The last direct Samuels descendant to be born in The Samuels House certainly lived up to the family’s colorful history that preceded (and followed) her – and eventually landed her in the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame alongside some other Samuels legends.
Dixie Demuth was born in 1917 in the downstairs front bedroom of the house. From the very beginning, Dixie displayed a streak of independence that confirmed her Samuels roots, from a “difference of opinion” with her teacher that got her expelled from the one-room schoolhouse nearby, to later in life when she stood up to archaic state laws that prohibited women from being served at a bar.
As an article in the Louisville Courier Journal noted, Dixie was “feisty.”
Dixie grew up in The Samuels House until 1933 when, during the Great Depression, she and her mother moved to Louisville after her father passed away.
After coming of age, Dixie became a waitress at a popular downtown Louisville restaurant and bar. She learned the business from the server’s side of the equation and then, in the early 1960s, she got the opportunity to open her own place nearby. She called it Dixie’s Elbow Room. It was known as a pretty classy establishment that even included a piano bar on the mezzanine. But at the time, state law prohibited women from being served at the bar, or to be bartenders, for that matter. A good portion of Dixie’s customers were soldiers on leave from Fort Knox, and she thought her clientele might appreciate a more female-friendly establishment.
Plus, family members recall that the antiquated, discriminatory law just rubbed her the wrong way.
So, in 1968, Dixie took on the outdated statute and the Kentucky Alcoholic Beverage Control Board (ABC). She hired a woman to tend bar and had her serve drinks to a female sitting at the bar (Dixie’s own adult daughter, by the way). And what was worse from the viewpoint of the ABC, she had the audacity to advertise her new policy. She was cited for violating the law, as expected, and began a long legal battle.
Dixie assumed that, at this point, other bars, restaurants, and restaurant associations would jump into the fray with her, since in essence she was fighting not only for her own business and the rights of women in general, but for greater freedom for all of them. But to her surprise, no one else came to her defense or joined the case. Everyone was seemingly willing to simply watch to see how it played out.
Well, if she needed to carry on alone, Dixie was up to the challenge.
After initially being found guilty of violating the old state law, Dixie then won on appeal at the Circuit Court level. But the appeals process went on for two years and, in the meantime, ABC officers continued to harass the staff and patrons at Dixie’s Elbow Room. She fought that battle in court, as well, and won various injunctions to end the constant disruption of her business. The ultimate test finally came in Kentucky’s highest appellate court where the judges agreed that women were welcome on whichever side of the bar they preferred – either behind it or being served at it.
Ladies, you’re welcome.
Dixie passed away at the age of 102 in 2019, still proud of her accomplishments on behalf of women’s rights. In 2023, she was inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame. There, she joined family members Bill Samuels, Sr., Margie Samuels, and Bill Samuels, Jr., all recognized with that same prestigious honor for blazing their own trails that made tremendous impacts on the distilled spirits industry.
At The Samuels House, the very room where Dixie began her extraordinary life has been renovated into a plush suite featuring luxurious amenities – and her Bourbon Hall of Fame trophy. There, guests can immerse themselves in the rich history and impassioned spirit of a true pioneer in the business.
An independent streak seems to be a dominant family trait among the Samuels clan. That’s a quality worth toasting! Cheers, Dixie!