This story is featured in CityBeat's Sept. 20 print edition.
A new bar in Covington brings to life the latest vision from Lost Co. hospitality group. The company, which has created some of the area’s most captivating and creative bar concepts, like Somerset and Alice in Over-the-Rhine, opened Second Story on April 28 in partnership with a group of investors and friends in Louisville, some who own Flying Axes as well.
Flying Axes also occupies the first story of the historic firehouse where the bar is located.
Lost Co. has a knack for finding interesting spaces and doing the unexpected with them. Hence, the design at Second Story doesn’t lean into the firehouse vibe. After all, that would be too basic for Lost, whose other bars are known for their fanciful, colorful, artistic vibes and verdant outdoor garden spaces that come together in collaboration with local artists, designers and craftspeople.
Second Story general manager Lee Caldwell says it best: “One of the great things about Lost is they have such great ties and connections into the local creative community.”
And the results of those ties are on full display at Second Story. The bar’s main space is a large room with stylish and comfortable seating, dazzling chandeliers and hand-painted murals, complemented by large windows on three sides. Seating areas are reminiscent of parlors that would be featured in Architectural Digest. It’s the type of space that photographers want to rent out for photoshoots (which can be done, by the way). But most of all, it’s just plain pretty.
“I’ve been in the bar industry 20-plus years, and I've worked in a lot of pretty bars, but I feel like far and away this is the prettiest bar I’ve worked in," Caldwell told CityBeat.
And though they didn’t create it, the view of the surrounding neighborhood and its namesake landmark adds to the unique character of Second Story.
Caldwell told CityBeat, “It’s tough to beat the backdrop here with Mother of God Church, which not only is beautiful unto itself but also gives the neighborhood its name.”
For those unfamiliar, the name of the immediate neighborhood, Mutter Gottes, is German for Mother of God.
In the vein of other Lost Co. bars, Second Story features a large outdoor patio, but with its own flavor.
“It’s garden-esque like a lot of our spaces are, but we take that experiential idea that we had at Somerset and also at Alice but give it a little bit of a Southern Gothic, southern garden type of feel,” Caldwell said.
Second Story brings a little of that garden vibe indoors with various plants that help the furniture soften an otherwise hard-edged space. And you can’t talk about Second Story without mentioning the giant artist-created tree “growing” behind the bar. Spanning from floor to ceiling, the up-lit behemoth houses bottles of spirits on shelves built into the trunk and branches.
Like other Lost Co. bars, the idea for Second Story started with a theme in mind. The theme here came from bars throughout history that served as cultural and community hubs; a Bohemian cafe vibe that attracts artists, writers and thinkers. Second Story is a piece of art in itself — an inspiring space that is conducive to thought and conversation.
“For me that’s what bars are meant to be. Bars are meant to be community spaces. A pub is just short for a public house. Your conversation could be with the person you came with or with the person you just happened to sit down next to,” Caldwell says.
Of course, there are drinks here too. Caldwell explains how cocktails fit into the big picture, saying, “We wanted this place to be driven off of three pillars: conversation, art and music. And the cocktails are really just the conduit to make all three of those work well together.”
Caldwell says the cocktail menu focuses on quality over quantity. The cocktails were created by Caldwell, assistant general manager Erica Thompson and crowdsourced from other bartenders.
The menu offers cocktails with a variety of bases, not leaning on any one spirit too much.
“This menu, I think, does a nice job of dancing with a little bit of whiskey here, a little bit of gin there and we started working in a bit of alternative spirits as well,” Caldwell told CityBeat.
Caldwell said mezcal and applejack are among his favorite spirits, and they can each be found in cocktails on the menu. The Smoke & Ember cocktail combines mezcal and tequila with citrus, pineapple and chili flavors, while the Manzana Del Diablo (Devil’s Apple) incorporates applejack, crème de cassis, ginger syrup, lime and bitters to create a tempting treat.
Drinks are made with housemade syrups and housemade tonic, and feature amari, which are herbal liqueurs that typically come from Italy and France. There’s even a housemade version of “Fireball” cinnamon whiskey, offered under the “Handshakes” heading of the menu.
Like the views through the windows in the main space, the cocktail menu will change seasonally, offering guests fresh experiences with multiple visits.
Caldwell says, “For me, seasonality and keeping people guessing and wanting to come back is kind of key, because, you know, bars have a way of becoming stagnant if you do the same thing over and over again.”
A few booze-free and low-proof options grace the menu, and a good selection of beer and wine round it out. In addition to some domestics, local beers and seltzers, Caldwell brought in a couple more beer options from the Crooked Stave brewery out of Colorado. The wine menu features a selection of organic and eco-friendly wines. Caldwell says that out of the 13 wines available, 12 are certified natural or organic and sustainable.
“We really wanted to not just be a cocktail bar, because cocktails aren't for everybody. Some people prefer to be beer drinkers, some people are wine drinkers and we wanted to be able to run the gamut on that.”
Second Story has featured a variety of entertainment and other programming, from DJs spinning Afro-Caribbean tunes, to cocktail competitions, a vintage market and food pop-ups. But one thing about the vibe remains consistent: As the night progresses, the lights get dimmer and the music gets louder, according to Caldwell.
“I always tell my team it should be just dark enough and just loud enough for people to make questionable decisions,” he jokes.
Second Story, 100 W. 6th St., second floor, Covington. Info: secondstory.bar.
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