Historic Green Derby restaurant closes suddenly

Popular Newport, KY dining spot since the 1940s

For decades, people living in Northern Kentucky (and their parents and grandparents) have eaten hot brown sandwiches and downed shots of bourbon at the Green Derby restaurant.

It was a Newport institution. Past-tense. The storied eatery closed this week with little warning.

At the nearby Henry Hosea House soup kitchen, staffers such as Angie Eubanks got suspicious when a "Closed today" sign appeared on the Green Derby's door. Would-be customers knocked and left empty-handed.

"Today" turned into the next day and the next. Workers appeared to move furniture out of the building.

"I was a little bit surprised, because I always see people going in and out, and people have loved it for a long time," Hosea House director Bruce Stelzer said.

Restaurant with a rich history

Restaurants come and go every week, but the Green Derby is not just any restaurant. It was founded in the '40s, back when Newport was the gambling capital of the Midwest, and became a place where the "Sin City" crowd would meet for lunch in its back rooms. Over hot browns and bourbon shots, they divvied up territory among their speakeasies, strip clubs and secret casinos.

The high rollers left eventually. Although one wall of the Derby commemorated their presence with a collage of black-and-white photos, a (now-former) employee who did not want to be identified told WCPO money problems caught up with the establishment.

However, he said, a group of employees hopes to reopen the restaurant in 2019.

Neighbor Terry Avila is crossing her fingers.

"I want the Green Derby to succeed," she said.

What does the future hold?

We tried reaching owner Michael Brauninger, but neither he nor his wife returned our calls. For now, holders of gift cards are out of luck, but should hold on to them in the event the Derby reopens next year.

Don't rule the Derby out: It's closed twice in its 80 year history, most recently in 2009, and was rescued both times.  

As always, don't waste your money.

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