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    Eat & Swig

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    Legendary singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell once wrote “You don’t know what you got till it’s gone.”

    In the case of Mulligan’s Pub & Grille, which unexpectedly closed its doors on November 12, that phrase is quite literal. As of November 12, 2014, the building that once housed Kaelin’s, the alleged birthplace of the cheeseburger, was no longer operational as Mulligan’s. The regulars, even the customers who were there the night before it closed, didn’t even know what was going on behind the scenes. Some staff was not told of the restaurant’s closing until the morning it was announced to the public. Some didn’t find out until they showed up for their shift.

    Fans of Mulligan’s were caught off-guard when the restaurant abruptly announced its closing over Facebook. Restaurants come and go; that’s business, but Mulligan’s went out with an odd bang on November 12, 2014. The Facebook post read: “MULLIGANS HAS CLOSED ITS DOORS EFFECTIVE TODAY. I have no idea why, so please don't ask me.”  The post asked people to comment with other restaurants who were hiring.

    That’s a harsh way to go out and was a shock for the loyal customers.

    Doug Wiley was one of those customers. He moved to Louisville five years ago and started to patronize Mulligan’s three to four times a week. He was the last customer that left Mulligan’s on its last night. Even for Wiley, the closing was a surprise. He says that as he left, the restaurant had a “see-you-tomorrow” vibe. “I think a lot of people knew about their difficulty but nobody knew it was happening that fast,” Wiley said.

    Those difficulties were not unnoticed, according to Louie Hehman, a recent graduate of nearby Bellarmine University and weekly customer, even with Mulligan’s Cheers-like charm. Hehman also played over two-dozen gigs at Mulligan’s as a keyboard player.

    Mulligan’s was a popular hangout spot for some Bellarmine students and alumni, Hehman said, “especially compared to other bars in the Highlands, they [Mulligan’s) were always far less busy, which was kind of the appeal for me. You always knew when you went there, there would be a table open.”

    Mulligan’s was a place of fond memories for Hehman. He spoke warmly of the bartenders and waitresses in particular, noting that he and his friends knew the staff so well that they asked one waitress to turn off a sporting event and to change the TV channel to the McConnell-Grimes debate. She obliged.

    Although the official reason for the abrupt closure is unknown, Hehman said there were some warning signs. The menus were changed multiple times. Mulligan’s added a “Kaelin’s Coffeehouse” service to possibly attract more business in the mornings. “People were convinced they were trying too hard to be a family restaurant. In my mind it wasn’t a dive bar…but it’s a dad bar,” Hehman said, “It’s where you would go with your buddies to get a cheap beer. No pretensions. That’s just what it was…they should have just focused on what they were good at.”

    Wiley and Hehman were in complete agreement about one thing at Mulligan’s and that’s how much they loved manager J.R. Harrison. Hehman called Harrison “the godfather of the place.”

    “He was just the nicest guy,” he said.

    Wiley said that Harrison was more than a just a guy in the kitchen. According to Wiley, Harrison worked a ridiculous amount of hours and was always there.

    Hehman couldn’t say the same about Tim Clark, the owner. Hehman said, “I never had a positive impression of the owner. It wouldn’t surprise me if he just went and did something like that, just up and said, ‘We’re closing up shop. You guys need to find something else to do.’”

    One Mulligan’s waitress (who wished to remain anonymous to protect her changes of future employment in Louisville) expressed an even stronger sentiment towards Clark. She said, “I don’t think he is intentionally a bad person. He’s all about Tim and not about us.”

    To her, the closing came completely without warning, as she was texted by Harrison at 9:57 a.m. on November 12, 2014, a day she was scheduled to work, that Mulligan’s was closed. “For a while, it was obvious he wasn’t making any money,” the waitress said, “One of the cook’s checks bounced.”

    She alleged that Clark was never there and when he was, “he would just show up and randomly and give orders.”

    This waitress, who had been working at Mulligan’s since early this year, said even with the problems, she really enjoying showing up for her shifts and would even arrive early to eat at the bar, which is why she is as devastated to see Mulligan’s go as much as the customers. “People are losing their hangout spot and that’s what’s rough about it all,” she said.

    Tim Clark and J. R. Harrison were contacted repeatedly, but both declined to comment. There is no current information available about what will become of the Mulligan’s property.

    Will Ford's picture

    About Will Ford

    Covering Louisville music like it's the 6 o' clock news. I've covered Forecastle, Louder Than Life, Moontower, Starry Nights, and Louisville music news for 3 years. Follow me @parasiticnoise

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