Louisville: The New Twig & Leaf and What Makes a Diner
Louisville’s Twig & Leaf, an old school diner, has been the object of media interest of late. Back in the spring, Ashlie Stevens asked whether historical status was enough to justify the existence of the greasy spoon with the iconic sign that clearly had fallen on hard times:
In 2011, it was designated as a local landmark after a CVS pharmacy was rumored to be taking over the entire block. The residents worked to save the diner, but now it just stays empty most nights. It’s a story of placemaking and preservation gone sadly wrong.
Word came in September that the diner was getting new owners, Gibin George and Ferhan Ali. The plan was to redecorate the diner, beginning with simple paint and repair, during a week of closure at the end of September:
During that week, the pair will renovate the diner and give it an old-school vibe. They plan to repaint, hang old photos from around Louisville, install a black-and-white television and jukebox, and replace the broken neon lights in the restaurant’s iconic sign.
Having followed the Twig & Leaf story, and having never been to the Louisville eatery, I decided to stop by recently when driving through Louisville. Twig & Leaf is an Eat Kentucky sort of place, and I would love to see it succeed.
I arrived off peak (as I, admittedly, often do) to an essentially empty diner, and was met by effusive greetings from a young man I took to be Gibin George. He brought me a single sheet menu, which offered, in typical diner fashion, a vast array of options. I chose The Twig burger, not quite hungry enough for the double burger Twig & Leaf, but wanted to go for a signature item.
For the Twig & Leaf to be a successful diner it needs first to be a neighborhood diner…
As I waited for my burger and fries to arrive I surveyed the scene. The walls were largely bare save for a small framed photo of a young Cassius Clay. There was a paint smell in the air. Clearly the renovation and redecoration was taking longer than a single week. Despite the new paint, “shabby” is probably the best word to describe the vibe. (It wouldn’t hurt to do a needed scrub down on the restrooms.)
My food arrived, and as I was eating an older man came in and sat on a booth at the counter. He brought George a gift of a poster for the diner’s wall, and began explaining–at length–to George that the one thing he needed most to bring true diner authenticity was a Route 66 sign.
Now last I checked, Route 66 does not run anywhere close to Kentucky. For a diner on Bardstown Road in Louisville, it seems to me a Route 150 or Route 31E sign might be better, even, dare I say, more authentic.
What makes a successful diner? The Twig & Leaf already has the right “bones,” as they say. The location, to my admittedly outsider’s eye, seems strong to me. The name is quirky and evocative. The Twig & Leaf neon sign has to be one of the best in the city.
To my mind the Twig & Leaf needs to take that lonely photo of Cassius Clay and run with it. Forget Route 66 kitsch and embrace Louisville and Bardstown Road. For the Twig & Leaf to be a successful diner it needs first to be a neighborhood diner, one that evokes its own place and connects with the people who can walk in for a quick burger or morning breakfast and coffee.
My Twig burger was a good diner burger. The overall price was reasonable, even dineresque cheap. The signature burgers ought to be a point of emphasis for the Twig & Leaf. It’s an area they could excel in with a little bit of work. Obviously, a good diner needs the fundamentals of good food and strong service to succeed.
The Twig & Leaf does have something johnny-come-lately diners simply can’t buy: a 56 year history. Rather than see yet another commodified diner chain with a mass market Route 66 sign open, I would love for the Twig & Leaf to return to its glory days and thrive.
If you happen to be on Bardstown Road dropping in for a burger and fries might just be the encouragement the new owners need.
Twig & Leaf
2122 Bardstown Road
Monday – Thursday: 7 AM – 9 PM
Saturday: 12 AM – 12 AM
Sunday: 12 AM – 5 PM