Brad Culver has long worked in the food and beverage business. In fact, for five years he worked as a bartender at the Dark Star Tavern, a welcoming and beloved local dive bar that existed for a decade and a half at 2634 Frankfort Ave.
“There was a time,” Culver says, standing and peering at that space, “I sat here and thought, ‘I would like to own this place someday.’”
Mission accomplished. Culver, along with partners Beau Kerley and Pat Hagan, bought the old Dark Star space and have turned it into the Craft House, a restaurant and bar dedicated to local craft beer and local, fresh food. It opens on Monday, Aug. 25.
Insider Louisville got a sneak peek yesterday – suffice to say, it appears at a first glance that the Craft House is destined to be a hit. Almost all hints of what was once the Dark Star are gone, as the place has been completely stripped and rebuilt. The natural brick walls now contrast with a minimalist, industrial feel. Fifty taps sit behind a black bar, ready to serve up Kentucky-brewed beer (with some Indiana brews as well). A spacious dining room awaits diners who will enjoy farm-to-table specialties.
In back of the space sits a smoker and a large deck (or, heck, courtyard) with metal tables and chairs, also ready for diners who hope to enjoy some al fresco fun on a summer evening. A brand new, expanded kitchen awaits its first dinnertime rush.
Back in the bar, one wall sits unadorned by décor but rather emblazoned with the 50-member tap list by way of an overhead projector. It gives the distinct illusion that the draft selection is painted on the wall, making it a permanent and final list. Instead, the list will be an ever-rotating selection that will be reflected on the wall with no paint remover or scraping necessary.
As Pat Hagan, a Bluegrass Brewing Company founder, is involved, expect a liberal helping of BBC beers, but the kickoff tap list also has Lexington’s Country Boy and West Sixth, local brews from Cumberland Brews, Falls City and Apocalypse, as well as Indiana’s New Albanian Brewing Company and Flat 12 Bierwerks beers.
The menu features a lengthy list of regional farms and suppliers from which ingredients will be sourced, from Blue Dog Bakery just down the street to Ambrosia Farm in Finchville, Ky. Chef Tim Smith (Napa River Grill, 60 West Martini Bar) has put together a menu with sandwiches and entrees starting at around seven bucks (fried bologna) and topping out at $19 (Kentucky Fried Quail), with plenty of appetizers, soups and salads.
A weekend version of the menu promises some tasty brunch options from Craft House Pancakes to Kentucky Eggs Benedict.
“What’s even better,” says Hagan during a discussion of Smith’s fare, “is that it tastes even better than it sounds on the menu.”
The idea behind the Craft House is unique, even visionary. Imagine someone pops into town for Derby or a convention and wonders aloud, “Where can I get something local?” Rather than be another brewpub – which was an original thought when the Craft House concept was simmering – it will be a friend and champion to local brewers and farmers alike.
“We’re going to be the place that has all the local beers,” Culver said.
This effort will include meet the brewer nights, beer dinners, beer releases and other events to help promote local breweries.
That the Craft House would wind up in the longtime home of Dark Star Tavern is somewhat serendipitous. As Dark Star operator Bob Fischer told Insider Louisville recently, he had been eyeing a location for a restaurant and bar on Harrod’s Creek. Around the same time, Culver, Hagan and Kerley were looking for spots for the Craft House. The investors bought the building in April, bought out Fischer’s lease, and both places are now a reality.
Hagan and Culver decline to disclose how much has been invested in the Craft House, although published reports state the property was purchased for $500,000. When pressed about renovation costs, Culver says, “When people come in, they’ll know money was spent.”
Will they ever. And from the looks of the place, as well as the impressive draft list, bourbon list and menu, they’ll come back. In fact, Culver, who lived in Crescent Hill for a decade, says what they want more than anything is for the Craft House to become as much a part of the neighborhood as Dark Star was, just with a different feel.
In fact, he and Hagan mused that if the concept works out, they could consider other locations, which would make the original possibly default to being referred to as the “Crescent Hill Craft House.” In fact, they went so far as to title the restaurant’s Facebook page “Crescent Hill Craft House.” It does have a ring to it. And it sure looks and feels like it’s going to be around for the long haul.
The Craft House opens at 4 p.m. on Monday, and will be open seven days a week.
This post was originally published by Insider Louisville.