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Bars We Love: Silver Dollar, Louisville

Bars We Love: Silver Dollar, Louisville: Silver Dollar

Silver Dollar

Drinking is easy. Finding the right bar, not so easy. We’re here to help. As a public service to all of you thirsty explorers, every week we highlight the best bars in America and tell you what makes them so damn great. This week we’ve got a bar that’s consistently named one of the best bourbon bars in the country.


Silver Dollar

Silver Dollar

NAME: Silver Dollar
LOCATION: Louisville, Kentucky
EST: 2010
ON THE RECORD PLAYER: Buck Owens, Loretta Lynn, Merle Haggard

WHAT TO ORDER (NEWBIES): Mint Julep (Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon, demerara (raw sugar) syrup, mint and crushed ice served in a tin cup)
WHAT TO ORDER (REGULARS): Bottle of Lone Star and the Bourbon Shot of the Day

WHY WE LOVE IT: If you haven’t been to the Silver Dollar, you probably haven’t been to Louisville, Kentucky. The Clifton institution, located just outside of downtown, is both a great bar with delicious food and a great restaurant with a stellar bar. “Silver Dollar is a place where my industry friends can come in and be shocked at how great the drinks and food are,” co-owner Larry Rice says. “But it’s also a place where my Midwestern family members can come in, feel comfortable, and not have a hard time reading the menu.”

Before opening the bar, Rice, who has lived in Louisville his entire life, would often host bartender friends from out of town at his house. They would sit around, drinking whiskey and listening to old country-western records. “Finally we were like ‘why don’t we open a bar with an atmosphere like this?’" he says. He named it after the mythical bar in the classic song “Queen of the Silver Dollar”:

Silver Dollar

Silver Dollar

She’s the Queen of the Silver Dollar
And she rules this smoky kingdom
And her scepter is a wine glass
And this bar stool is her throne
And the jesters flock around her
And fight to win her favors
And see which one will take the Queen
Of the Silver Dollar home

Just like Rice’s living room, Silver Dollar only plays vinyl records of old country-western music known as Bakersfield sound. The genre got its start in the 1950s, during the Dust Bowl, when agricultural workers from Mexico, the Southwest and the South immigrated to rural Bakersfield, California, to find work. “These guys were kind of like refugees,” Rice says. “But the townies didn’t want all of these immigrants coming in and taking their work, so they got shunned. They started their own little communities and support groups. They were all broke but they had their own juke joints and out of that came the Bakersfield sound and outlaw country music.”

Silver Dollar

Silver Dollar

Bakersfield is also where the bar’s food and spirits menu draws its inspiration. “We thought of those immigrants and what would remind them of home,” Rice says. The food menu includes a lot of heavy protein, country-style dishes with spicy, south-of-the-border kicks. Take the beer-can hen, for example, a game hen roasted (and served) over a can of Old Milwaukee and topped with a lime-and-Serrano-pepper demi-glace. “The city showed us that it wanted a restaurant with a really great bar,” Rice says. “It’s Louisville. We’re not New York and we’re not Chicago. So on a Tuesday night, most of the population isn’t going out drinking. If they’re going out they’re going out for a drink. But they are going to eat.”

The back bar is only stocked with agave spirits (what the Mexicans in Bakersfield would have drank) and Kentucky whiskeys (what the Americans would have drank). In fact, Silver Dollar is the only bar in Kentucky that solely carries Kentucky bourbon whiskeys. Its whiskey list contains well over 130 different Kentucky varieties, with a focus on vintage bottles and special releases. “We’ve won some best whiskey list awards, but we will never have the largest whiskey list in the country because we only buy the ones being made here, within a few miles of our place,” Rice says. “We’re a honky tonk, but we still strive for the same quality you’d find in a cocktail bar. We want our drinks to be approachable for everybody, not just for the cocktail geeks, but the cocktail geeks will still appreciate the drink we put in front of them.”

Beverage director Susie Hoyt, who trained under cocktail legend Toby Maloney, incorporates the playful Bakersfield influence here, too: the Satan Is Real cocktail is made with Del Maguey Vida mezcal, demerara (raw sugar) syrup, and Lengua del Diablo and Angostura bitters; the Harper Valley PTA cocktail is made with Buffalo Trace bourbon, Ramazzotti amaro, Cynar, raspberry and vanilla syrups, lime and Angostura bitters.

Another reason people love this bar is because unlike most other bars in Louisville, Silver Dollar stays open until 2 A.M., seven days a week. “I won’t even lock my door 10 minutes early,” Rice says. “You have to be consistent for people to trust you. If someone gets off work at 1 A.M. and they want a quick shot and a beer, they know we’re going to be sitting there waiting for them.”

Silver Dollar

Silver Dollar


Alyson Sheppard is the resident hangover specialist at Playboy.com. Find her on Twitter: @amshep


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