While you’ll find The Silver Dollar on many lists of the best whiskey bars in the country, the impressive brown water offerings at this funky and casual spot are not even mentioned in the “About” section of their website. The bar is a take on a 1950s Bakersfield, California honky-tonk, complete with rustic décor (exposed brick, metal chairs and barstools), quirky touches like multicolored Christmas lights behind the bar, and, of course, plenty of “Bakersfield sound” playing in the background. Even with such a unique setting, their whiskey list remains the primary reason many tourists and locals alike seek out this bar in the Clifton Heights neighborhood outside of downtown Louisville, Kentucky.
The first thing I received when I saddled up to the bar at The Silver Dollar was, unsurprisingly, a whiskey list. While many whiskey bars provide something akin to a road atlas, the menu here was thankfully much smaller – in size but not in contents. There were hundreds of whiskeys to choose from, all organized by distillery and including most of the coveted and rare bourbons made across the state. While priced not quite as stratospherically as other whiskey bars in cities like New York and San Francisco, there’s clearly a tourist mark-up on familiar names like Van Winkle and Weller.
The smart money, however, is on one of The Silver Dollar’s many amazing personally selected barrels, which, at the end of the day, are actually more rare than almost anything else behind the bar (yet are priced considerably lower). There were at least 15 on my menu, including multiple barrels of the same brands like Four Roses, Old Weller Antique, and Henry McKenna, all at different ages and proofs. I dutifully digested the options but asked for mercy from the bartender who told me, without any hesitation, to try the second of their three barrels of Old Weller Antique 107 proof. I ordered it neat, and it arrived in what looked like a tall shot glass (since no respectable honky tonk would serve whiskey in a Glencairn, I guess). The choice of glassware aside, my pour of Weller 107 was simply fantastic, full of baking spice and wonderfully balanced. I’d easily have put it up against a bottle of the William Larue Weller at four times the price.
The cocktail list takes up only one page (the first) of the 20 or so page drink menu, but that doesn’t mean cocktails get less attention behind the bar. Again, I put myself at the mercy of the bartender, and he produced in short order an excellent Old Fashioned made with standard Old Weller Antique 107. It was served without any fruit (not even a cherry!), but the flavors were all there and in perfect proportion.
After a surprisingly good dinner of grilled chicken thighs and fried okra, I decided to round out my evening with one last pour. Again, I resisted the temptation to empty my wallet on a 20 year Pappy or rare Wild Turkey, and instead perused the menu for less familiar names. I settled on Old Charter 10 year, a bourbon that is well into the “dusty” category in most places now but can still be found and purchased in Kentucky at a reasonable price. My drink cost $11, but I would have easily paid three times that in DC or New York. It was a mellow bourbon, light on the palate with subtle rye spice and a little bottom-shelf, grassy funk to it. It was the perfect end to my whiskey-focused evening.
This was my third visit to The Silver Dollar, and it was just as enjoyable as every time before. While whiskey bars have exploded in popularity across the country in recent years, most are overstuffed, uncomfortably highbrow, or painfully inauthentic. And all have plenty of whiskeys on their oversized, leather-bound menus not worth drinking, especially for the asking price. I guess the world needs more honky-tonks like The Silver Dollar.