Louisville Magazine

FEB 2019

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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40 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 2.19 by its iconic neon sign topped with a devil. It has no phone, no kitchen. Bartenders serve strong and cheap drinks that one guy jokes often contain three ingredients, including the glass and ice. is year, Air Devils marks its 85th year in operation. Its history includes barnstorming pilots, wartime dances, illegal gambling, roaring motorcycle clubs, sweaty music nights, love both lost and found, and a nearly 25-year-old murder that still haunts the place. Alan Downie is a 67-year-old longtime bartender originally from Scotland. He sports red hair, sideburns and a Hawaiian shirt. "It never ceases to amaze me," he says. "People come in and say, 'Oh, man, I haven't been here in 30 years and it looks just the same.'" Air Devils Inn, or the Devil, or ADI — depending on how regular you are — began its life as a one-room schoolhouse. e Maple Grove School was built in 1876 on a rural stretch of cattle pastures and potato fields. One old photo shows two-dozen children, some wearing round eyeglasses or knickers with bows, posing grim-faced next to a teacher out front. But it was the 1921 opening of Bowman Field, the state's first airport and the oldest continually operating commercial airfield in the United States, that eventually fueled the bar's rollicking history. After the school consolidated with Melbourne Heights and Alex R. Kennedy schools, the building sold in 1926 for $8,500. For a time, it served as an Army Signal Corps chapel. It was a social club called Castle Gardens. In 1934, a year after Prohibition ended, Air Devils Inn was born. Bowman Field still had a dirt runway then but served as an Army Air Corps depot, an airmail terminal and a passenger airport for fledgling commercial air travel on Trans World and other airlines. Amelia Earhart made an appearance at Bowman Field, and in 1927 Charles Lindbergh landed his Spirit of St. Louis, drawing nearly 10,000 spectators. "He did a radio interview," Downie says, then spreads lore in true bartender fashion. "And apparently the last question was something like, Unlock the front door next to the long- dead pay phone. Turn on the TVs. Bramer, the early-shift bartender, wakes up the old bar for another round. Bramer, a blond former sales rep in jeans and tennis shoes, surveys the mismatched decor, the grime and the checkered floor full of holes. She sighs. Sometimes the place feels like it's falling apart, she says, sounding like a homeowner apologizing for the mess. But she knows the nonchalant decay has also given Air Devils the ne'er-do-well, ornery outlaw vibe that appeals to die-hard regulars and dive-loving newcomers. "I like it the way it is, to be honest with you," she says. e door creaks open. It's Gabe, a white- haired, 85-year-old former accountant. He's usually the first to arrive. He likes to watch Gunsmoke reruns on silent because he knows them by heart. e bar keeps peanut butter crackers and hot pretzels in stock just for Gabe. He hauls himself onto a stool and orders a Miller for $2.50. After his first long pull, he sets the bottle down slowly next to his pile of dollars and two quarters. Others begin rolling in, the usual crowd of 10 or so who are closer to friends than patrons. One guy orders a Coke. His taste for gin and tonics got out of hand. "How about a Bloody Mary?" one man says to Bramer. He lobs out observations that spark old-man talk about Clemson beating Alabama, health woes and the clear but cold weather. e first of three bartending shifts is underway at Air Devils Inn, Louisville's most storied and historic dive bar, known The bar keeps peanut butter crackers and hot pretzels in stock just for Gabe, an 85-year-old regular.

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