Employees and regulars of the brewpub, which opened in 1993, had known for weeks — they just didn’t know exactly when. Or why. Or how. One employee likened it to working in a “ticking time-bomb.”
But after a couple of weeks of speculation and rumor, the news finally came out that the brewery location will close at roughly 5 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 5, with rolled-back beer prices ($2.75), a buffet and a lot of old friends.
It will never open its doors as Bluegrass Brewing Company, or BBC as many refer to it, again, having been taken over by a group that reportedly will open a different bar concept. The Main Street BBC location remains, and a new location is planned for Theater Square, but the longtime regulars of the original brewpub must find another place to while away their hours.
I’ve been patronizing BBC St. Matthews almost since the beginning, and as I’m fond of telling anyone who will listen, it’s where I cut my teeth on exploring better beer. I have a fondness for the place I can’t really describe — for a time, it was my Cheers. A long time, in fact.
I began working in a small office nearby in late 1997, and while I was excited about my new job, I was also excited to be closer to BBC on a daily basis.
I went with co-workers pretty much every Tuesday, which is Worthog day (beer was and still is cheaper for Worthogs on Tuesdays), got to know the bartenders, brewer David Pierce, owner Pat Hagan, other regulars of the day such as Tailspin Ale Fest co-founder Tisha Gainey, and generally found a home away from home in a time when my life was going through some major changes.
Times were not great for me financially in those days, but at BBC, I could get eight 25-cent wings with my Worthog beer every Tuesday, meaning that my dinner was only a few bucks. Was it a healthful dinner? Probably not, but the atmosphere fed my soul and filled me with memories, some of which lasted, some of which didn’t.
On days when I had more money in my pocket, I treated myself to Shark Bites, far and away my favorite BBC appetizer, then or now. I scratched my head during the short period when the chicken tenders were coated in Cap’n Crunch cereal.
I saw some of my favorite bands, such as the V-Roys and the Bottle Rockets. I sat and listened to the late Tim Krekel as he crooned in the corner of the bar. In the early 2000s, Pierce brewed a beer called Fehr’s Darby Ale; I would later name my dog Darby in honor of this beer.
Before the smoking ban in 2008, I had to vie for the least smoky spots at the bar, and I have a story about that I enjoy sharing.
One day, I walk in and sit down in an open seat, only to have a middle-aged gentleman just a few minutes later sit down next to me, pull out a pack of cigarettes, and light up. Naturally, the smoke drifts directly toward the face of the nearest non-smoker (me).
“Excuse me,” I ask as politely as possible. “Would it be OK for us to switch places? It seems the smoke is floating right in my direction.”
He sighs and says, “I have a theory that if you sit down at a bar, you should probably expect smoke.”
“Interesting theory,” I reply. “So, can we switch now?” His eyes grow wide, but he reluctantly complies, and suddenly the air is clearer.
BBC is not just a place of endless stories like this one; it was the place where I did my first-ever book signing as an aspiring author, sometime around 1999. I don’t remember selling many books that day, but I do remember feeling like I was right where I belonged.
And when it came time to schedule my first event for my 2016 book release, I didn’t have to think too hard about where I wanted that to take place. (I sold a lot of books on that day.)
And yes, BBC has changed aesthetically over the years, but then again, so have I. Inside, much like myself, it’s still pretty much the same place. It changed, and yet the same character remained. I’ll miss the chatter. I’ll miss the friendships. I’ll miss the beer.
But I think more than anything, I’ll miss knowing there is always a place I can go that feels like home. So long, Bluegrass Brewing Company St. Matthews. Thanks to everyone involved in making it what it was. And cheers.