LIVE TO EAT on THE BEER BEAT: A tribute to the late Rocky’s Sub Pub and a question: What’s happening at Jeffersonville’s “restaurant row”?


It was announced today that Rocky’s Sub Pub, on the riverfront in Jeffersonville, suddenly closed. Danielle Grady’s newspaper coverage is linked below, but first, a short piece I wrote for LEO back in 2009, when Rocky’s debuted its beefed-up tap system. Ironically, now both Rocky’s and JeffBoat are gone. 

During the time of its original incarnation opposite the boatyard in Jeffersonville, Rocky’s Sub Pub was a genuine beer list innovator.

To appreciate the extent of this achievement in the context of the time, it helps to know that the American craft beer revolution didn’t really arrive in the Louisville metropolitan area until the early 1990’s. Prior to that, beer choice hereabouts was measured in terms of imported and primarily bottled beers. Rocky’s had these in abundance, thanks in part to a fortunate convergence of factors.

Roughly a quarter-century ago, archaic Kentucky pricing laws provided a competitive advantage to Indiana package liquor purveyors, the most prominent of which was Cut-Rate in downtown Jeffersonville, where ubiquitous Kentucky license plates testified to the Commonwealth’s weekly loss in tax revenue.

A short distance away on 10th Street was the warehouse of the now extinct Nachand Beverage Company, a beer wholesaler owned by the late Ed Schueler, who quite simply was one of the finest gentlemen I’ve ever met, in or out of the beer business. He saw a profitable, largely unserviced niche for the steadily escalating supply of imports, and marketed accordingly.

Thanks to Nachand Beverage, Cut-Rate had an uncommonly large off-premise retail selection of imported beers. Many of the same brands also made it to Rocky’s Sub Pub, to be enjoyed on site with the eatery’s signature pizzas and sandwiches. We’d sample beers at Rocky’s, and then stop at Cut-Rate on the way home to stock up on the ones we liked. It was the Sunny Side’s own version of triangular trade, one that added inestimably to my knowledge of beer.

Kentucky eventually changed its laws, dooming Cut-Rate. Ed died far too young, and the distributorship was bought out by an Indianapolis wholesaler. The orbits of my life and work completely changed, and at some point during all of it, Rocky’s Sub Pub changed, too, vacating its funky original site for reinvention as an Italian grill amid purpose-built, upscale digs in the shadow of the Clark Memorial Bridge.

It had been a long time between visits to Rocky’s when I passed through the entrance on a recent rainy Saturday afternoon, enticed by the news that the establishment had come full circle by adding a nifty new draft system that pushes the number of beer taps up to 32.

My friend Jerry and I ignored the vinyl banner outside touting a “domestic pitcher” special and settled onto comfy stools with women’s collegiate lacrosse displayed on one of several flat screens above the bar. I subjected the taps to the scrutiny of trained and periodically jaundiced eyes.

Happily, the prognosis is quite favorable. Only a half-dozen of the draft lines carry certifiably forgettable domestic mass-market specimens like Miller Lite, Killian’s and Blue Moon. All around them is evidence of intelligent design in the brand selection, which to a beer enthusiast means stylistic diversity: Doppelbock and Belgian Tripel, with Double India Pale Ale and Coffee Stout for accent – and many more. Gumball Head, anyone?

Recalling the legacy of imports at the Rocky’s of old, there now are proportionately fewer draft beers from outside the USA and an obvious (and fully justified) emphasis on American-made craft beers. Louisville-area microbreweries are well represented, and upwards of six taps were pouring Indiana microbrews on the day we stopped in. Five taps are devoted to seasonals from Sam, Adams, Schlafly, Upland, Bell’s and BBC,

As a minor criticism, the beers are being served tooth-numbingly cold, and in frosted glasses, both of which hinder one’s ability to taste good beer even if they render mass-market lager drinkable. However, there’s a bright side, in that bar patrons can pass time waiting for the beer to warm by snacking on a softball-sized roll of bread, olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese provided free of charge.

Now that Rocky’s has added such an array of beers suitable for experimentation in food pairings, I’ll return soon for a full meal and the opportunity to utilize another clever sales touch: Consumers can create their own flights of five sample draft portions, making it easy to tour the lesser known selections and match them with pasta, salads and pizza.

Rocky’s new drafts aren’t 1985 all over again. They’re better.

We met friends at Rocky’s last summer. There were no issues with our meals, but I remarked afterward that it just felt tired. Restaurants have life spans, too, and sometimes, it’s just time.

I don’t know exactly why Rocky’s closed. However, as with the shuttering of Feast BBQ and Comfy Cow in New Albany, the recent departures of Bristol Bar & Grill and Bearno’s from the building on “restaurant row” across the street from Rocky’s both can be explained for reasons of business cycles, better opportunities elsewhere, and so on.

Moreover, “restaurant row” has existed for almost two decades, and that’s ancient history for any restaurant district. Maybe evolution and reinvention start now, because in my opinion, two overarching issues helping to explain these business transitions are the atypical maturity of the “legacy” brands (Rocky’s, Bristol, Bearno’s, Buckhead Mountain Grill and Kingfish — throw in Hooter’s, too — probably average 30-40 years or more of existence overall) and the peculiar way that the age of these brands might actually be typecasting the district as intended primarily for older diners.

There’s nothing wrong with this, and it’s a good thing to be venerable, but maybe not all in one place; it’s like in the woods when the bigger trees prevent other plants growing on the forest floor. At the same time, property values on such a strip probably preclude edgier start-ups and encourage mass-market approaches.

As much as it annoys me to say it, what all of this suggests in my mind is the likelihood of chain concepts filling these gaps. They’re capitalized for the purpose, suited for tourist areas with a view, and accustomed to the lowest common denominator when it comes to offerings. I’m also told that the Rocky’s building may have issues pertaining to drainage and erosion, so deep pockets probably are a must,

Rocky’s Sub Pub announces closing, by Danielle Grady (A Plethora of Tom May Content)

JEFFERSONVILLE — Rocky’s Sub Pub in Jeffersonville announced abruptly Monday that it is closing after 41 years, effective immediately …

… In recent years, the restaurant moved to Riverside Drive and was owned by Buckhead Management Group, the same company that owns the local Buckhead Mountain Grill chain.

The company is “working closely” with staff to help employees find work at other area restaurants, according to the sign on the restaurant’s door. Management is also “actively” seeking a new use for the Rocky’s property.

Other service industry businesses were clamoring for laid off Rocky’s workers on Monday. Horseshoe Southern Indiana sent an email to the News and Tribune, saying that the casino and hotel was hiring …