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No. 4 - Red Key Tavern

Best Time Capsule

If any updates have been made to this SoBro landmark in the last few decades, they were certainly subtle. Dusty model airplanes still hang from the ceiling above the bar; the jukebox still belts out Benny Goodman and Bing Crosby. The clientele hasn’t evolved much in a generation, either. You’ll still find young hipster couples mingling with octogenarians, and councilmen brokering deals over a beer. Longtime owner Russ Settle liked rowdy behavior about as much as he liked change, and the rules he established for his bar are now legendary: no standing, no cursing, no coats hanging on furniture. When he died in 2011, the rules lived on, a curmudgeonly tribute to a guy who seemed to relish throwing people out of his bar.

Russ’s son Jim runs the place now, and we can’t shake the feeling that it trades a great deal on its history—as much an aging museum as a vital neighborhood tavern. But don’t get us wrong: It’s still the place we take the New York Times reporter when he’s in town. It’s still a contender to land on Esquire’s Best Bars list (as it did in 2011). We’ll just have to reminisce in the back booth, coat properly hung on the rack, about the days when it was No. 1 on ours.

5170 N. College Ave., 317-283-4601

 

Photos by Tony Valainis

This article appeared in the January 2013 issue.