A conversation with local watering hole’s owner Todd Moore and operator Mary Ragsdale
By Joe Daily
Photos by Andrea Hutchinson
Clothing provided by Rodeo Drive
Welcome everyone, and thanks for joining us this month for Daily Libations! This month, I chatted with the owner Todd Moore and operator Mary Ragsdale of Taj. Not only one of my best buds but also a long-time bar operator in Louisville, Kentucky. Mary is one of the hardest working people I know and one of the best operators hospitality-wise in the city. She is one of the fastest bartenders in the city by far. It’s enjoyable to sit back and watch her work. It is impressive! It takes years of high-volume experience to reach that level of speed and efficiency. So let’s put Todd and Mary in the hot seat and get to know them and the Taj crew a little more!
Todd, what do you love about being part of the NuLu community and owning Taj?
Initially, I was skeptical of the NuLu area before opening the bar. I had frequented the area in the past to drop off food at the Wayside Mission across the street. It took me two years to commit to developing the space. Once the doors opened and I started meeting the neighbors (which was one-third of the business), I felt the area’s warmth. Every new person I met became a part of the bar. It was and still is like family.
What makes Mary such an integral part of the business?
I had known Mary since she worked at Jeff Ruby’s years ago and followed her to other establishments as a regular. I was immediately impressed with her ability to always carry a smile and make me feel like I was her number one customer. The thing was, she made everyone feel that way. When the opportunity came available at Taj, I practically begged her to take the position. One night after she had given notice at her old job, a group of us offered her $2,000 to leave. You could say that she was not given a very pleasant sendoff, and it’s the first time I saw her not smile. Mary being the loyal person that she is, said no. She gave her word she would stay until her exit date. Mary has brought the bar to a spot where people feel comfortable and part of the family. I don’t know what I would do if I came to the Taj and didn’t hear “Where’s Mary?”
Mary, what makes Taj such a staple in the community?
Taj is a staple in the neighborhood for our unique decor, our famous $8 Old Fashioned, a massive bourbon list and our spectacular, one-of-a-kind staff. From the outside of our building, it is hard to tell that we are a bar. People are drawn to our alleyway by playing New Orleans-style jazz music. Once people are inside, they usually take a few seconds to look around at the decor, which is a mix of scenery from the building before it was Taj, mixed with some cool industrial metal work done by our owner, Todd Moore. Our bar stools are definitely everyone’s favorite part of Taj. People go crazy over them!
We feature our famous $8 Old Fashioned every day. Mixed with bourbon, house-made bitters and demerara syrup, finished off with an orange peel.
Some of our staff have been with Taj since day one, and that says a lot about the bar and the regulars that visit. Our bartenders genuinely have a passion for what they do. They love making cocktails and continuing their education to learn about spirits and bourbon. Taj is very blessed to have a staff that truly cares about the bar and our guests. I have a lot of talent behind our bar.
Mary, you’re a known face in the business. What have you most enjoyed about being a part of the growing NuLu and Louisville community?
I’ve enjoyed watching the neighborhood grow. We have a new hotel, restaurant, shop, or bar popping up every few months. It’s great seeing the community thrive with all of the out-of-town visitors and locals coming down to check NuLu out. It’s nice to see the street so busy after the pandemic. We are busier than ever, and I see those numbers improving as time goes on.
So Taj is known for its “concerts” any fun story about how a neighborhood bar became known for having the best karaoke in town?
Our karaoke night has become one of our best and most fun nights of the week. We have a few regulars that help make that possible. Mark Palmer is one of them. I jokingly call it his concert night. He always gets the crowd going, wearing a one-of-a-kind suit, fancy shoes and singing while holding a cigar at the same time. Right now, every male on our staff also sings. You may see Kevin or Chris slinging drinks while holding the microphone. And I must say, they all have some talent. It’s a little off-putting when you think about karaoke at a bar. But at Taj, most people who sign up to sing are good. We’ve even had some people from the TV show THE VOICE pop in. You definitely won’t catch me up there, though. Karaoke is every Thursday from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. on our back patio.
How does one become a babysitter for CoCo, your now also famous bar dog? Asking for a friend.
CoCo has become quite the bar dog! You can usually catch her in her dog bed at the end of the bar. However, she now knows every regular and will usually give them a light bark to say hello to her before they can order their drink ha-ha! Her bar days are numbered because she literally knows everyone. She has enjoyed getting to know all the neighborhood dogs, like Bingo, Dali and Brewster. And you can’t forget about Mike Maloney’s yellow labs, Jager and Meister. You can usually catch them with their noses sticking out of our front gate before we open for business.
Taj is a must-see for tourists if they want a truly local experience. What fun fact should a tourist know about Taj that might not be obvious just by visiting?
Some fun facts about Taj…
•The inside bar used to be our property owner’s (Mike Maloney) living room
• Taj’s chandelier was created from the old front door of his house
• The urinals were created from old beer kegs
• We are part of the Urban Bourbon Trail
• Our draft tap handles are of the Louisville skyline
• We are Dog friendly (inside and out) all year long
• We don’t serve food, but you can bring your own or have it delivered
• We love baby goats; we have many events where you can even hold one
• We love Jägermeister
• You’ll catch our bartender Kevin lighting some drinks on fire
and if Lizzie is working, she always plays the best music
My favorite Taj drink is the oh-so-fancy champagne of beers and a shot with the team there. What would you tell the readers is your favorite drink for the summer?
My go-to drink is a shot of Ketel One Peach & Orange Botanicals or Titos and water with two lemons.
How about the Taj Old Fashioned Recipe?
$8 Old Fashioned recipe
• 2oz Bourbon
• Bar spoon full of our house-made bitters
• Bar spoon full of our Demerara Syrup
• Served in a glass over ice, stirred to perfection and finished off with a fresh orange peel around the rim of the glass
Guys, thank you both for your time and for giving us a little insight into the world of Taj. I will probably see you both a little later in the week, I’m sure.
Until next time, Cheers!
807 E Market St.
Louisville, KY 40206