Meta, a cocktail bar focusing on "classics with a playful, inclusive and contemporary twist," is slated to open the the first weekend of October at the former home of the Show-n-Tell strip club (425. W. Chestnut St.). And yes, its name is just a transposed letter off from the temporarily shuttered cocktail bar Meat, but more on that later.
"It's kind of a bar inspired by other bars, not in terms of duplicating what they're doing, but just the culture of it, the history of it," co-owner Jeremy Johnson said of Meta. Before spending six months in Chicago researching the concept that's to become Meta, Johnson was the general manager and sommelier at Blind Pig, a founding partner at Meat and a bartender at Proof on Main.
"When you think about the classic cocktail movement, there's a whole lot of meta involved in that. But what we're interested in is incorporating that culture and that history and also looking at what bartenders and bars have done over the years and all over the world, and looking at it in a more playful way."
Johnson described the cocktail menu as "rooted in classics but with a lot of modern twists." He said the cocktail list will be smaller than Meat's, about 15 drinks.
The other co-owner, Hannah Kandle, has 10 years of experience in the industry split between Minnesota (where she worked at Barbette) and Basa and Relish here.
"We're going to be one of the first seriously considered soda programs in Louisville. We're going to have a very strong non-alcoholic program as well," Johnson said. He's sourced a small French producer of grape-based syrups that use natural flavorings from the south of France. Meta will be the only bar in the United States to serve them.
"We'll have a simple wine list," Johnson said. "It's going to be probably five reds and five whites. It's going to be all French."
On draft Meta will serve craft beer, Johnson said, adding that "eventually we hope to actually brew our own beer." Meta also will offer bottled beer.
Design wise, "We really want to be rooted in a classic look. We're talking about hexagon-tiled floor. It's going to be very high end and kind of posh, but with playful elements."
Meta plans to add food service—tentatively slated to be "influenced by high street food"—eight to 18 months after opening. "There's a different approach that our generation has to getting stuff done. Brick and mortar isn't always necessarily the most important thing. What's important is a quality product presented very meticulously. And we've been inspired by the different ways people our ages have come up with ways to offer that."
As for Meta's similarity with Meat, let's just quote the exchange Johnson and Eater had:
Eater: "Your name is very similar to the bar that you used to work in. There's just one letter switched over. Was that a concern at all? Something you thought about? Something people should read anything into?"
Johnson:"I have no idea what you are talking about."
Eater: "Meta being close to Meat?"
Johnson: "Yeah, I don't know what you're talking about."
When asked if he was concerned about possible competition with Meat should the temporarily shuttered bar reopen (it's waiting on a new alcohol license), Johnson responded, "It's not a bar that I'm involved with anymore. I've always thought in my life, the more the merrier. I wish them the best of lucky, honestly. I can only imagine that the more high-end cocktail destinations that we have, the more people that are going to come to Louisville to check it out. I hope they get open soon and I hope that they are just as busy as I hope we are."
"There was only one nice, higher-end 4 a.m. bar. And that was Meat," Johnson said. I was one of the founders of that, that was my concept. It's not there right now. "Louisville really needs a nicer place that's late night. Any of the nicer places are usually closed by midnight." Johnson said that Meta will bring people back to the downtown area later at night.
The lease has been signed and build out of the space has begun.
"I think it's very important that Louisville support Downtown with a lot more independent establishments," Johnson said. "One of the things that Hannah and I were really keen on was bringing something to a neighborhood that really needed something a little bit elevated."
Johnson and Kandle have enlisted some industry experts to assist with the project. Eduard Seitan (a founding partner of Avec, Big Star, Blackbird, Publican and Violet Hour in Chicago ) and Chip Hamm of Doc Crows and La Coop: Bistro à Vins are leading Meta's board of advisors. The bar design and build out will be a collaboration with with David Metcalf and Corey Smith who worked on Rye on Market and the Holy Grale.
[Photo: Courtesy Jeremy Johnson]