High Note Bar
The High Note Bar picked its allegiance. It’s a Wildcats bar through and through. It has good reason to be, it’s not in Louisville, Kentucky (Cardinal Country), but Harlan County, three hours south of Lexington.
Some of the stereotypes are true about Kentucky: The KFCs are better than anywhere else across the US, horses are kings and queens, and they have better bourbon than any other part of the US. Being considered the bourbon state, it’s ironic certain counties within can’t sell or distribute what they’re known for. Luckily, Harlan County can make up the rules as it goes.
One wouldn’t expect a fine bourbon selection in an average no-frills sports bar. Neon signs advertise booze and beer, Tiffany lamps light up pool tables and darts boards. Plain wooden tables, chairs, and one long counter top is as fancy as the interior design is going to get. A jukebox plays blue grass tunes with bluesy-hip/hop influence. At first glance, the cheap stuff is all one sees: Dos Equis on draft and bottles of Jack and Wild Turkey. If you’re nice, the bartender showcases the reserves and small batches. The High Note doesn’t pour Pappy Van Winkle, but Wild Turkey Tradition 14 is just as good. Better and pricier than the generic and 101 versions, the $40 a shot goes down the gullet filled with notes of chewy toffee, molasses, and clementine. You’ll be warm on a cold winter’s night in a jiffy or a heck-of-a-lot hotter on a humid summer’s day. Bulleit is in the zeitgeist, but Bulleit Barrel Strength is not. Straight up is the only way to take it. The mellow bouquet of florals is rich and bold. Four Roses Single Barrel was given because of my last name. It’s the most flavorful of the bunch with hints of cherries, vanilla, and chocolate like a liquored-up ice cream sundae. Fortunately and unfortunately, whatever way the side of the pendulum you fall on, Kentucky only saves these finer bourbons for itself. You might find the lesser versions in other states, but these, fuhgettaboutit.
Criminals and corporate greed of all kinds flock to the High Note. So do the stereotypes of what one thinks a backcountry, Appalachian hick is. And you know whom else? US Marshalls. One lives directly above the bar, and if there’s going to be any violence or a large brouhaha of some sort, patrons feel a little bit safer fully knowing that he’s a part of it.
Personally, we left before suspense built up on a number of occasions. And though we said to ourselves that we would never go back to the High Note Bar, Harlan County, or even Kentucky in general, there is one stereotype that we’re guilty of following: though we can’t wait to get out, we always end up coming back.
The High Note Bar
Harlan County, Kentucky
ATMOSPHERE: Typical sports bar vibe with the occasional showdown and fight
SERVICE: Attentive with that Southern hospitality everyone enjoys.
SOUND LEVEL: Calm for the most part. Only load when all hell breaks loose. That happens once a week.
RECOMMENDED: The special reserve bourbons. Though, I’m sure, the bartender will fix you up a hot-brown sandwich if you ask nicely.
DRINKS AND WINE: Full bar
PRICES: $2 for the cheap happy hour stuff. $40-$60 for the incredibly marvelous
OPEN: M-F from 4pm-4am. Closed on church Sundays.
RESERVATIONS: Walk-ins only