What to Do in Louisville: The Black Book
Photo Courtesy Tyler Bliss
LOOSEN YOUR BELT AND SADDLE UP. HERE’S HOW TO EAT, PLAY, AND EAT SOME MORE IN THIS SWEETER THAN MOLASSES SOUTHERN CITY.
By Rebekah Raisor
June 8, 2019
Ask anyone what that town is called where the grass grows blue and the horses race in May and you’ll get a variety of answers from Looeyville, Lewis-ville, Lou-a-vul, or the correct pronunciation (at least to the locals), Luhvul.
Louisville, Kentucky, famous for Churchill Downs, Muhammad Ali, bourbon, and fried chicken is the gateway to the south and quickly gaining ground as one of the country’s most loved, small-ish cities to visit. A weekend in Louisville is just what city slickers need to slow down, reboot, and fill up on what this friendly city has to offer. Despite its growing popularity, Louisville retains that small-town feel. Want to have drinks on one side of the city and dinner on the other? No problem! You’re likely no more than fifteen minutes away from anywhere. From locally roasted coffee, artisanal brunches, eclectic shopping, and a highly rated food scene, you’re sure to learn what Louisvillians have known all along—this city has it all.
Yer fine: You're welcome, It's ok!
Nah'm good: A proper response to "Anything else I can getcha?"
Well I'll be: What a surprise!
I'm pickin' up what yer puttin' down: I understand.
A FOOD-CENTRIC APPROACH
In the land of grits and gravy, it would be wrong not to stage your trip around food. For the coffee enthusiast (read: me), head to Heine Brothers’ Coffee on Bardstown Road for an almond milk latte. Get it to go and step next door to Carmichael’s— Louisville’s oldest, independent bookstore. Traveling with little ones? Carmichael’s Kids is just across the street.
For heartier fare, check out the Bardstown Road Farmers’ Market. Nope, this isn’t a hip, new restaurant moniker— it’s where the locals pick up their weekly produce and farm-raised protein. Local restaurants partner with vendors and whip up the freshest omelettes, grits and greens, baked goods, and locally roasted coffee. They also feature a Chef’s Tasting Series where professional chefs share samples and tips on how to use up your newly acquired blueberries and collards. Stick around for some live music while you shop or peruse the area— the most walkable (and shoppable) part of town. For the more refined palette, head to Butchertown Grocery for their gorgeous coffee service or a little hair-of-the-dog. Follow up with the basil-fed escargot and house-cured salmon board.
For dinner, Wiltshire on Market is a must. Owned by restaurateur Susan Hershberg, Wiltshire is a reflection of her international travels. Color, texture, and flavor define the space and its food. With a maximum seating capacity of forty, copper and natural wood details, and a combined staff of five, the experience is intimate and every aspect is crafted with graceful intention. Pro tip: Share a bottle of the Vinsobres and order the flatbread. The ingredients will change, the deliciousness will not.
Photo courtesy of Wiltshire on Market
WHERE TO DRINK AND STAY
JEFF RUBY’S STEAKHOUSE: Live Ella Fitzgerald-style jazz and bourbon cocktails come together in this art-deco-inspired eatery. Cozy up to the horseshoe-shaped bar and order a Blanton’s Manhattan or Boulevardier. Stay next door at The Galt House, and you won’t even need an Uber.
After Jeff Ruby's take the two-block stroll over to Jimmy Can’t Dance-
an underground, speakeasy-style jazz club just two blocks away.
With live music, a burlesque-meets-dive bar vibe,
and a closing time of 4a, it may be a battle of wills. Who quits first,
you or the band?
CHURCHILL DOWNS: Wage a bet and drink in style at Downs After Dark— the jazzier, sexier cousin of that famous May race. These special events are held a few times a year and feature live music, a themed dress-code, and stakes races.
THE SEELBACH HILTON: Famous for the inspiration it provided to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, this hotel is still just as elegant as it was in 1918. Be sure to check out the Old Seelbach Bar where cocktails are made with limestone seltzer and Kentucky bourbon.
THE BROWN HOTEL: Luxury and classic southern charm meet turn-of-the-century architecture in the heart of downtown. For the quintessential Louisville experience, head to the English Grill, the hotel’s featured restaurant, and order the famous Hot Brown.
Pro tip: There are no trains or hail-style taxis here.
LouLift (the Hop Trolley Downtown) is a free bus that
makes stops along Main Street.
For everything else, there’s Uber.
WHERE TO SHOP
FRANKFORT AVENUE AND BARDSTOWN ROAD: “Keep Louisville Weird” is basically the city’s independent business mantra. Here you’ll find handmade pottery, eclectic art, and funky textiles.
JOE LEY ANTIQUES: Located in a three-story former schoolhouse, Joe Ley is a local favorite. From the sophisticated to obscure, you’re bound to be inspired.
Photo by Rebekah Raisor
WHAT TO SEE
The Kentucky Show: Frazier History Museum
Live theatre at Actors Theatre of Louisville
OLMSTED PARKS: In 1891, Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York’s Central Park, was commissioned to design Louisville’s park system. Today, the Olmsted Parks Conservancy consists of seventeen parks, connected by fifteen miles of parkways. Cherokee Park in the Highlands offers hiking, playgrounds, a spray park, and sports fields. Ultimate frisbee is popular here, and in the spirit of southern hospitality, you’ll likely be asked to join in on a game. Jump in! It’s the polite thing to do.
CAVE HILL CEMETERY: Visiting a cemetery may seem peculiar, but Louisvillians regard Cave Hill as more of a park and arboretum than resting place. Immaculately kempt and full of flora, it is best visited in spring when the tulips are in bloom. Be on the lookout for Colonel Sanders’ grave, as well as George Rogers Clark’s and Muhammed Ali’s.
THE BOURBON TOURS:
EVAN WILLIAMS BOURBON EXPERIENCE: Take a classic tour, complete with three tastings, or book a Speakeasy Tour which includes four top-shelf tastings in a swanky, private vault setting.
ANGEL’S ENVY DISTILLERY: Book a standard tour that takes you through the entire distillation process and ends with a tasting, or choose a special bottling tour or cocktail class.
MINT JULEP LOUISVILLE: This Kentucky Bourbon Trail guided tour comes in three distinct packages— The Public Tour, The Customizable (build-your-own-itinerary) Tour, and the Elevated Tour— a behind-the-scenes bourbon and culinary excursion.
June 8, 2019
Rebekah Raisor for Pilar Guzman, Editor-in-Chief
Condé Nast Traveler