The myth of the fully completed Bambi Walk endures.
Common is the dive bar that serves hamburgers alongside domestic beer, but rare is the dive bar not only famous for its burger offerings but so inspirational that a 2.5 mile bar crawl was created in its honor. By any metric, Bambi Bar is not only one of the great Louisville dive bars but perhaps the best dive bar in Kentucky, a multi-generational institution in a building first erected in 1933 as a gas station.
Ownership has cycled a number of times through the decades, the site’s status as a tavern first documented in 1946 after previous stints as gas station and dress shop. Formerly known as the Eastview Inn for a period of its history, the current incarnation of the Bambi Bar can trace its roots to 1966 or thereabouts, sales records finally referring to the space as Bambi Bar around that time. And to say that the building wears its decades beautifully is an understatement, referred as “rickety” by Thrillist but really more weathered and classic than anything else.
Outside, faded brown vertical wood slats run the length of the green-trimmed building, the dive bar’s classic logo painted next to the space’s lone window. Sparse beer signage can be found around the exterior of the building, including a nautically-themed homage to PBR to the left of the dive bar’s front door. The weathered promise of the exterior is paid off nicely inside, where a sloping roof and long wooden slats create the optical effect of a low roof getting lower. Wood paneling is, of course, found throughout the dive bar’s interior, playing off the exposed beams and black painted ceiling to create classic dim dive bar ambiance.
A long bar runs the full length of the space, seating available on either side of the mostly central front door. Small booths can be found tucked away on one side of the seating area, most of it reserved for tall tables and padded stools packed in about as tightly as the space allows. Food and drinks are ordered from a central station, bar seating available on either side. Digital signage is found in spots throughout the space, all of it entertainingly constructed to spout the virtues of Bambi Bar interspersed with bits of dive bar wisdom.
As with any great dive bar, framed photos of regulars and family members from days gone by can be seen in spots along the walls, particularly along the short hallway to Bambi Bar’s bathrooms. Bar signage is present, of course, but not overwhelming, letting the walls breath more than the typical dive bar décor would allow. Vintage beer cans can be found in a shrine of sorts just off the front door, facing one of the booths attached to the front wall. Gaming machines can be found to the left of the bar for those pairing their drinking and eating with a little light gambling.
But the legacy of Bambi Bar extends beyond the physical space, the location inspiration for the Bambi Walk, a Louisville tradition since 1979 that involves a 2.5 mile bar crawl along the Highland neighborhood’s Bardstown Road. On a recent visit, the bartender stated that today the Bambi Walk includes over 40 establishments, making an end-to-end trip feel a bit out of reach. But, for those interested in undertaking the achievement, the semi-official rules state that an alcoholic drink of some kind be consumed at every stop. Water is allowed in the presence of another beverage. And though in the old days the itinerary was flipped, today all Bambi Walks start at Bambi Bar and terminate at Phoenix Hill Tavern.
Overkill? Perhaps. But it is difficult to envision a more enjoyable way to spend 10 hours of drinking than experiencing the tradition of the Bambi Walk with a Bambi Bar burger as the foundation. Traditionally, the Walk takes place on or around Christmas Eve, but traditions are made to be improved, opening up the full calendar to a day’s worth of dive bar hopping across Louisville.
A visit to Louisville is incomplete without a visit to Bambi Bar and perhaps a burger on top. The history of the place is easily seen inside and out, a testament to the location’s ability to weather time, ownership changes and even a past life as a dress shop. Any Louisville dive bar potent enough to inspire and anchor a cross-city bar crawl can’t help but be a must-visit dive bar experience.