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The St. Clair and Howser Tavern Written by Patti Nickell

Tucked away in an alcove inside Frankfort’s newest hotel, the 15-suite boutique St. Clair, is an inconspicuous door marked Maintenance. Behind the door you won’t find pails, mops, cleaning supplies – all the things one would typically associate with keeping a property spic and span.

What you will find behind the door is a Prohibition-era speakeasy that would have appealed to Al Capone and his cronies. Even Eliot Ness, chief enforcer of The Untouchables and Capone’s arch nemesis, might have been tempted to spend time enjoying some bathtub gin here.

Not that you will find bathtub gin at the St. Clair speakeasy – here it’s top-shelf bourbon all the way. Some 75 bourbons are on the menu, most of them rare, such as Pappy Van Winkle, George T. Stagg, Eagle Rare and Blanton’s Gold.

“Eventually, we also anticipate having bourbons that are exclusive to us,” says Heather Nutt, the St. Clair’s vice-president of marketing.

“We want people to feel like they are stepping back in time,” says Nutt, “so for that reason we discourage the use of cellphones – both for talking and for taking pictures.”

Instead, guests are encouraged to take a seat on one of the green velvet sofas, bourbon cocktail in hand, and revel in their surroundings.  And they have a lot to revel in.

Those surroundings include real wood paneling, a black and white checkerboard floor, metal decorative tables and mirrored copper bar. On opposite walls hang two decorative stags (in homage to George T.) from whose mouths are suspended glass lanterns.

The piece de resistance, however, is the ceiling meant to represent the night sky, painted black and studded with star lights.

“We did a lot of research on Prohibition-era bars and what they looked like before we started to choose our décor,” explains Nutt.

The speakeasy can hold 35 to 40 people comfortably, and hotel guests have the option of reserving the space for private events.

If the speakeasy harkens back to the past, the hotel, a project of Louisville-based Alter Development, is very definitely 21st century.


There is no formal lobby and no one waiting to take credit cards and hand out keys. Contactless check-in allows guests, upon making a reservation, to receive both an exterior and suite door code.

The suites range in size from studio (which are larger than most in this category) to two-bedroom. All have a furnished kitchen with a fridge and microwave, and most also have a stove.

Design-wise, the St. Clair, which now occupies what was once a furniture store, has retained many of that building’s original features. The industrial chic design has exposed ducts and brick walls, and the developers also kept as much of the original wood flooring as possible.

An extra perk at the St. Clair is a free parking space for every suite in the garage directly across the street from the hotel.

Alter Development also kept the spirit of the original Howser Tavern, a saloon dating from the early 1900s.

Located adjacent to the hotel lobby, Howser Tavern is operated by Goodwood Brewery, and offers a light bite menu which changes seasonally, as well as specialty cocktails.

The menu features options such as a trio platter with black bean hummus; pimento cheese and chicken salad; cheese and charcuterie boards with candied pecans, pepperoni, olives and gherkins, and signature sandwiches and soups.

Bartenders from the speakeasy also service the tavern, so guests can order bourbon flights or Goodwood favorites.

If the speakeasy discourages loud technology in favor of intimate conversation, the tavern allows raucous cheering for whatever game is on one of their five TV sets.

And should guests not feel like socializing at all, preferring the comfort of their suite, Goodwood staff will take their food order and deliver it to the suite.

The long-awaited opening of the St. Clair (five years of waiting to be exact) promises an exciting addition to Frankfort’s thriving hospitality scene.

All Images by the St. Clair & Howser Tavern.