A great dive bar is a hard thing to explain or describe, but you know you’re in one the second you step through the door.
Freddie’s Bar and Lounge is a great dive bar, one of the finest Louisville has ever known, and certainly the undisputed champion of dive bars since Jake’s Club Reno and Dedden’s Highland Fling both closed in 2000.
Rather, it was a great bar. Freddie’s has been forced to close because the building isn’t up to code, an ignoble ending to an inherently noble drinking hole.
Freddie Scarlott, 97, has been at 220 E. Broadway for 57 years. In bar time, that’s more like 157. He doesn’t own the building and will instead relocate.
It won’t be the same. There’s no way. Freddie’s had it all: a downtown location; the perfect level of low, gloomy lighting; a pure 1960s ambience; and a clientele that included everything from the wealthy to hipsters to regulars from Actors Theatre of Louisville.
But most of all, Freddie’s was a boxing bar. That was the exclamation point, the ribbon on the package, the link to a time long gone.
Photos of boxers lined the walls, including shots of Jimmy Ellis, Muhammad Ali, Ezzard Charles and Greg Page, all of whom had a drink at Freddie’s. A signed pair of Ellis’ gloves hung behind the bar.
Scarlott was a wiry boxer himself once, fighting Golden Gloves matches and making the United State’s Navy team. He also loves Frank Sinatra, whose photos have always enjoyed a few prominent spots on those nicotine-stained walls.
And the thing about Freddie’s is that it always felt like Sinatra or Ellis might walk through the door, order one of Scarlott’s famously cheap whiskeys, and watch a little television in utter, content silence while the rest of the world drifted past outside.
That was the thing about Freddie’s. When you slipped into a booth on a quiet Tuesday night, there really was a sense that you had all the time in the world to collect your thoughts, mull a few things over, or simply admire the dim light as it filtered through a 40-year-old whiskey decanter.
“It’s quiet in here because that’s the way I keep it,” Scarlott once told me. “It’s not an accident. I don’t take any bull.”
Freddie’s may reopen but you can’t replicate 57 years of smoke, sweat and life. Scarlott will always get my money no matter where he lands, but the real Freddie’s will always be at 220 E. Broadway.