Russ Settle

The Red Key may have gotten its name from the original owner being from Red Key, Indiana. No one knows truthfully, and no one cares. What has eclipsed any known origin of the name is the legacy that Russ Settle created.

For Russ, The Red Key was a clean, upstanding bar where no one was allowed to play with the ashtrays, a place where neighbors and friends could come to enjoy a drink – as long as they hung up their coats, took off their hats, did not drink in excess and were not too loud or cursed. The Red Key was a place to relax – as long as they did not put their feet on the furniture or tilt back in their chair.

Russ created an environment where a woman could come in and feel safe. He created a bar that transcended what it meant to be a bar. Russ looked after everyone, and given the rules and the fact that he carried a gun, you knew he had your back.

The Red Key is still all of these things that Russ created, and with his son and owner, Jim Settle, traditions continue amd rules still apply, if perhaps more politely enforced.

Waitress Nora Spitznogel, Owner Jim Settle and his daughter Leslie

In 2002, Nora Spitznogle was looking for a part-time job, and she found it at The Red Key. Thirteen years later, she has her ideal full-time job as Director of Programs for Second Helpings, but still works on Saturday nights at The Red Key out of love and loyalty.

“Russ gave me a job when I needed one, and The Red Key has always been here when I needed it,” said Spitznogle.

One Halloween, Spitznogle dressed up like Russell for Halloween, replete with a water pistol, mocking Russ’ gun. When she went to bathroom, it fell into the toilet, and Russell teased her about that event until he died four years ago.

“Cool things happen here,” said Spitznogle. “The whole vibe in The Red Key is so supportive. It was difficult to explain to my parents why a bar means so much to me, they started planning an intervention. Russ enjoyed teasing me. He always called me by my last name which he said with a bit of a growl, and he loved the ‘water pistol in the toilet’ story. I am happy I entertained him so much.”

Countless marriage proposals have occurred at The Red Key, ceremonial first official drinks on 21st birthdays, business dealings and political decisions.

“I couldn’t wait to work here,” said Russ’ granddaughter, Leslie. “Then the first time I had to bartend, my dad and my grandpa were at the end of the bar watching. It was a bit nerve-racking.”

The reputation of The Red Key has grown to mythologic proportions, touting a place that Kurt Vonnegut used to hang out, and while there is no proof of this, the mystique remains. It is where Mark Pellington filmed scenes for the movie, “Going All The Way,” starring Ben Affleck and Rachel Weisz, before they were “famous.”

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While it could be named The Red low-Key, a common sight is author Dan Wakefield, inserting change into the jukebox, playing his favorite 45s.

The Red Key is more than a legendary neighborhood gathering place with strict rules, it’s more than a tourist destination, more than a source of employment and more than a right of passage. For many, it’s home.

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