The former live music venue has transformed into a speakeasy
By Elizabeth Scinta
Photos by Justin Jordan
Calling all bourbon aficionados and wannabe aficionados — so all Louisvillians — to Louisville’s newest bourbon lounge: Levee at the River House. Levee has adopted a unique vibe and ambiance for 2021 by turning what used to be a live music venue into a cozy, warm bourbon lover’s dream.
“The live music venue with social distancing was not financially feasible to have very few guests to pay for live entertainment. We discussed as a team what we could do with the space and did a survey of what Louisville was missing right now and it’s a place to go out and have a drink. We talked about bars and most of the bourbon lounges that were open are not open at the moment,” explained John Varanese, Owner of Levee and River House Restaurant. “We have all this extra space so we thought it might be nice to make it somewhere where someone could have a drink and not worry about going to a restaurant and taking up a table; with the limited capacity as it is, you feel guilty about it. So, that coupled with the bourbon heritage and all that’s unique to us and Kentucky, we thought it would be a good fit.”
The lounge’s speakeasy feel is completed with the various bourbon decorations covering the walls that remind us of Kentucky’s bourbon heritage. One wall is filled with bourbon barrel heads, some rustic and some finished, the bar shelving has been expanded to include the majority of their extensive 277 bourbon bottle collection and the warm colors of the room make you feel like you’ve transported to a different place. Along with the 277 bourbon bottle collection, they added 24 bourbon flights and new bourbon cocktails to their menu, according to Varanese. “You have the lounge side where you can sit, have a cocktail and relax on the newly upholstered couches, banquets, leather chairs and bourbon tables. The other half you can actually sit down and have a meal from River House’s menu,” said Varanese.
Opening night was Friday, Jan. 29, and Varanese thought the turnout was excellent, with the majority of guests coming for dinner and drinks. With COVID-19 restrictions, guests aren’t allowed to wait at the bar for a table for their reservation at River House Restaurant, which is where Levee comes into play. Guests from River House Restaurant can pop over for a before-dinner drink or an after-dinner drink and sit in the lounge side of Levee.
Redoing Levee meant adding more drinks to the menu, but that doesn’t mean they took away their popular beverages such as the Booker’s Smoked Old Fashioned. “We make a Booker’s Old Fashioned by putting it inside the Booker’s box and closing the door, then inserting a smoker in the back of the box that fills it up. We bring the box over to the table and the guest can open the box and pull the drink out and it kind of billows with smoke. It’s a show-stopper and our number one selling mixed drink here,” explained Varanese.
A new cocktail they’ve added to the menu, and one I’m itching to try, is the Campfire Old Fashioned. Made from Michter’s US*1, Aston cocoa bitters, crème de cacao, marshmallow syrup and a fire-roasted marshmallow on top served on a piece of raw cut wood; it sounds like every s’mores lover’s dreams. The bourbon flights will now be served with some snacks to nibble on that will help accentuate the bourbon flavor. These will include a prune, a dried banana chip, a pecan, a chocolate-covered espresso bean or a piece of caramel accompanying your bourbon flight. The final bourbon cocktail Varanese highlighted was a build-your-own Old Fashioned; who said build-your-own activities weren’t for adults?
Levee Bourbon Lounge is only open on the weekends until further notice. Most likely, Levee will be open more days when the warmer weather arrives, Varanese explained. “We’re looking for when social distancing goes away to bring back live entertainment on the weekends; that won’t go away permanently. Right now, we’re focusing more on the food, drinks and ambiance.” Reserve your table now to sit back, relax and enjoy a cocktail in the new Bourbon Lounge at Levee at the River House.
Levee Bourbon Lounge
3015 River Road
Louisville, KY 40207
Friday and Saturday 5 – 11 p.m.