In what was once the venerable M.A. Selbert’s Jewelry Store now stands a gem of a pub. Selbert’s operated for nearly a century-and-a-half at its St. Clair Street location. Mortimer Bibb’s Public House has been open for less than two years (November, 2020), and instead of selling pearls and diamonds, it offers pints and drams.
“We’re bringing to Frankfort something it has never had before – a public house in the true Irish sense,” says Karl Lawrence, who along with partner Kevin Newton, owns Mortimer Bibb’s Public House.
Their journey began on a 2018 trip to Ireland where the two men became enamored of the sense of community and spirit of craic (Gaelic for fun) characteristic of Irish pubs. They wanted residents of their hometown to experience what they had found along the shores of Galway Bay. But the road between wanting and actually getting was long and winding.
The men’s initial choice for a location was the building on Broadway that once housed the law office of 19th century lawyer and politician George Mortimer Bibbs, a contemporary of Henry Clay who served as both a U.S. senator from Kentucky (1811-1814; 1829-1835) and later, as President John Tyler’s Secretary of the Treasury (1844-1845).
The deal to acquire the building fell through, however, and Lawrence and Newton were left with nothing but the Bibbs name. However, the luck of the Irish prevailed; the Selbert building became available and with some assistance from Downtown Frankfort Inc., the two were able to lease it.
Next up was finding their pot of gold. Through a Kickstarter campaign, they were able to raise $5,000 in seed money, but more importantly, they were able to gauge the level of interest in the community and to determine that it was indeed in a position to support an Irish-style pub.
Through assistance from a Small Business Loan and money from their own savings, Lawrence’s and Newton’s dream became a reality. With location and financing set, they seemed well on their way when they were confronted by yet another obstacle in the form of COVID-19.
Even in the throes of a pandemic, the two pushed forward with their plans. The interior of the building had to be gutted in order to replace a showroom with a taproom. The centerpiece is a 28-foot-long oak bar, while oak wainscoting complements the refinished hardwood floors. A dozen tables in the main area and a couch and chairs in the back room provide seating.
The unique design touches give Bibb’s Public House much of its charm. As a DYIer, Lawrence hammered a pattern into the copper-plated bar surface. A chandelier composed of 13 Jameson whiskey bottles is a conversation starter, as are the three large jewelry cases left over from Selbert’s that are used as the bar’s back.
Lawrence acknowledges that they want to remain true to the original building’s aesthetics as much as possible, while at the same time paying homage to the pubs of Ireland with a nod to the speakeasy vibe of Louisville’s Seelbach Hotel bar and the cozy comfort of McCarthy’s Irish Pub in Lexington.
Lawrence says customers should not expect a full-service restaurant with an extensive menu.
“We are a pub with a small kitchen necessitating a limited menu,” he says.
That menu currently includes appetizers such as pretzels and beer cheese and Bibb’s specialty spreads with crackers, sandwiches, salads, soups and quiches. They serve a Ploughman’s Plate, a traditional Irish salad with ham, cheddar and Havarti cheeses, boiled egg, tomatoes, carrots and olives on a bed of greens served with Guinness brown bread, and periodically offer Irish specialties Shepherd’s Pie and Guinness Stew. And while on the subject of Guinness, Bibb’s is the only place in downtown Frankfort to have the stout Irish beer on tap.
What’s an Irish pub without a St. Patrick’s Day blowout celebration? The holiday will be a two-week affair at Bibb’s Public House. Bookending the actual March 17th celebration will be two performances (March 9th and March 23rd) by Liam’s Fancy, a small Irish acoustical group.
St. Patrick’s Day will feature live Celtic music by local musician Jack Twombly in addition to Irish food, a selection of Irish whiskeys and a visit by St. Paddy himself. So, make your plans now for a visit to the Old Sod, Frankfort-style.
In conclusion, George Mortimer Bibbs’ mortal remains may lie at rest in the Frankfort Cemetery, but his spirit would undoubtedly feel more at home in the building that bears his name. So, raise your glass to Mortimer Bibbs and end your toast with a hearty “Slainte” – the Irish equivalent to “Cheers.”