It’s warm for October when I return to Louisville and do a turn around the blocks surrounding Bellarmine: up Newburg, a right on Eastern, right again on Bardstown, finally cutting across Douglass Loop and back. Already in the year since I graduated, things have changed. Establishments so new they don’t have permanent signs have slipped between familiar facades; some old favorites are boarded up; others pop against the changing fall colors with new paint jobs (and new management).
The Bellarmine neighborhood has all the makings of a college town: the greasy spoon, the coffee shops, the burger joint, the Irish pub, all within walking distance. These off-campus gathering places have served as connection points for decades, close enough to the university to be frequented by current students, alumni and (perhaps to those students’ chagrin) faculty alike, leaving generations of Knights with memories that will often last a lifetime. Let’s explore some of these locations and their histories, just for old times’ sake.
Heine Brothers’ Coffee
Douglas Schutte, a 1997 graduate of Bellarmine University, is the owner of the Bard’s Town, a Shakespearean-themed restaurant in the Highlands that doubles as a venue for alternative, often original, theatre. His time at Bellarmine was influential in shaping the playwright and business owner he has become, he said, and a popular off-campus coffee shop was equally as influential in his production of work, even as an undergraduate.
“The Douglass Loop Heine Brothers’ will always hold a special place in my heart, as every play I’ve ever written has been drafted there,” he said. “I always love the activity of the place, as that ambient noise helps me focus more. And it doesn’t hurt that the people who work there, and frequent there, are so warm, inviting, and kind. It’s uniquely Highlands, I think.”
The very first Heine Brothers’ Coffee location was opened in 1994 by Mike Mays and Gary Heine, two men with a vision to bring fair-trade, freshly-roasted coffee to the Highlands. It was located on Longest Avenue in a brick building with a black-and-white striped awning and a neon “Now Brewing” sign in the front window. Over the next decade, an additional 12 stores opened across Louisville and Southern Indiana.
Anastasia Goodwin ’15 worked at several Heine Brothers’ locations during her time at Bellarmine (and is currently at the Schnitzelburg store while in the process of joining the military). The Douglass Loop and Gardiner Lane locations are most popular with students looking for a mid-day pick-me-up and a place to study (or write plays), she said. She worked with other Bellarmine students at Heine Brothers’ as well, and said it’s an ideal working environment for a college student.
“Heine Bros. is a local business, so it is very laid back. The company is very proud of their fair-trade standard and they hope that their employees are proud of the company, as well. There are no uniforms, so we can maintain our self-expression. There is a zero tolerance policy on harassment of any kind from coworkers and customers, so it feels very safe,” Goodwin said. “The owners know the names of all the baristas at the 13 locations and they make sure to keep up to date with what has become one big family.”
Kaelin’s and Mulligan’s
On the south side of a sprawling, ruddy building on Newburg, catty-corner to the asphalt lot where children from St. Agnes play, there’s a plaque that reads: “Birthplace of the Cheeseburger.” Kaelin’s Restaurant originally opened in 1934 and, according to local legend, owner Carl Kaelin invented the cheeseburger when he tossed a slice of American cheese on a hamburger patty (although some versions of the tale say his wife, Margaret, was the one who actually created the pairing).
The restaurant was family owned for 70 years, according to the Filson Historical Society, and it was a popular hangout for several generations of Bellarmine students. But the management team that took over in 2004 had a short run; Kaelin’s closed in 2009. Soon after, new owners reopened the restaurant as an Irish pub called Mulligan’s. But it never really caught on and closed abruptly in November 2014.
Dr. Kyle Barnett, an associate professor in the School of Communication, said that when he arrived on campus in the mid-2000s, he assumed that Kaelin’s was a Bellarmine hangout.
“Perhaps it was at one point. But when I mentioned it to students, they all said that they didn’t go there. ‘That’s a place for my grandpa,’ they said. ‘Well,’ I responded, ‘if you start going there, then it’s yours too.’ But Louisville has a long memory, and I guess students from this generation never saw it as their own. And then it closed, which is too bad.”
The opportunity remains, though: The Kaelin’s/Mulligan’s property returned to River Valley Financial Bank at auction in May 2015, and sits vacant, waiting for a new owner to welcome students back.
The small bar with the clover-green roof at 1611 Norris Place is the epitome of the neighborhood Irish pub. The place has been around for a while; ask the management, and they’ll tell you that they’ve “been serving the coldest beer in town for 452 years—OK, not that long, but almost.” They offer a full menu of typical pub grub with a twist (do yourself a favor and try the Philly Cheesesteak Wontons).
“I had so much fun at Shenanigan’s in college that I started working there,” Schutte said. “And then I loved it so much that the first film I ever made was called ‘Shenanigan’s,’ and even had a scene shot in the bar. In fact, we had our first pre-production meeting at the bar. It’s always such a friendly place. You can pretty much stop by Shenanigan’s on any given night and know you’ll see a friendly face or two.”
Shenanigan’s also has ties to Bellarmine University through the annual Irish Fest held on campus. The pub ladles out bowls of Irish stew with a recipe that is as much of a secret as the location of a leprechaun’s pot of gold—just ask Chef Tracey.
The Twig & Leaf
The Twig & Leaf has sat on the corner of the Douglass Loop for 56 years. When I drive by, a sign in the window says “Under New Management,” and a fresh coat of paint is drying on the exterior. In September 2015 it was announced that the diner was again changing hands after a series of unsuccessful owners; perhaps a glimmer of hope for an establishment that has meant so much to Bellarmine students throughout the years.
The Twig & Leaf has a long history. In 1959, Herman A. Parris renovated a small property that was once a Dairy Freeze in the style of the then-modern diner. Hap’s Big Burger Drive-In lasted for a little over a year before Parris fell ill and sold the business to Kelly Madison.
The diner thrived for 22 years under Madison, especially during the Kentucky Derby season, and became an endearing staple in the Douglass Loop neighborhood. However, Madison sold the establishment in the early 1980s, and the customer base has slowly declined as a string of owners passed through the diner’s doors.
Despite this, in 2011, area residents successfully petitioned for the Twig & Leaf to be designated a local landmark, meaning that the building, original neon sign and all, would remain a permanent fixture in the neighborhood. The effort was prompted by news that CVS wanted to demolish the diner to build a drugstore on the corner.
Bellarmine alumni reminisced about the times they had spent at the 24/7 greasy spoon—it was the ideal place for a 2 a.m. burger or a plate of eggs—while local preservationists drew attention to the architectural merits of the building; it was one of the only establishments of its style left in the community.
Marianne Zickuhr, the founder of Preservation Louisville, spearheaded the movement. “I would tell people that saving something like this has emotional worth for the community as well,” she said. “Place-making, an urban planning movement to help connect people to their communities and shared spaces, is about memories too.”
However, more recent Bellarmine alumni were disappointed by experiences there. “Good in theory, poor in execution,” said Will Ford ’14. “I’ve driven by it so many times and seen it dark. It’s a place like ear X-tacy that people say is a treasure and will stand before the bulldozer [to save], but they won’t actually [patronize] the place. Unfortunately, I am one of those people, but it’s low-quality. I haven’t been in probably three years. I wish it was good.”
Perhaps the latest shift in management will connect the memories that many Bellarmine alumni have of the diner with positive experiences for future generations of Knights. Regardless, the area surrounding Bellarmine has many establishments that are richly interwoven with the lives of students past and present, and will continue to serve as meeting places to eat, drink and laugh for years to come.
By Ashlie Stevens ’14
Ashlie Stevens is a 2014 graduate of Bellarmine University. Her work has appeared in the Atlantic’s CityLab, National Geographic, Slate, Salon and The Guardian. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Nonfiction Writing at the University of Kentucky.