As our country wrestles over why we can’t stop shooting each other, one unlikely place that will accept you as you are, no matter who you are or where you come from. And if you do come be prepared to sing.
It’s 12:35a.m. The ear bleeding volume of Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” doesn’t raise an eyebrow. Winning Keno numbers compete onscreen with the weekly NASCAR race. Customers at the bar stare at their last drinks. An off-key vocal, a final chain saw meets blender guitar solo and then a smattering of applause.
It’s another Saturday night at the Peppermint Lounge, where a karaoke machine weaves a disparate and diverse group into family. The bar has been a south Louisville institution for nearly 70 years. Over the years it’s been a hangout for WWII soldiers, as well as L&N railroad and Naval Ordnance workers. On most Saturday nights the crowd of would be singers includes refugees from many countries.
Over the din of clinking glasses and conversations, an eclectric and telling selection of songs fill the night. Ring of Fire, He Ain’t Heavy, La Bamba, What a Wonderful World and Comfortably Numb.
Ronnie Bailey grew up in Louisville, leaving home at age 19 to serve two tours of duty as a soldier in Iraq. “I’ve been shot and been blown up three times. I was in the Special Forces and ended up having a stroke from a hole in my heart that sent a blood clot to my brain. Karaoke is a big stress reliever. It just lets everything kind of float away. I might be here on date night with my wife and I can make her cry (by singing her love songs). I love to entertain people, I love reaching people..“
Lounge owner Rebekah Ashcraft calls Beechmont the “United Nations of Louisville,” and the Peppermint Lounge, Switzerland. “Peace in the center of the storm is what we offer. It’s just a quiet place to relax. We don’t care who you are, as long as you treat everyone with respect. The people who sing karaoke generally sing the same songs. It brings them comfort and takes them back for a moment to reminisce on life. Sometimes I’m humbled by how little it takes to make people happy.”
“We’re all brothers in song,” DJ Ronny Baker adds as the final singer saunters to the mic.
By Pat McDonogh, The Courier-Journal