Louisvillians know that the best place to find out where to go out and what to drink—aside from the SB App—is through the recommendations of Sara Havens, better known as The Bar Belle. Many of us have been reading her advice on nightlife for 15 years, first at LEO Weekly, and now at Insider Louisville, where she is the culture editor. We sat down with Sara to talk about her new book, entitled The Bar Belle, Volume 2, and to pick her brain about the local scene. We ended up falling completely in love with her office mate, her right-hand man/dog, Detective Bo Brady. Get ready to print out her list of where she likes to go and you will be surprised about her favorite bar in town.
We all know you as The Bar Belle in Louisville. Tell us how you achieved that distinction.
Well, after about six or so years working at LEO and coming in on Mondays with crazy weekend stories to tell, my editor at the time, Cary Stemle, said, “Why don’t you write about these things in a column?” The Bar Belle began in 2006 and has been chugging along ever since. It amazes me that I’m never out of ideas.
After working at LEO Weekly for 15 years, you are now at Insider Louisville. Is your job the same? If not, what do you do differently now?
It’s both the same and different, if that makes any sense. I am the culture editor here, so I’m still covering the arts, culture and bourbon scenes—but I’m no longer in charge of anyone but myself, which is very nice. I have the freedom to come up with my own ideas and write about what I love, and I don’t have to micromanage anyone or stress about all aspects of the publication. I work with a lot of former LEO co-workers, and our team is self-motivated and encouraging of one another. We also have great support from the top, which is nice.
What are your favorite bars in Louisville and why?
That’s like choosing my favorite child, and my favorites tend to change depending on my mood, the thickness of my wallet and who I’m hiding from. But some of my regular spots include The Back Door, Big Bar, The Post, The Planet, Flanagan’s, Jockey Silks, El Mundo, Wick’s in the Highlands … just about every bar in town, really.
What is your go-to drink?
At The Back Door, it’s either a New Amsterdam gin and tonic or a Pirate Slap, created by bartender Marianne. If I’m drinking for quality over quantity, it’s Kentucky bourbon neat or in a Manhattan on the rocks. And if it’s quantity over quality, it’s Michelob ULTRA or Miller Lite. I also like IPAs from our local breweries, as well.
What is your NO WAY drink?
Goldschlager. I gave that up at 28.
Best hidden gem bar in Louisville?
I’d say it’s Jockey Silks. It’s a bourbon-lover’s paradise, and it’s located deep within the Galt House Hotel. Whenever I take out-of-town friends there, they feel like they’ve stepped back in time—in a good way—and it’s our own private bourbon oasis.
Tell us about your work partner, your dog.
Detective Bo Brady is always on the scene and likes to join me for excursions whenever he can. He loves chilling on the Big Bar patio on Sundays while I sip Bloody Marys and throw back mimosas, and he comes to work with me when he’s not patrolling other pups at daycare.
Give us a peek at your agenda. What’s a typical day or week like for you?
I work pretty much 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and I try to behave myself during the early part of the week. Come Thursday, though, it’s happy hour at The Back Door, followed by full weekends of catching up with friends, going to concerts or events, sleeping in, staying out late, catching up on TV, etc.
Who are your mentors and what advice do you treasure?
I’ve been fortunate to work with several great journalists and editors here in town throughout the years, namely Cary Stemle, Sarah Kelley and Stephen George. They have helped and still help me improve my writing and editing skills, and humor me when I pontificate on why Grease 2 is far superior than Grease.
One of my creative writing professors at Ohio University once told me, “Write what you know,” and I’ve been following his advice ever since.
Fill in the blank. You’ll never see me without my _________.
Where can we find you hanging out around town?
Probably all the spots mentioned above when you asked me to pick my favorite. I also love collecting glasses—so pint nights tend to draw me in like a sorority girl to a cosmo.
What’s your bucket list travel destination?
I’d love to go back to the pubs of Ireland, or drink wine with my pinky up in Paris, or chug beer out of a stein at a real German Oktoberfest.
Favorite thing to do in Louisville?
Cheer on the Cards with hundreds of other fans at a bar, or tailgate, or day drink during the St. Patrick’s Parade.
Night owl or early bird? What do you do during that quiet time?
Early bird by weekday, night owl by weekend. During my quiet time, I like to catch up on bad TV, like “Party Down South,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Bar Rescue.”
Tell us some of your favorite local restaurants.
I love Dragon King’s Daughter (and am thrilled they recently installed a new bidet), El Mundo, Dundee Gastropub (you’ve gotta get the Dundee Dip!), Bazo’s, El Nopal (for their 99-cent beer nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays) and Manny & Merle.
What’s on your personal reading list right now?
I’m catching up on books by Tina Fey and Chelsea Handler.
Lightning Round! Give us your:
- Candy or junk food splurge: Cheese fries
- Guilty pleasure song: “Lost In Your Eyes,” by Debbie Gibson
- Tearjerker movie pick: Steel Magnolias
- Standby nail polish color: Red
- Favorite cocktail: Manhattan on the rocks
- Cartoon alter-ego: Even though it’s not a cartoon, I often feel like the red Teletubby.
What are three of your favorite things right now?
Wine, cheese and Ryan Adams covering Taylor Swift
Thank you Sara! And a big thanks to our talented FACES photographer, Adele Reding. See more of her portfolio here.