Southern hospitality is alive and well at Pope House Bourbon Lounge.
When I asked co-owner Kitling Lum, a Kentucky native, about the generous duration of her happy hour (from 4 to 7), she shrugged. "Those were the happy hours we always looked for," Lum said. "A six o’clock happy hour doesn’t cut it if you have a job."
Amen. I know I sound like a broken record when it comes to draconian happy hour policies, but this is a personal crusade, and crusades are no place for diplomacy.
Anyway, Lum and her partner, Joel Carson, have only had their doors open for a few weeks, but they have the concept of happy hour nailed down. Drink specials? Yep. Reasonably priced food? Uh-huh. Food doesn’t suck? No, it surely doesn’t. And with guests having the luxury to mull over menu options till 7, there’s no nagging sense of urgency that can ruin an after-work nosh.
Let’s start with the Frito Pie, shall we? A pile of dependable corn curls are slathered with a dollop of robust, slightly sweet chili (a dash of molasses?) and garnished with sour cream and jalapeños. Four bucks and it’s a solid "8" on the yum scale.
The Hot Brown ($5) is a Louisville staple, a thin-sliced turkey sandwich with bacon and melted cheddar that comes betwixt your choice of three different toasted breads. Don’t screw around; get the jalapeño bread. It leaves a pleasant little burning tingle on the roof of your mouth that roars to life when introduced to the smooth, smokey charms of Eagle Rare 10-year-old bourbon.
The three varieties of tea sandwiches may look like dainty doodles fit for a dollhouse tea party, but both the pimento cheese and benedictine (a creamy cucumber spread) sandwiches have a peppery kick to them. And if I had room, I would write a sonnet worthy of John Donne about the pulled-pork quesadilla with sweet-hot bourbon barbecue sauce. For the moment, feisty and filling will have to suffice.
The drink specials are a nifty bargain at $4, especially the Derby Cooler, an invigorating combo of Evan Williams black bourbon, light rum, orange and lemon juices, and grenadine. The fact that my girlfriend wouldn’t part with even a sip of her Longshot Lemonade (Sailor Jerry rum, triple sec, lemonade, soda) speaks greatly to its appeal. Either that or I really need to floss more often.
The spirit of the Bluegrass state permeates the 32 offerings on the cocktail list with monikers like the Kentucky Bramble, Kentucky Thunder, and Kentucky Breeze representing Lum’s stomping grounds.
Still, a mixed drink shouldn’t distract from the allure of the forty-odd bourbons, five American whiskeys, four Tennessee whiskeys, eight rye whiskeys, four Canadian whiskeys, eighteen Scotches, and three Irish whiskeys on hand for your sipping pleasure. Not down with the brown? No sweat, there’s a full bar, but to not avail oneself of the variety of smoldering, rich, caramel tastes that come from properly aged barrels is an opportunity sadly missed.
Lest anyone think I’m incapable of criticism, I’d like to mention that, in my opinion, the Vieux Carre (Bulleit bourbon, brandy, sweet vermouth, Benedictine, Peychaud’s bitters), a New Orleans drink traditionally poured on the rocks, would be better served up. However, I welcome arguments to the contrary. I also look forward to luxuriating over more of Pope House’s bodacious bourbons until the clock strikes 7, an hour when a true Southern gentlemen should bid his companions adieu and begin that long, introspective trek back to ol’ Tara.