November 3, 2010

Bar Belle: Gut wrenching

On any given night, bars across the city play host to throngs of patrons looking to unwind, swap gossip or spit, entertain and socialize. Pubs are the cornerstones of great neighborhoods — from Bud’s Tavern in Shively to Norm’s in Okolona to the Nachbar in Germantown. When I moved here 11 years ago, it was this vibrant nightlife I fell in love with, as well as the unique 4 a.m. closing time seven days a week. This town works hard so it can play hard.

I’m proud to support as many local bars as my wallet can handle — and I’ve made it a point to visit as many as I can talk friends into going. But on typical weekends, I stay close to home.

I’ve seen bars come and go, and made friends with many bar owners and staff. So when I heard Dennie Humphrey, owner of The Monkey Wrench, was having difficulties securing a 4 a.m. license — a battle he’s been fighting since opening six years ago — I thought I’d get to the bottom of it.

I met him last week as he was readying the Highlands bar for a benefit concert showcasing the Louisville Youth Orchestra, a warm-up show before their big night with My Morning Jacket. I could tell he had a million things to do, yet when I pulled up a stool to the bar, telling me his story became top priority. The man didn’t even offer me a beer.

The story is typical for the area. The Original Highlands Neighborhood Association is wary of more nightlife establishments in the Highlands — the Baxter Avenue/Bardstown Road corridor is already lively. They cite protecting neighbors’ peace and quiet as a main factor. But for The Monkey Wrench, which lies more than eight blocks away from booming Baxter, such restrictions don’t make sense.

“I just fell for the whole social side of the pub atmosphere,” Dennie says about his desire to open a bar. He was a psychology major at Western Kentucky University when he started working at bars. “I realized that when people came into the bar, they were just letting loose, telling people what their problems were. That’s kinda what I was into — more so than trying to make a career out of psychology.”

Dennie worked through the ranks of Louisville’s bars — Molly Malone’s, Jillian’s, Wick’s and Lucky Strike to name a few. He recalls watching the Highlands’ transformation and dreaming of being part of it.

Dennie and his business partner opened The Monkey Wrench as a restaurant and were granted, after somewhat of a struggle, a license to operate and serve liquor until midnight. As his business evolved into more of a live music venue, he reapplied for a 2 and/or 4 a.m. license because he couldn’t compete with similar venues. The city denied the application, but after many pleas and negotiations, they granted him a 2 a.m. license only if he’d sign a document saying he would not try for a 4 a.m. license. Forced with either shutting down or staying open till 2, Dennie signed on the dotted line “because we didn’t have a choice,” he says.

Fast-forward to last year and the closing of longtime neighbor Barret Bar. Dennie saw an opportunity to finally have a traditional tavern license. He obtained the license they had for more than 20 years, and The Monkey Wrench was now classified as a bar, not a restaurant, which led him to reapply for the 4 a.m. license. The city and the neighborhood council, however, rejected his request, saying there are too many liquor licenses in the area and pointing to the document he signed five years ago.

“Conservatively, you could say we are losing anywhere from $12,000-$16,000 a month in sales just from that 2-3:30 a.m. time period,” Dennie says. “We’ve proven ourselves to be good neighbors, to be a fixture of this awesome neighborhood. We just want our fair right — that’s all it boils down to.”

Dennie plans to appeal the case and take it to the state level. He is coordinating a march to the Original Highlands Neighborhood Association meeting on Monday, Nov. 15. He encourages neighborhood residents who support him to participate. “I want to show them and everyone else that my neighbors in the Highlands, Germantown and Paristown love me, support me and think that I have the same rights as other businesses in this city.”

Drunk Texts of the Week

•Let me stab ur butt

•Im related to a woman named uwanna …

•tht vegan ws a heathen n bed

•Too many parties this weekend … im spread thin like kate moss’ ass

•I lost my virginity to snookis poof

Check out my daily reasons to drink at barbelle.leoweekly.com.

Monkey Wrench

By BAJ
He didn't have a choice? Really? Seems to me all his problems are resulting from his own business choices. He was the one who "chose" to try to operate a bar in a residential area. He was the one who "chose" to evolve into a live music venue. It's the city's reponsibility to make the best decisions for the entire community, not to make the decisions that help him make more money. The city regulations haven't changed. The surrounding neighborhood hasn't changed. If he can't operate the kind of business he wants at the site he's in, he should move.