September 22, 2016

The Brown Hotel Lobby Bar in Louisville, Kentucky

Brown Hotel Lobby Bar Interior

photo by: Chris Witzke

The Brown Hotel Lobby Bar is decorated in impressively detail-laden English Renaissance and Neo-Classical styles.

The Lobby Bar is located, unsurprisingly, in the lobby of the Brown Hotel at Broadway and Fourth in Louisville, Kentucky.

What might surprise you is the establishment's friendly and unassuming atmosphere—it's something you'd expect to find at your local dive bar, not in an upscale hotel that has catered to the Duke of Windsor, Muhammad Ali, and President George H. W. Bush.

Back in the day, the hotel was known for its location at a crossroads between where people lived and where people worked. The Brown Hotel was far enough from the banks of the Ohio River to be outside the parameters of the warehouse district, but not close enough to the brownstone-laden neighborhoods of Louisville to be entirely suburban either. Today, it has an all-around appeal that attracts locals and tourists alike.

The 16-story brick-and-steel hotel opened during Prohibition in 1923. The bar followed two years later. It creatively followed an early version of the ubiquitous BYOB policy. Its English Renaissance-inspired architecture—see the plaster ceilings, gold inlay, and marble columns—is offset by Adam-style details like ornamental swags and dentils that recall the opulence and glamour of a different time.

Sitting within the vast expanse of the hotel lobby are comfortable couches and a small wooden bar with seven or eight stools. And despite the great expanse between the floor and ceiling, the space is somehow intimate and reassuring, creating an aesthetic that has attracted a steady number of patrons since its opening.

Brown Hotel Lobby Bar Bartender Crafting a Cocktail

photo by: Chris Witzke

A bartender at the Lobby Bar demonstrates his craft.

Brown Hotel Lobby Bar Wooden Bar

photo by: Chris Witzke

The wooden bar blends in unobtrusively with the Lobby Bar's tall ceilings and architectural embellishments.

With a varied history, which includes a fishing incident in its lobby during a flood in 1937, a guest’s free-roaming pet lion, and its role as a traditional location for cocktails before the annual Kentucky Derby, the hotel and its beloved bar have captured a colorful yet comfortable reputation. Whether you visit the Lobby bar with special clients or enter the premises with a group of buddies—Urban Bourbon Trail Passports in hand—you’ll find an equally inviting atmosphere.

Here's what you need to know before you go.

Location: 335 West Broadway, Louisville, KY 40202

Hours: Open daily, 3 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Limited menu after 10 p.m.

You’re Having: The hot brown (a Kentucky-renowned comfort dish, the origins of which began in the Brown Hotel itself) and an Old Fashioned (with real cherries soaked in French brandy). The combo is the gastronomical equivalent of a Kentucky welcome.

Best Yelp Review: “Elegant, classy and a must see when visiting Louisville, KY. The Lobby Bar at the Brown Hotel (yes the home of the original and delicious hot brown sandwich) is a timeless piece of history. Great place to hang out for happy hour. First class service and beautiful surroundings. Not to be missed!” --Janet V.

Meghan White is a historic preservationist and a former assistant editor for Preservation magazine. She has a penchant for historic stables, absorbing stories of the past, and one day rehabilitating a Charleston single house.

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