The Horizon

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Speakeasy series explores Louisville’s hidden gems

Part One: An inside look at Pin + Proof, the Rathskeller and the Old Seelbach Bar

An+old-fashioned+served+at+Pin+%2B+Proof.
An old-fashioned served at Pin + Proof.

An old-fashioned served at Pin + Proof.

Macy Allgeier

Macy Allgeier

An old-fashioned served at Pin + Proof.

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The year is 1922. I walk in a barber shop, knock a couple times on the wall — it opens. There’s a room with loud music, people dancing and drinkingDrinking? During the prohibition? What is this place…? Ah!  

To my surprise there are still many “speakeasies” around the Kentuckiana area. These first two of the speakeasy series are located in hotels — the Omni and the Seelbach.

Pin + Proof:

Pin + Proof is located inside of the Omni, which opened at the beginning of this past March. The Omni has several bars and restaurants that are all meant to have a different look and feel from the next one; for example, the speakeasy which is hidden near the “library.” I went on a Monday night, so there weren’t many crowds. I walked in, the lights were dimmed and Frank Sinatra was playing in the background; although there was plenty of lounge seating, I bellied up to the bar.

The bartenders, Sarabeth Hargis and Joseph Kissel, have both been in the serving industry for many years, and started at the Omni a couple weeks after it had opened. They said the old fashioned was the most sold drink on the menu, so that’s what I ordered — I felt like an OG.

“I have worked in Dive bars and other high end hotels, but nothing like this. It’s a really cool vibe here,” Hargis said. “It’s a conventions town, so you get everyone from truck drivers to wealthy businessmen.”

“Almost every night there has been standing room only, waiting to get into the bar,” Kissel said, who had only been there for one week.

Pin + Proof does a great job creating the speakeasy ambiance with modern flares. They have the traditional cocktails, jazz music and light bite meals, all which are reminiscent of the earlier days, but other additions such as four bowling alleys and four television that you wouldn’t find in the 1920s.

The cocktails were a little expensive for a not-so-wealthy-college-student such as myself, but that is to be expected from a luxurious hotel like the Omni. On the contrary, all their juices and syrups are made fresh, so the cocktails are worth the pretty penny. I recommend everyone to go here at least once to experience the unique atmosphere Pin + Proof has to offer. If I had a few extra dollars (or Jacksons) in my wallet, it would be a place I would visit more often for good times and good cocktails.

The Rathskeller and Old Seelbach Bar

The Seelbach Hotel is loaded up with history. It was built in 1905 and has had several celebrity visitors since such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Al Capone and nine U.S. Presidents including: William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

The Seelbach is also known to be haunted, specifically by a ghost called “Lady in Blue.” Lady in Blue supposedly jumped to her death from the eighth floor elevator shaft after being informed by authorities that her husband was killed while walking to the hotel to meet her. She had long dark hair and wore a blue chiffon dress at the time. There have been multiple reports of people seeing and hearing “the Lady in Blue.”

“She spoke my name before,” Cindy Kebbell, a bartender in the Old Seelbach Bar, said. “It was late, nobody else was here, and I heard someone whisper my name. I knew it was her.”

The Old Seelbach Bar is not the “speakeasy” of the Seelbach, but it is however the only current bar of the hotel. Kebbell recommended me the Seelbach Cocktail, which was similar to an old-fashioned except with champagne added. You are allowed to walk throughout the hotel with your drink, so I took my cocktail down to the infamous Rathskeller.

I have worked in Dive bars and other high end hotels, but nothing like this. It’s a really cool vibe here. It’s a conventions town, so you get everyone from truck drivers to wealthy businessmen.”

— Sarabeth Hargis, Pin + Proof bartender

The Rathskeller, former speakeasy, is now only open for special events. It is the only room in the world of its kind. A work of art, the Rathskeller is crafted entirely of Rookwood Pottery from the ceramic tiles that were hand painted and fired, to the Italian pelicans that adorn each column around the room, which are supposed to bring good luck. The ceiling is made of leather painted in a heraldic design with the twelve zodiac signs. It took two years and four months to complete this unique masterpiece.

I walked around observing the hotel as I finished my cocktail, then went back to the Old Seelbach Bar to grab another drink before I went on an official tour of the hotel. This time I got a beer that was named after the Lady in Blue. I had hope this special beer would be the key in helping me encounter the Lady in Blue. Sadly, it was unsuccessful. The tour guide said the spirits are more active during the night.

On my tour we visited the Oak Room. Al Capone was a frequent visitor of the Seelbach and spent most of his time in the Oak Room. Inside is a private card room that Capone would reside. If police were to come looking for him, he would sneak out a secret door located in the Southwest paneling of the room, travel down a staircase that led him into The Rathskeller and exit out the secret tunnels of the hotel.

The Rathskeller was considered the hotspot in Louisville during World War I, which attracted a young army officer by the name of F. Scott Fitzgerald. He was also a frequent visitor of the hotel. One night he met a man named George Remus, who was known as “king of the bootleggers,” and Remus turned out to be the inspiring character for Jay Gatsby in Fitzgerald’s famous novel, The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald included the Seelbach Hotel in his novel — more famously The Grand Ballroom where Tom and Daisy Buchanan had their wedding.

I recommend this hotel to anyone interested in history, ghost, gangsters, literature or alcohol. The cocktails were similarly priced to the Omni, so not cheap, but you can get a free tour of the hotel to go with it. That is what I call a good deal, ladies and gents.

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