BEYOND THE BRIDGES: PARTY LIKE IT’S 1887 AT PASSALINO’S IN LOUISVILLE

By Steve Kaufman Photos by Tony Bennett

 

People in the business of figuring out reuse possibilities for Louisville’s downtown landmark buildings could take a page from Bryan Gillespie’s playbook.

PassalinosFor the second time in six years, the Louisville real estate entrepreneur has turned an old bank building on West Market Street into a space more suited for the city’s 21st century lifestyle needs: In this case, a special events space for weddings, holiday parties, corporate receptions, proms and the like.

It’s an ideal solution for brides and hostesses who crave urban sophistication and historical mood and character.

Nor (preservationists take note) has Gillespie been demolishing anything. Rather, he’s carefully preserving the architectural and design elements that have made these buildings special: the imposing stone architecture; the dark wood, brass, and iron that once dominated most U.S. cities’ bank interiors, skylights, marble columns, cast iron windows, ornate plaster molding and ceiling heights of 30 to 40 to 50 feet.

Like so many ingenious business developments, Gillespie’s master plan grew out of need and desperation. When he opened his first such space on Fourth and Market in 2009, it was only because he had run out of options.

Having acquired the ornate, Art Deco, 86-year-old former Lincoln Bank & Trust building as an investment, he spent two years trying to interest developers in buying or renting the space from him for a store or restaurant or bar or dance hall. He finally decided to go ahead and do it himself and named it after the man with the plan – The Gillespie.

Having acquired the ornate, Art Deco, 86-year-old former Lincoln Bank & Trust building as an investment, he spent two years trying to interest developers in buying or renting the space from him for a store or restaurant or bar or dance hall. He finally decided to go ahead and do it himself and named it after the man with the plan – The Gillespie.

Now Gillespie – Bryan, that is – has both feet in the event space business. He just opened his second downtown location, Passalino’s, two blocks away on Market and Second. It’s another opulent former bank space that is remarkably similar to The Gillespie: large main floor, mezzanine level wrapping all the way around, and period architectural touches.

Passalinos1Originally, the German Bank Building, built in 1887, it became home to Godsey Associates, the architecture firm, for many years. As would be expected, the architects made few permanent changes, nurturing the integrity of the old building. This made it a perfect space for Gillespie, who is calling his new venue Passalino’s, his mother’s maiden name. And he feels it’s the exact right fit for his business.

“The Gillespie is about 18,000 square feet and can seat up to 550, perfect for a large wedding,” he said. “But it’s too big for smaller events – corporate luncheons, business meetings, receptions, even smaller weddings. A group of 100 is going to feel overwhelmed in The Gillespie.”

Ergo Passalino’s and its 7,500 square feet of space, ideal for 75-125 people, or more if you’re standing and dancing.

Also, he says, the popularity of The Gillespie led to its becoming difficult to reserve. “We were turning away a lot of good bookings.”

But item No. 1 on Gillespie’s punch list for Passalino’s was getting another historic building with a grand interior, and this Victorian-era space has plenty of that. Three large marble columns with ionic capitals welcome people in from Market Street, directly across from the Convention Center.

In the foyer is a marble fountain with a water sprite atop a fish and decorative mosaic panels on the sides. A signature etched into the side of the fountain reveals that it was sculpted in 1914 by Clement Barnhorn, the renowned Cincinnati artist.

Also in the foyer is a roughly 100-year-old photograph of the ornate Greco-Roman building exterior outfitted with a massive decorative marquee over its front steps, another of those downtown urban landmarks that has all but vanished.

The marquee is gone, but among the remaining hallmarks of the interior are a dramatic skylight over nearly the entire space and a large clock on one wall that feels a part of the original building. You can almost feel Gilded Age bank customers pulling out their pocket watches to check the time against the imposing old timepiece. If this were one of Louisville’s haunted buildings, some ghost would be wondering what J.P. Morgan had been up to that morning in New York’s financial markets and maybe what Pete Browning and the Colonels were doing against Baltimore out at Eclipse Park.

The mezzanine level has changing and resting rooms for the bride, groom and bridal party that Gillespie has fitted with antique furniture, lamps and accessories. The period fan windows and original moldings come free, courtesy of the architecture.

Chicagoan Bryan Gillespie did not grow up with a career in events in mind. His father was in real estate and construction, and Bryan came to Louisville to swim for University of Louisville and get an engineering degree from the Speed School.

He owns Cool Cars, an automobile customization company on Preston Highway, and began speculating in downtown Louisville real estate. Once downtown became hot again, Gillespie knew he was tending the right part of the garden.

“The Gillespie has been mostly weddings,” he said, “but I’ve been hoping Passalino’s will fill the need for small meetings or seminars or intimate receptions for local companies, or for out-of-town trade show attendees looking to get away from the Convention Center across the street.”

Passalinos2All during the renovation, ever since the middle of summer 2014, Gillespie has been giving tours of Passalino’s, showing drawings and taking bookings. “I have weddings booked already for this calendar year and into next year,” he said. He has already contracted with Ladyfingers as the exclusive caterer. The space has no kitchen, but it does have full prep and staging areas.

As a new member of the Gillespie family, Passalino’s will party into 2016. The Gillespie’s annual New Year’s Eve fest, now in its fifth year, has become a hot ticket. Gillespie estimates he gets about 800 attendees. This year, the smaller Passalino’s will host a smaller affair aimed at just 250, but with live music instead of the deejay at The Gillespie.

“Intimate,” is the way Bryan Gillespie characterizes it. But with the moon and the city lights at night shining through the glass ceiling, throw in “romantic” as well.

The Gillespie is located at 421 W. Market St., corner of Fourth Street. Passalino’s is at 207 W. Market St., corner of Second Street. For information or to make a reservation at either venue, call 502.584.8080 and talk to Michelle or Concetta.

Monster Mash 

MONSTER MASH 2015 Benefiting The Arrow Fund

Join Extol Magazine 7 to 11 p.m. Oct. 23 for a costume-encouraged party benefiting The Arrow Fund, which rescues abused and neglected animals throughout the Southern Indiana and Louisville community. That night, guests will enjoy a silent auction, music, dancing, and a costume contest with $600 in prizes. Tickets are $25 in advance at TheArrowFund.org and $30 at the door. Many thanks to Passalino’s for hosting the event, DJ ZNyce for contributing your services, and to sponsors Martini’s Italian Bistro and Omagi Salon & Spa.

Arrow Fund

 

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