From bartender to author: Payne recalls tales from Millay’s Tavern

May 25, 2024 | 12:14 am

Updated May 25, 2024 | 10:04 am

Janice Millay Payne grew up in Millay’s Beer Joint, the bar her grandfather started in 1942. After a move, some additions, and several decades at the helm, she retired in 2018 and set her sights on writing. That eventually led to her book “Millay’s Beer Joint Ghosts,” a collection of intriguing and often humorous stories that had unfolded within the bar’s walls.

With a journal in hand, Payne started chronicling the tales and recollections of the colorful characters she had encountered during her time at the bar. The pages filled up quickly, and before she knew it, she had a book in her hands.

“I sold the bar in 2018 and retired from Millay’s,” Payne said. “I was frustrated. Several of my customers were good friends, and I had a lot of stuff going on in my head. After filling up my journal, I bought a laptop and took to writing.”

Payne identified a cover designer, interior designer, and publisher online to make things official. She eventually settled with Reedsy Publisher and has since written a second book. 

Those familiar with Millay’s know St. William Cemetery is just across the road, and it happens to be where the majority of Payne’s family is buried. The book begins with her “Papaw,” father, mother, sister, and “Mamaw,” arising from their graves and trekking across the road to lend a hand as the bar got busy in 2018. 

“I used to always go and sit by father’s grave and pray,” she said. “One day, I was so frustrated, and I thought, ‘Either my guardian angel is drunk or on vacation.’ So that’s where the story started. I think feeling the presence of your family is a good message for people.”

So, were there ghosts?

“I’ve had strange things happen to me, things that are difficult to describe,” Payne said. “I’ve had bartenders say the same, and since the book, I’ve had several people reach out to tell me about their experiences at Millay’s.”

Payne said she’s overwhelmed by the community’s support. She released the book on Amazon on April 16 but never told anyone, so the responses were imminent when she recently posted it on her Facebook. 

“People were surprised,” she said. “They were like, ‘Where did this come from? We didn’t know you could write.’ Basically, anytime I thought popped in my head, I stopped what I was doing and wrote it down.”

Payne’s grandfather erected the first Millay’s Beer Joint in 1942, eventually passing the torch to her father. Her encounters with the bar date back to the late ’50s, when as soon as she could walk, she would follow her dad to the beer joint on Sundays to help stock the bar and clean up. 

“I used to help him all of the time. Everyone was so kind to me,” Payne said. “I remember the bar had an old coal stove, and the guys would sit around it to roll their cigarettes. They could cuss, and they were colorful, but they never used the F-word or the Lord’s name in vain.” 

In 1969, the State of Kentucky forced the family to close the bar’s doors because it still relied on an outhouse. 

Her hard-nosed mother quickly pivoted and opened Millay’s Tavern just down the road, where it continues to serve the county’s east side today. Payne began working at the bar in 1978 and assumed ownership in 2009, continuing the Millay’s legacy for four decades before retiring. 

She said the book features fiction and nonfiction elements, but more than anything, it was a way for her to remember her many patrons over the years. 

“I wrote them as I remembered them, especially how they talked,” she said. “They were hoots. I changed the names in the books, but there were several you’ll meet in the book who drove me crazy from day one. They were always getting in trouble for running their mouth.”

Click here for the Amazon link to purchase the book.

May 25, 2024 | 12:14 am

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