I just hope she knew exactly how much this world adored her. There will never be another Marie.
It’s no exaggeration: Marie Zahn was one of the prime architects of the contemporary bar and cocktail scene in Louisville, dating back at least 17 years at nearly a dozen establishments, and with a legacy comprising not only recipes and bar programs, but mentees, co-workers, employees, customers and friends who loved and respected her.
High Horse Bar contributed this statement at Facebook.
On the heels of an already tough week, we are devastated by the loss of our friend and business partner Marie Zahn, who died this weekend of an unexpected medical event in her home. Marie has been a part of our group since Jimmy Can’t Dance, and made her mark well before that creating and executing some of the best bar programs in the city. Marie was our partner, our boss, our friend and our family. She changed people’s lives with her energy and she changed this city with her businesses that will now live on in her honor. We will be hosting a memorial for her on Thursday at 6PM at High Horse. Please join us to lean on each other and celebrate her life. She is love now.
Food & Dining columnist Sara Havens also remembered Marie.
Marie made me many drinks over the years, but she also helped me understand the philosophies, thought processes and reasonings behind every drop of liquor and mixer, except for maybe Fireball. I’m still in shock, as is the entire Louisville nightlife community, that she’s no longer slinging gin behind the bar or coming up with a new business idea. I will cherish my memories and continue to pass on her wisdom. ❤️
With the help of F&D’s editor-in-chief Marty Rosen, I’ve collected this collage of quotes and social media references*, arranged somewhat chronologically as they pertain to Marie’s professional stops, in hopes of providing an overview of her achievements, alongside admittedly small tastes of the devotion she inspired.
Marie’s abiding influence on those with whom she interacted in the hospitality trade is epochal. We’re unlikely to experience such a phenomenon again.
Marie freely gave her knowledge and expertise, inspiring others to follow in her vocational (and artistic) footsteps. As so many of the following comments attest, she mentored, encouraged and instilled a joyous professionalism. Colleagues looked up to Marie. They wanted to be like her, and quite a few of them took what she imparted to them and scaled their own heights.
Craftmanship in hospitality is far less a solo venture than a cooperative effort, aimed at building teams and paying it forward. Marie understood this instinctively.
It’s impossible to make sense out of someone so young being taken so soon and unexpectedly. We’ve little choice except allowing the passage of time to heal the hurt. But what can be done to remember Marie and to honor her amazing legacy is to assume her chosen roles of mentor, teacher and inspiration, and to continue passing these qualities along to the next generation.
Here’s to Marie Zahn. She will not be forgotten.
“I’m not sure what to say….I knew her and the family since when we were little..she is everything you all have said. She was a true gem.”
“Server Marie Zahn, of downtown, sashayed with a tray through the bar.”
—Maybe the earliest local media mention of Marie, in a report about the Louisville Cinema Society’s Party at Oscar’s Bar and Grill (Velocity; March 8 2006)
“The spaces she curated and the people she mentored will continue to be pillars in this community. Marie Zahn was great at every aspect of bartending and more importantly building people up and including everyone interested. Cheers to one of the better representatives we will have as a community.”
What’s the Worst Thing You’ve Overheard at a Bar?
Marie Zahn: “I heard a guy babbling about giving birth to a baby cow the other day. I’m making Bloody Marys, no less, and he’s talking about being a midwife, and sheep and then cows—just kinda gross.”
—Peter Berkowitz at Velocity (December 10, 2008)
“Innumerable are the lives that you’ve touched with your infectious laugh, ferocious wit, and ever open heart. My heart goes out to all who knew you, you will be forever missed.”
“Stopping in for a drink at 732 Social is part history lesson and part lab experiment, and Zahn delights in educating her customers.
“‘When somebody comes in and orders a Cosmo, I offer them a Pendennis, a classic cocktail which is very similar,’ Zahn said. ‘I love doing that, turning people on to those cocktails that are forgotten.'”
—Erin Keane at Velocity (December 16, 2009)
“A true Louisville icon; in many ways, she was the pulse of the projects she threw herself into. Tenacious and full of panache, Marie is an inspiration. A testament to what can be accomplished with enough determination and one of the most self-assured people I’ve ever met. She will be missed dearly by all of us.”
“Drinks International named Meat (1076 E. Washington St.) one of The World’s 50 Best Bars … Meat’s Prohibition Era cocktails are created by bar manager Marie Zahn, who traveled to London to accept the top bar award.”
—Courier Journal (November 30, 2012)
“What I know is that she was kind, and generous, and a great friend. She was one of the most talented bartenders this city will ever see, and I hope that somewhere in the universe or unified plane she is bathing in Chartreuse, looking down at Louisville and realizing how much she is loved and appreciated.”
—Jeremy Johnson (Meat)
“Marie was one of the first people I met when I moved to Louisville. I got to work with her for a bit at Copper & Kings. She helped create our cocktails when we started. I always called her rain man, because she was a genius when it came to making cocktails and remembering every ingredient that went into them. Anytime I would walk into a bar and see her behind it I knew the drinks were going to be perfect.”
“Former patrons of Meat will recognize the dark red walls and reclaimed wood upstairs at the Butchertown Grocery. Another familiar element is beverage director Marie Zahn, who worked in the same capacity at Meat. Zahn has tailored specific cocktail menus for the dining room and the bar upstairs to give patrons a different experience in each area.”
—Michael L. Jones at Food & Dining Magazine (Spring 2016)
“The first time I met Marie she gloriously kicked me out of her bar. The last time I saw her she hugged me deeply and told me she needed me back in Louisville. We laughed together, we cried together, and we made an absolute shitload of cocktails over the years. Marie was my bar wife, a great friend, and I will forever treasure our friendship.”
“Marie Zahn will be creating a ‘short throwback’ cocktail list (at High Horse) with three 1970s cocktails and three reimagined versions of those cocktails. There will be a variety of drinks available, she said, from ‘cheap beer and spirits to more eclectic ones. I want everyone to feel they can come and get exactly what they want.'”
—Courier Journal (October 14, 2019)
“When it comes to its drinks, though, High Horse takes a sharp turn from its scrappy past. Coproprietor Marie Zahn calls them ‘disco drinks,’ which is to say cocktails popular when the Bee Gees were still played without irony. Think: cheap White Russians and two-dollar PBRs. But then, think again. Because Zahn and crew have blended the precepts of modern mixology with a tumbler of ‘don’t really care what you think.’ So they also serve up a Redneck Russian made with Yoo-hoo. And a Singapore Sling in which the traditional cherry brandy is replaced with cherry White Claw. Don’t judge; they’re quite good.”
—Wayne Curtis at Garden & Gun (June/July, 2020)
“I still am waking up in disbelief. You are the reason that I’m behind that bar now. You believed in me and became my mentor. You became one of my dearest friends and easily the best most thoughtful ‘boss’ I have ever had.”
“Marie was my very good friend, my mentor, and like so many others that I am seeing; the reason I pursued bartending in the manner that I did. She taught me both the real and romanticized life of the industry, and she always saw the best in everyone. She also put the best of herself into everything that she did, and because of this, and for a hundred other reasons, everyone loved her.”
“About 10 years ago, a co-worker told Zahn, based on her gin preference, that one day she would open her own bar and call it Marie’s Gin Emporium. She said that idea never left her, so when the time came to create a concept, gin was the obvious choice for a focal point.
“Asked to name the best cocktail on the menu (at Darlings), she points to two – Gertrude’s Gimlet and Bolo Rental – that have stuck around since the first menu was concocted. However, she declined to pick a favorite.
“‘I don’t want to influence anyone’s opinion,’ Zahn said. ‘I want to see what people naturally gravitate toward.'”
—Kevin Gibson at LEO Weekly (November 30, 2021)
To my first bar manager.
To the first person I closed a 4am bar with.
To one who was with me on my first ever trip to Chicago, which was also my first R&D food and beverage excursion.
To first person to ever to hit me up to work a pop-up bar.
To the first person to let me put a cocktail on a menu.
To the one who introduced me to (and made me love) akvavit.
To the one who gave me my first lesson on how to make Tom & Jerry batter.
To the one who introduced me to shocking mint, from which my mint snobbery continues to thrive.
To the first to describe cocktail flavors as “pretty” and “sexy.”
To the first person to coin the phrase “love bucket.”
To the first to introduce me to the formal bar measurement of a “fuck ton.”
To the one who gave me my first Green Chartreuse.
To the one who gave me my initial spark into the industry, to the one who’s last text messages to me were encouragement and support and continued excitement for my career passions, to the one who has this story and hundreds of others from those she impacted.
—Eron Plevan (Gold Bar)
“Marie Zahn has contributed so much, and embodied the best of hospitality in Louisville, and everywhere she goes. I’m at a loss for words. I’ll raise a glass, and try to live up to her standards.”
* Quotes are from Facebook unless attributed otherwise. I’ve kept the full names of public figures; otherwise, initials have been used. If you feel that your privacy has been compromised, let me know and I’ll remove or amend the offending section immediately — R