Saturday, November 25, 2006

What's the story behind the Hugh E. Bir's Cafe closure?

Readers, do any of you know if the recent shutdown of Hugh E. Bir’s Café (corner 4th and Market in New Albany) is permanent?

I’ve heard various explanations for the cessation of activity at the venerable establishment. Whatever the reason, it would be a shame if Hugh E’s were closed for good, and although this sentiment might surprise some, it shouldn’t. Matters are seldom simple in the cobwebbed recesses of the Curmudgeon’s consciousness.

My first bartending job back in 1983 was at the K & H Café in Lanesville, which at the time was an honest country tavern with top-rate burgers and not a little eccentricity. It’s true that weekend evenings occasionally got a bit rowdy, and it would have been nice to have better beer and less country music on the jukebox, but at the time it was close to home and just right.

Aside from pulling shifts behind the bar, I drank there full time, and came to know and love both branches of the owning family, the Schneiders. Good people all, and they earned a living and put numerous children through university on the proceeds of inexpensive meals, cold mainstream beer and the odd shot of bourbon. It had somewhat the quality of the American dream.

The only constant is change, and my life changed in ways I hadn’t foreseen; after all, it wasn’t a business plan that landed me in a pub. It was serendipity. At any rate, it remains possible to move on while still having a degree of respect for one’s roots. I’ve not been to the “K” since the brothers sold out roughly 13 years ago, and Ronald Reagan was probably in office the last time I visited Hugh E’s, but I respect both even if I’ve satirized aspects of the experience from time to time.

They’re not where I’m at it when it comes to beer, food (and often) music, but to be honest, I often wish they were, in the sense that in terms of layout and interior décor, bars like those are comfortable, unpretentious and generally filled with interesting people.

Would it be possible to take the physical setting and graft good beer and international pub grub onto it? Or would the good beer demographic balk?

Just a thought. The answers elude me, but that doesn’t quell the speculation.


thundersaid said...

Oh, oh I know this one. Hugh E's evil ex-wife wrote numerous bad checks before she took off never to be heard from again. To cover the bad checks, Hugh E used money set aside to pay the bar's annual taxes. Anyway, long story short, the IRS suspended the bar's liquor license, giving Hugh E 30 days to pay the back taxes in full. It was touch and go, but all's well that ends well.

The New Albanian said...

Appreciate that. I'd since gotten much of this info, just hadn't had time to follow up, although I noticed things were up and running again.