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Dickmann's Owner to Open Bar & Grill in Downtown Covington

We now know more about the Covington Blue Sox-inspired bar & grill that will open in Covington's Roebling Point entertainment district. 

Richard Dickmann - of Dickmann's Sports Cafe in Ft. Wright - is the guy behind Smoke Justis, the forthcoming sports bar that will occupy the old Down Under bar and other parts of the former Citizens Telephone building on Court Street between Park Place and Third Street and across from the Kenton County Administration Building.

"If everything goes well, it will be open in August," Dickmann told the Covington City Commission on Tuesday night as they unanimously approved the new business to install wider sidewalks, brick pavers, new trees and catch basins to create a corner that will closely resemble that of Keystone Bar & Grill at the other end of the street which used the expanded outdoor space to capitalize on outdoor dining.

So, what is Smoke Justis?

Well, the original name that Dickmann had in mind for his new venture - the Blue Sox Bar & Grill - offers a clue. Quick refresher: the Covington Blue Sox was a professional baseball club that debuted in the Federal League in 1913 to much fanfare, with a new stadium near where the Kenton County Parking Garage now sits on Scott Boulevard (there's a plaque on the garage that references this). The Covington squad competed against teams from much larger U.S. cities, but after only two months, the failing team and business opted to complete its season in Kansas City as the Packers. The Blue Sox have become a local legend with a resurgence in popularity in recent years with local men's shop flow selling out of custom-made commemorative replica ball caps, a recent Northern Kentucky University graduate creating a mock-up of what their jerseys would look like today, and a documentary by local filmmaker Cam Miller

It was that film that strengthened Dickmann's enthusiasm for the long-gone Blue Sox. He saw it when it premiered at the Kenton Co. Public Library in Covington.

When the team began its short-lived, ill-fated season, the pitcher who took the mound was a former Major Leaguer from nearby Dearborn County, Indiana named Walter "Smoke" Justis. He pitched a 4-0 shutout against St. Louis. Dickmann's research concluded that Justis holds the record for the most no-hitters thrown in a minor league season - five.

The star pitcher's nickname also fit well with the new business plan that will feature smoked meats. At Smoke Justis there will be Kentucky Hot Brown sliders, craft beers, a bourbon bar, and vintage decor with a heavy emphasis on sports - and yes, Dickmann's famous wings. After all, sitting at the southern foot of the Roebling Suspension Bridge, the new venture is a stone's throw and a short walk from Great American Ballpark and the Cincinnati Reds. "It's going to be a visitors center for people going to Cincinnati," Dickmann said. Instead of heading to Over-the-Rhine or staying at the Banks in Cincinnati, he believes that more fans will make the trek to Roebling Point to take in Keystone, Blinker's, Molly Malone's, and soon Smoke Justis, as well as other bars and restaurants that he hopes follows him. 

"I don't see any change in my lifetime of where the urban core is going. I only see it getting better," said Dickmann, who has owned his namesake bar opened by his father in the 1970's for 22 years, and who moved to downtown Covington four years ago. "When you walk outside the building and look north, there is not a better vantage point than Court Street."

Guests at Smoke Justis will enjoy that view from the sidewalk thanks to the planned improvements. A century ago, folks on that same spot may have been dodging baseballs. Dickmann said that Federal Park - the Blue Sox home stadium - was too small for traditional homeruns, so any ball hit over the fence was counted as a double. "There were probably a lot of doubles that bounced into that building," he said. 

And maybe a few were tossed by Justis. In order to get permission to use the name of the player who died in 1941, Dickmann went looking for his descendants. Because the player only had daughters, the Justis name was hard to come by, but the Dearborn County Library helped and sent the businessman an entire genealogy. Dickmann found one of Justis's great great-granddaughters who gave him the OK.

And now, 103 years after a 2-month season, the Blue Sox return Justis to the mound.

"There's something very magical there," Dickmann said of his new space, which like his home, is just a mile from his seats at the Reds. "We're ecstatic to be here."

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher

Photo: Covington celebrates opening day for the Blue Sox in 1913

Slideshow Images & Captions: 
Location of Smoke Justis