Take a heat break in the basement and bring a marker for the drywall.
The act of converting a residence into a dive bar is an act of generosity, a selfless action that stocks the dive bar pool with another no-doubt, must-visit neighborhood bar. When that residence looks like it was built a half a century ago and shares a parking lot with a bait shop, all the better. Smyrna Inn, nestled in the Louisville suburb of Highview, matches that description, a biker bar, a neighborhood pub, a live music venue, a community staple wrapped into one.
Though the moniker of ‘dive bar’ is well deserved by Smyrna Inn, first things first, this is one of the cleanest bars this reviewer visited on a trip to the Louisville area, the divey charm coming from the funky layout owed to the home conversion that created Smyrna Inn. Fresh paint, clean surfaces, care poured into the upkeep of the place, these are all positives despite my affection for a little dust in the corner with my High Life. Outside, a corner lot on a moderately trafficked road houses what looks like a house on a hill, three stories of what is now the Smyrna Inn surrounded by a fence on one side and a wraparound parking lot on the other.
The side of the building opens up into an outdoor patio that serves as live music venue when temperatures allow. A permanent beer ledge that runs through the middle of the porch and the small confines means the music is going to be loud but it’s going to be an interactive experience, the right kind of combination for what is mostly a neighborhood stop. A small gazebo across the parking lot looks as if it may, or may not be, part of the Smyrna Inn complex, a vacation porch of sorts away from the main stage. Motorcycle-dedicated parking can be found along a small shed on the property.
Inside, the confines are snug. The drinking area is split into two levels, the upper level open to the floor below, creating a very communal vibe despite the elevation difference in the seating. The main room includes Smyrna Inn’s main bar, a short curved variety with the questionable quirk of mirrors that run along one side, allowing you to see yourself drink beer as you’re drinking it, sometimes a good thing, sometimes not. A small window in the front wall opens up to the patio, giving the bartender access to supply drinks directly to those assembled outside. And on this reviewer’s visit, the drinks were in steady demand, supported by some of the most affordable pricing found in Louisville dive bars.
A surprising amount of seating is made available for such a small footprint, stool seating at the bar matched by high tops along the first and second levels. Though its status as a permanent feature is unclear, during my visit a roller hot dog machine was set up just inside the front door with a full complement of condiments and buns, another example of the communal nature of the neighborhood dive bar. The second floor in this main space includes additional seating as mentioned as well as a pair of gaming machines for those so inclined.
Perhaps the gem of the store-based layout of Smyrna Inn is the basement, a clean and semi-finished space that feels like heading down to a friend’s basement as a teenager. The bathrooms can be found here just off of the bar on the first floor, a small, angled stair case opening into the basement area. Down here, some additional seating can be found as well as a pool table ringed in string lights and Smyrna Inn’s ATM (pro tip for those looking for it).
In keeping with the promise of the dive bar’s exterior, the vibe inside is friendly, approachable and laid back, the key ingredients for a good neighborhood bar stop. With live music outside during the summer and easy access to all the bait you could ever want next door, it’s hard to argue with Smyrna Inn’s status as one of the most approachable dive bars in Louisville and one of the city’s best neighborhood-based bars to grab a drink.