August 1, 2019

Best of Louisville

Channeling Sinatra

In every great joint there is a place. It is the owner’s spot or, if the owner is otherwise occupied, the territory of the bar’s alpha patron. It is where Bogart stood in Casablanca, or Patrick Swayze in Roadhouse, with a view of the room but, somehow, out of the way.

Jack Fry’s has a seat like that — against a wall of ancient Thoroughbred photos at the far end of the short bar. In the most elegant speakeasy in town, the last barstool is wedged into a broom closet-size space between the bar and a romantic booth for two.

Ordering another round takes only a nod: Old Forester, rocks, in a heavy glass that fits my hand as if were carved just for me. In that place I feel very much like the man Gay Talese described in his 1966 Esquire profile “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold”: “It was obvious from the way Sinatra looked at these people in the poolroom that they were not his style, but he leaned back against a high stool that was against the wall, holding his drink in his right hand, and said nothing.”

That’s me! That’s what I feel like! (Minus the scorn for my fellow patrons.) I lean back against the high stool and put my elbow up on the padded bar, the din of conversation, laughter and forks on fine china obscuring me in a warm fog of noise. It is my place. I have stood there close to the busy center of Jack’s film noir dining room without anyone paying me any attention at all. I watched a close friend eat a long, luxurious dinner 10 feet away and might as well have been invisible to him. I’ve called a waiter over to shuttle a request and neatly folded bill to the piano player — Sinatra always, “The Way You Look Tonight” usually.

Perhaps I will see you there. Hopefully, you won’t see me.

Published July 2019