Diner floor, classic sign, epic history is a solid combo.
The sign atop Louisville’s Old Hickory Inn is a siren song for dive bar fans, the kind of faded, rusted, vintage sign that basically requires stopping in for a High Life. Beyond its iconic sign lies the oral history of Old Hickory Inn, once named Malone’s Old Hickory Inn, a story difficult to pin down even in the age of pervasive information availability online.
Sources on the history of the Germantown dive bar are scarce, though all seem to agree that Old Hickory Inn is one of the oldest dive bars in the neighborhood and in Louisville as a whole. Though the sign looks the part, much of the other features have been updated, creating a dive bar feel outside that transitions into something a little more akin to a bright, diner atmosphere inside. And while that may seem like a bit of a shame given the age the building, it turns out that the fact Old Hickory Inn still stands at all is a testament to a neighborhood icon refusing to close its doors.
Again, sources are scarce and details are hard to come by in researching the history of Old Hickory Inn, but all seem to agree that it began in the early 1900s before a series of ownership changes over the subsequent decades. As the popularity of the Germantown neighborhood grew, so did the clientele at Old Hickory Inn, reaching out from a stalwart but small group of locals into more of a neighborhood hub.,
News stories start to kick in around 2009 when a fire triggered by a faulty gas meter ripped through the building and took it out of commission for about a year. Reopened in 2010, Old Hickory Inn was vandalized a short time later to the tune of $25,000, which would certainly be newsworthy on its merit as a prominent sum of money alone, but source Leo Weekly goes into further detail on the potential motive for the burglary. It turns out that a dispute between landlord and bar manager resulted in the bar manager’s eviction from the apartment upstairs, the subsequent changing of locks on Old Hickory Inn by said bar manager and ultimately the vandalization of the space that included clearly vindictive destruction such as the slashing of stools and urine found in bar’s cooler.
Though rumors continue to swirl around the nature of the 2010 incident, the past was put behind Old Hickory Inn later that year when the bar reopened in its current incarnation complete with post-fire and post-crime updates. Eventually, the Louisville dive bar was sold again in 2020 and reopened under that new ownership with a series of improvements including a new patio and a set of cosmetic repairs.
Today, the vibe inside Old Hickory Inn boasts that classic, standard neighborhood bar feel, from the responsive staff to the usual suspects in the beer cooler. Black and white checkerboard tile runs the length of the long, shotgun-style footprint, a handful of low tables on one wall, the long bar on the other. In back, a pool table, digital jukebox and a couple of gaming machines provide the usual complement of dive bar entertainment.
Though some of the details are fuzzy, Germantown’s Old Hickory Inn is clearly a survivor, a neighborhood institution that boasts a fire, epic landlord despite and a global pandemic among its hurdles but endures yet today. That history that compelling can be found in one of Louisville’s best dive bar neighborhoods with a fantastically epic sign out front provides icing atop Old Hickory Inn’s dive bar cake.