If these walls could talk, they’d tell stories of a bar truly ran by bartenders and chefs at different times in their lives, from different places across the map, all looking to make something work – not just to keep their lights on, but because they loved it.
If these walls could talk, they would tell you about freedom of creativity. From events like Brunch and Beats and come as you are Burlesque shows, to Sunday Live Experimental synth music and Saturday nights of Salsa.
If these walls could talk, they’d tell stories of first encounters, formed relationships, $10,000 meetings over $2 beers, and drunken misunderstandings.
If these walls could talk, they’d tell you a story of a bartender working on a slow night, who decided to check on a guest only to find him lying on the floor, overdosing. Locking the doors, the bartender sat with a stranger until help arrived.
If these walls could talk, they’d talk about a time a new know-it-all bar manager took over a new program. Thinking he knew everything and arguing with his partners, he’d realize almost 3 years down the line that they helped make him a better person.
If these walls could talk, they’d tell about the growth that only comes in moments where your only option is to make something work.
This chapter of Beyond the Bar is not so much about advice, but more so a love letter to a bar that gave me so much over a very brief period of time. In fact, this series spawned from that social posts I used to create to promote Wine Night on Thursdays.
For those of you I do not know, I was the Co-Beverage Director of Butchertown Social from July 2017 to July 2018. Over the span of that year, I learned more about myself that I had in the past five. Isaiah Hoagland, the owner of the bar, was a novice in our industry. To his credit, he acknowledged his lack of experience, so he deferred to the other managers/myself when it came to decisions. This made for an environment with a lot of trust and freedom, but with that freedom came a lot of challenges. None of us (besides Pope) had ever been in a position where our decisions directly impacted the lives of others. That level of engagement with something can give you a sense of ownership, and in the right environment, that can even lead to love.
I, like so many people, loved Butchertown Social. It was and will probably always be my favorite bar. Why? Because it was a place that wasn’t perfect in any sense of the word.
The bar seats sucked, the dance floor was suspect (at best), the bar top was loved or despised (no in-between), and the best piece of furniture was the heavy, old school “casting call” style couch in the front room. But those imperfections gave the bar a deep soul. One that many people aspire to but few achieve.
You felt that soul the moment you stepped foot in the place – regardless of if it was slammed at 10:00 pm on a Saturday Salsa Night or a slow Wednesday at 1 am. You felt it. I think that is why so many people are sad to see it go. Butchertown Social is a one-of-a-kind of bar because it put the idea of being true in the center of their business model. They chose being genuine over making money.
The bar was built on the personalities of who ran it. From the quirkiness of Bri Hlava, expressed in the decorations around the bar and cocktails on the menu, to the cold charisma of Matt Pope, shown in the live shows and eclectic beer menu (built on conversations and handshakes).
Or say the amazing food of Connie Hartsock, someone who was not around while I was there, but was the missing link needed to take Social to its full potential. She took a successful bar and really turned it into a beast. Add in Isaiah’s random round of shots, Chris’s down-to-earth demeanor, and Luke’s perfect wing sauce distribution, you get a place that is also called a home (a heavily alcohol-stocked, burger producing home – but a home(y) bar nonetheless). Those personalities turned into Louisville household names using the platform they came together and created. And that was Butchertown Social.
I’m confident I won’t be able to drive by it without visualizing my time working and relaxing there, and I’m confident that a lot of other patrons will feel the same. I’ll miss the camaraderie that floated through the air; the level of acceptance and equality that poured out of every heart who walked down the main room and jumped around on the dance floor. If those walls could talk, they would say “we changed you, Dante.” I’ll be forever grateful for that.
Sips for Thought #4
12 oz Pedialyte
1 dose Self Reflection
You are still probably hungover from the last night at Social; think about your life.