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Issue 14 - The bar in the Bluegrass

Whisky Magazine Issue 14
February 2001

 

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The bar in the Bluegrass

Ken Hoskins visits Lousiville's Seelbach Hilton Hotel, where Al Capone gambled away his ill-gotten gains, F.Scott Fitzgerald became so drunk he was physically ejected and Max Allen Jr., Kentucky's legendary bartender, held court.

Whiskey, especially Kentucky's bourbon whiskey, lost a true champion earlier this year with the passing of Max Allen Jr. The legendary bartender held court at Louisville's venerable Seelbach Hilton Hotel touching the lives of many thousands of whiskey lovers throughout his 40-year career. Yet his spirit lives on in the mahogany, brass and glass grandeur of the darkly warm and inviting Old Seelbach Bar.

The marble laden Seelbach was built by two German immigrant brothers, Louis and Otto Seelbach. It opened to a huge local fanfare in 1905 having cost, at that time, the ludicrously large sum of $950,000. It wasn't long, however, before it began attracting the first of many national and international figures. Among them was F. Scott Fitzgerald, a young World War I soldier whose physical
ejection from the Seelbach for overimbibing didn't stop him from using it as a locale in The Great Gatsby, his classic American novel of the roaring twenties.

Another was Chicago mobster Al Capone who frequented Kentucky during the rough and tumble Prohibition era to maintain his supply of illegal whiskey. Today, Seelbach guests can dine where Capone gambled in ‘The Card Room' just off the five diamond-rated Oakroom restaurant on the mezzanine.

Max, who also had his own Dutch-door personal bar just outside the Oakroom, delighted in showing visitors to the Card Room and revealing that two of the corner mahogany panels were once doors that led to secret get away staircases, “just in case Mr....

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