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Barrier-busting bar owner to be honored in Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame

In the 1960's, Dixie Demuth challenged an outdated state law preventing women from being bartenders or sitting at bars.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — This year's inductees to the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame include a former mayor, a historian, a master distiller -- and just one woman. 

Dixie Sherman Demuth was born in 1917 in Samuels, Kentucky. Her family members said from a young age she had a rebellious streak. 

"Mom always had a fire in her," Demuth's daughter Dinah Tichy said. "Mom's favorite song was 'I Did It My Way.'" 

Tichy said as a young mother, Demuth worked as a cocktail waitress to support the family. By the 1950's, she decided to set out on her own, opening Dixie's Elbow Room, on 5th Street in downtown Louisville. 

"When Mom had the chance to own her own bar, she wanted to make sure women had a chance to make an equal salary," Tichy said. 

It turned out that simple act flouted a state law dating back to the 1700's. 

"When she did hire a woman bartender, she found out there were laws on the books that prohibited women from being bartenders and there was a second law that even prohibited them from sitting at the bar," Tichy said. 

"Mom thought that was a very unjust and discriminatory law," she added.

In 1968, Demuth found herself in the crosshairs of Alcoholic Beverage Control. 

"When the alcoholic beverage commission came into her bar, she had a lady bartender behind the bar," Tichy said. "And my sister, she was also sitting at the bar with a drink." 

"They cited mom and closed down her bar for five days, which was five days without any income," she added. 

Rather than just get mad, Demuth decided to get even. 

That five day business suspension turned into a court case, challenging the law.

Demuth lost at first. But with appeal after appeal, she eventually won in front of what was then the state's highest court. 

"Gaga, my grandmother, is a perfect example of taking a status quo an challenging it," Demuth's granddaughter, Dinah Paul, said. 

The case wasn't completely settled until 1972. Demuth lived to the age of 102, passing away in 2020

Tichy said the win was an incredibly proud moment for her mom. For a long time, it was simply a part of their family lore. 

"You never know what your legacy is going to be," Paul said. "To live your life your own way." 

This year though, legend is part of legacy. 

Demuth was named one of the 2023 Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame nominees for her barrier-breaking impact, an honor Tichy is sure her mother would have appreciated. 

"It means a lot to us but it means even more to mom," Tichy said. 

Demuth and the other inductees are being honored at a private ceremony Wednesday. 

The Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame was established in 2001 by the Kentucky Distillers' Association to recognize sacrifice and determination in the industry. 

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