy hour there. I used to live closer Dundee Tavern and that used to be the place I always went. The Monkey Wrench is right by my house, and then Flannigan’s, if I’m going to be up there in Bardstown Road. When I do want a good drink, I go to Proof – they make their own tonic, and it’s so good!
Do you ever regret being The Bar Belle? Especially now that you have your picture out and people might recognize you. Do ever find yourself in a situation where you wish you could shed the persona?
I think my mom wishes I wasn’t The Bar Belle [laughs]. But, yes, I think sometimes people might not take me seriously because they think I’m just a party girl – they think I’m always drunk. But, overall, it’s more fun than it is negative.
I think everybody has “drunk tales” that get swapped at parties. Any good, juicy stories you care to share?
One time, I went back to my college to visit and we were staying at hotel – we weren’t on campus – and we were drinking in the downtown area where all the bars were. We didn’t want to pay for a taxi, for some reason, so we walked up to the Domino’s Pizza there and ordered a pizza to be delivered to our hotel – but we told him he had to take us with the pizza if he wanted someone to pay for it. I don’t think they’re legally allowed to do that, so he told us to go around the corner, but he ended up driving us home. We tipped him well!
LIGHTNING ROUND: Word Association
Bird: Robin…lots of robins
Wire: My dog. He chewed my internet wire; I take him to work.
Horse: Mr. Ed
Sandal: Flip flop
Havens released The Bar Belle on November 10th at – where else – The Back Door, and will be popping up throughout December for more readings, signings and maybe a drink or two. Catch her at Rich O’s/New Albanian Brewing Company on December 1st at 6pm, and the Barret Avenue Regalo on December 21st at 5pm. Copies of The Bar Belle are for sale and ready for a good time at Carmichael’s for $17.99. Cozy up to your favorite bar stool with a copy and raise a toast!
Find the latest adventures of The Bar Belle in a LEO Weekly near you!
And for more tips, tricks and quirks, visit The Bar Belle’s blog
Photo: Courtesy of Carmichael’s Bookstore website www.carmichaelsbookstore.com