Follow the mural and grab a Mystery Beer.
Dive bars exist on a spectrum, from fabled, timeless pre-Prohibition institutions to more recent constructions built to conjure up a little of that dusty, dive bar magic. The Pearl of Germantown certainly skews toward the present-day end of that spectrum, opened in 2016 with definite hipster vibes but maybe more importantly a dive bar-friendly décor and the drinking innovation you never knew you needed, the wheel of drinks.
The Pearl of Germantown shares ownership with the equally attractive Silver Dollar, a combination bar and Southern restaurant a few miles away in Louisville’s Clifton neighborhood. Though the two drinking spots feel like they belong to the same family, The Pearl was certainly built with the corner neighborhood dive look and feel in mind. And the corner plot provides canvas for one of The Pearl’s striking elements, a mural stretching nearly the full length of the white siding that covers much of the building. Contributed by local artist Damon Thompson, the towering tribute to Woody Guthrie is a COVID-era project that now serves as striking visual landmark.
Around the corner, curved wooden shingles serve as face of The Pearl, large windows on either side of a white front door under a single, spherical lamp. As far as dive bar entrances go, The Pearl of Germantown makes a case for one of the most attractive, a look that somehow feels organic to the neighborhood around it despite its relatively recent addition to Louisville’s Germantown district. During the evening hours, the glow of countless vintage beer signs and overhead large-bulb Christmas lights leaks from the large, single-pane windows out front to create that signature dive bar glow.
Walking inside, it is immediately clear that whoever collected the décor distributed throughout the Louisville dive bar knew what they were doing and spent a decent amount of time assembling an impressive array of vintage signs, neon and miscellany. The long shotgun-style layout of the space means that the wall decorations and light strands are taken in all at once upon entry, complemented by a warm, low ambient glow. One of the signature pieces is no doubt the retro jukebox just inside the front door, not functional during my visit but lit up in some of the pictures of The Pearl’s interior (fingers crossed it still operates).
My advice would be to soak in as much of the signage as possible and though much of it is vintage for the sake of adding to the dive bar’s ambiance, some of the wall flair is in active use such as the High Life light above the front door inscribed with current pricing on draft beer. Christmas lights swing at odd angles over the long room that houses The Pearl, paired up with vintage-style chandeliers extending from an equally vintage-looking stamped ceiling. And not to miss out on a clear dive bar necessity, a well-preserved Budweiser Clydesdale display hangs over the area behind the bar.
The intentional nature of the visual look is apparent throughout The Pearl, from the retro-style refrigerator to the old-school Coors lamp that sits above the frozen margarita machine. No corner is left untouched, including the edge of the front end of the bar where the wheel of drinks takes up residence. For those indecisive at the start of or end of a day of drinking, spinning the wheel provides some mental relief, landing on one of a handful of attractively-priced drink options to remove all control from a situation that may benefit from a bit of it. Relatedly, the menu features a Mystery Beer option that once again adds a little intrigue to each selection (I partook and was given a tasty but spicy cider).
Near the back of the space, a seating area of sorts extends where bar ends, a few low tables along one wall, a gaming table set up for checkers under a Blatz pool table lamp in the middle of this offshoot area. Toward this rear area and dotted throughout The Pearl, beer signs occasionally intermingle with portraits and other vintage-looking pieces of artwork. A well-trained eye will in fact spot a nod to JFK nestled Stroh’s lights and Old Style mirrors. And of course, as if there was ever a doubt, the entire experience is capped off by a well-graffitied white tile bathroom.
What The Pearl of Germantown lacks in longevity is well covered by the intentional and pretty impeccable décor sense deployed throughout its corner dive bar footprint. The mural along the outside of the building sets up an expectation certainly met by the almost intense array of vintage pieces inside that pay tribute to every visitor’s grandpa’s favorite beers. And when all else is in doubt, there’s a magic wheel at the front of the bar that makes even the faintest bit of selection indecision disappear.