Louisville is a city of neighborhoods with distinct characters and residential charm. And many, like Clifton, Butchertown, Germantown and Portland, are experiencing renaissances as a younger generation chooses walkable urban neighborhoods with restaurants, services and retail outlets over commuting to outlying suburbs.
This new urbanism draws people with a modern sensibility of innovation and creativity, and they are transforming the sometimes old into something decidedly new. The Hub on Frankfort Avenue is a great example of this contemporary tide flowing back in and invigorating the cityscape.
Created out of the utilitarian structure of the old River City Tire Company, The Hub has been transformed by Talmage Collins and Eric Wentworth into an inviting neighborhood gathering place that combines the DNA of a sports bar and small plates chic dining.
“Frankfort Avenue has many great bars and restaurants, but most places close at 9 or 10 o’clock,” said Collins. “We saw a need for a late night spot that offered a casual dining experience. We wanted it to be a comfortable, inviting place where friends can come in, even in groups of six or eight, and share drinks and food in a variety of settings.”
Collins, a school teacher by day who claims to have “a PhD in going out,” said he loves to entertain and see people have a good time.
Industrial design bones, cozy rustic heart
“It happened a little faster than I expected (pulling the project together), but the space found me and I responded with every fiber in my being,” Collins said. “While it was industrial in design, we wanted to transform it into something rustic and cozy, not just a big open space.”
Its exterior is painted in dark grey and black punctuated with corrugated steel panels and large wooden planters along its front, with a large added wooden deck full of yellow umbrella tables. On entering, one quickly experiences the different spaces designed into the building.
To the left a couple of old service bays have been transformed into a game room with pool tables, arcade games, juke box and yellow-upholstered booths. To the right is an open bar with white tile walls, corrugated steel wainscoting and large wooden tables with high-backed metal stools and booth seating. Off the bar, through a wall of glass doors, is the spacious patio with cedar tables, metal chairs and a large fire pit.
Past the bar is an intimate dining room with yellow banquettes against dark walls, distinctive wood strip tables, corrugated metal wainscoting and large video screens showing silent movies or early music videos. An adjacent lower area called “The Pit” has special lighting which, when the tables are moved out on weekends, turns into an intimate, special effects dance floor. One last space, behind a sliding door, is a special events room with a long, herringbone-patterned wood table by craftsman Craig Baynes which can easily accommodate two dozen.
“That room was almost an afterthought but it’s turned into one of our most popular spaces,” Collins said. “We have business meetings, birthday parties and other special events in there on a regular basis.”
The Hub’s cocktails emphasize fresh flavors
While Collins takes care of the front of the house, partner Eric Wentworth handles the beverage program. While only 26, Wentworth projects confidence and detailed knowledge from a 10-year apprenticeship in food and mixology.
“My mother’s family, including my grandmother, worked at Café Metro so I was exposed to eating at nice places at a young age,” said Wentworth. “I love to cook and create recipes. When introduced to bartending, it awakened my passion and I knew that ultimately I wanted to a have a place of my own.”
He was mentored at La Coop under Jackie Zykan, who is now the Old Forester Bourbon ambassador, before he went on to work at both Proof on Main and St. Charles Exchange.
“All the time I read, watched and learned as much as I could. Then Talmage, who I had known socially for four or five years, called me up with word of this space. We realized its potential and immediately started brainstorming,” Wentworth said. “We met with community leaders and residents. We wanted to get feedback, be transparent, be considerate of concerns about noise, parking, cleanliness, and essentially be a good neighbor.”
Trained on the new trends in mixology emphasizing fresh ingredients and flavors, Wentworth speaks with authority about current trends and helped The Hub win distinction as the “Best New Bar” and one of the three best places for cocktails in a recent readers’ choice poll.
“Standards have been raised across the industry. Like other areas of dining out, it is now the norm rather than the exception that people expect to be able to get a very good creative drink,” Wentworth said. “We make every single syrup or infusion in-house. While we can make any classic, like a daiquiri, gimlet, Old Fashioned or Moscow Mule, we also like to explore different flavor combinations like a Fall Old Fashioned, Whiskey Meets Amaretto Sour, or Pumpkin Spice with Buffalo Trace Bourbon Cream and Ginger.”
The beverage menu offers inviting Wentworth cocktail creations, a half-dozen rotating draft beers, twenty or so familiar bottled American beers and specialty craft beers and enough Kentucky Bourbons (five dozen) to provide an undergraduate degree in this Kentucky specialty. Wentworth also consulted with a sommelier to provide a com-prehensive offering of good wines. Notably, on the weekend brunch menu Aperol Spritz is offered by the glass or pitcher due to its popularity.
A menu that strives for distinctive simplicity
Rounding out the Hub team is Executive Chef Jeff Brantley who, with a college degree in hospitality and Cordon Bleu certificate, joined up after stints locally at Corbett’s and Gralehaus. The menu is simple but distinctive with upscale bar food
“We’ve gone through quite a few menu revisions, in addition to regular seasonal changes, and recognize that people prefer four or five smaller plates that they can share rather than one or two large entrees. But we have taken it further than just snacks and appetizers,” said Brantley. “Of course, I consider flavor profiles, but what I think about most is balance and using the familiar to get someone to have a new experience.”
A couple good examples are a rich pimento cheese served with house-made flat breads or battered and fried Pop’s Spicey Dill pickles (a nod to a Clifton tradition at the old Genny’s Diner) served with a large dollop of bacon and onion pudding. While simple and familiar, both dishes have a complexity and mouth appeal which make them almost addictive.
There are salads of heirloom tomatoes, mixed beets with almonds and apple cheddar, and baby kale with pickled red onion, candied pecans, and Kenny’s Farmhouse cheddar. Popular sandwiches include Buffalo chicken sliders with crumbled blue cheese, a catfish banh mi, and a very good burger. And for sharing, chicken wings, veggie or Atlanta brisket nachos, crab cakes, or bacon-wrapped dates are examples of a dozen offerings.
“We serve a diverse crowd with people from varied walks of life and a lot goes on here—dancing, games, relaxing and socializing. People can actually spend hours here moving from one activity to another, so we wanted to keep the fare lighter but still distinctive,” Brantley said. “The response has been very positive.”
That readers’ poll also honored The Hub with “best happy hour” honors, which is an excellent way between 4 and 6:30 to sample craft cocktails and a half-dozen food selections for just $5. Normal Kitchen hours are 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday, 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. Bar is open until 4 a.m. Friday and Saturday. Closed on Monday. F&D