Ryan Shepard
About Author
January 20, 2020
 in 
Travel

City Guide: Louisville

I have to admit, Louisville was never a place I dreamed of visiting. With all the endless tobacco fields, heavily Republican districts (a big fuck you to Mitch McConnell) and its overly romanticized antebellum past, I just never felt the pull to go to the Derby City. But, there is one thing that Louisville has that was a strong enough incentive for me to check it out: Bourbon.

Every year during the first week of December, my best friends and I take a girls trip. Usually someone in our group will suggest a destination and after we all agree, tickets are purchased, bags are packed and away we go.

It’s truly a time we look forward to especially since we get to be drunk all day long and no one judges us for it. In years past we’ve headed to Napa, Madrid, New Orleans and Oregon where we’ve had the time of our lives just enjoying each other's company.

So, when one of my girls suggested that we head to Louisville none of us were initially into the idea.

The truth is that traveling through the United States as a person of color feels more dangerous under a Trump presidency. There is no denying that his time in office has given racists more of a license than they already had to act a damn fool (don’t believe me? Check here and here).

Also most of my girls (including myself) were born and raised above the Mason-Dixon where a legitimate fear of “The South” had been instilled in them since they were children.

Shit, getting them to visit me in Atlanta was a damn near herculean feat.

To add even more fuel to our “hell nah we ain’t going” fire, a few weeks prior to our proposed departure date, a white supremecist shot two elderly black Americans in the parking lot of a crowded Louisville Kroger grocery store. I’m sure you can understand how the city didn’t seem all that appealing to six black women looking to have a little fun.

Still, whiskey is a hell of a drug lol. We rationalized that odds are that if something did pop off at least one of us would make it out alive and, since you can never predict the time and place of your death, we might as well tempt fate drunk on our favorite spirit.

Honestly, I didn’t expect to like Louisville as much as I did but after four return trips, I can whole-heartedly say I FUCKING LOVE LOUISVILLE (also we found black people there so that was a win).

Beyond the whiskey is a town with a lot of heart, some damn good food and the kind of grit that keeps it from being too charming (looking at you Savannah).

Now this list is a collection of my favorite on the beaten path spots right now. It will of course grow and change as I do and will get updated to reflect new discoveries.

Without further ado, here is my guide to eating, sleeping and of course drinking in Louisville!

Where To Stay

One of the pristine rooms at 21c Muesum Hotel in Louisville. [Photo courtesy of 21c Museum Hotel]
One of the pristine rooms at 21c Muesum Hotel in Louisville. [Photo courtesy of 21c Museum Hotel]
  • During our girls trip we rented this dumpster fire of an Airbnb that had questionable stains on the mattresses (think brown spots and large red circles), dust bunnies the size of golf balls and grey-ish footprints in the bathroom tub. It hadn’t been cleaned possibly ever but certainly not since the last guests had left. Basically, stay anywhere else.
  • After we managed to extract ourselves from that house of horrors, we spent three luxurious nights at the Hyatt Regency located downtown. The pillows were the perfect place to rest my weary head once my whiskey headache kicked in and the black out curtains came in clutch when I woke up one morning with a hangover. The best part? No blood stains and a clean ass spacious room.
  • AC Hotel Louisville Downtown: I haven’t had a chance to stay here just yet, but it looks like Louisville’s version of a W Hotel which is a win in my book. The property is conveniently located in NuLu (New Louisville) where we spent the majority of our time and at around $130 a night, certainly competitively priced. I’m hoping to check this hotel out on lucky visit number 5...whenever that is.
  • 21 C Museum Hotel: I had the pleasure of staying at this hotel during a media trip that Bulleit Frontier Whiskey put together last October. If I could afford it, this is the only place I would ever stay. Each room looks like it came out of a West Elm catalogue but like not in a douchy way. The shower pressure alone is worth $180 per night price tag. Add in the fact that the hotel houses both an amazing art museum and Proof on Main—which has one of the most extensive whiskey collections I’ve ever seen—and it’s hard to make the case for staying anywhere else.
  • Airbnb: Yes I know I said above that I had a disastrous experience staying at one of these in the past but the fact remains that Airbnb is often the most economical way to explore a city. That being said, for #ShirtlessShep’s birthday (Jan. 9th) we decided to book a room here. When we walked in I was prepared to raise holy hell and book us anywhere else in the city but instead I found a cozy loft with a lick-the-floors clean bathroom and a comfortable bed. Seriously it was the cutest space and smack in the middle of everything we wanted to explore. We were able to walk to dinner, grab coffee at Quills and explore Nulu on foot. I would most certainly stay here again.  

Where To Eat

Image of breakfast at Con Huevos [Photo courtesy of Con Huevos  Facebook }
Image of breakfast at Con Huevos [Photo courtesy of Con Huevos Facebook}
  • Quills Coffee: This place is legit a gathering ground for every hipster within 10 miles of the city, but that doesn’t stop Quills from having some good coffee. I ran in to grab an oat milk latte (yes I’m thaattt kind of person), and was pleasantly surprised by all the pastry offerings they had, and even more excited that a lot of them had bourbon in them. I snagged a brown sugar and bourbon pop-tart for Shep--because how could I not?--and patiently waited for my drink. My latte was delicious, silky and perfectly sweet thanks to the housemade vanilla syrup I requested. Watch out though, the espresso is strong. I felt like I’d done a line of coke or popped an adderall, it was a good caffeine buzz though.
  • Pro Tip: If caffeine triggers your anxiety...maybe don’t grab a cup of joe from here.
  • Con Huevos: You can take the girl out of Southern California but dammit you can’t make her give up her love for Mexican food. To that end Con Huevos, a breakfast spot located on Frankfort Ave, certainly did not disappoint. Honestly, the moment I saw tres leche pancakes on the menu I lost my shit. The dish comes with three buttery pancakes served swimming in three different kinds of milks (hence the name tres leches) but I asked for just one pancake and they happily obliged.
  • Because I’m a psycho (read: was going to continue to drink like a savage) I also ordered the huevos rancheros. When they sat the dish in front of me I seriously considered crying tears of joy. I got three corn tortillas stuffed with creamy pureed blacked beans, nestled in homemade salsa ranchera, topped ripe avocado slices, crumbled queso fresco and 2 sunny eggs. Holy shit, der is a gawd.
  • Biscuit Belly: We decided to hit up Biscuit Belly on our way out of the city so we arrived pretty early and thank God. When we opened the doors at 9:30 am there was already a long line. In fact the sign out front had instructions telling folks how to queue up and people those already in line told me that it’s not uncommon for lines on the weekend to stretch for blocks. As the name suggests the menu leans heavy on the biscuit side mostly focusing on sandwiches though there are dishes like oatmeal, pancakes and egg white omelets...but why the fuck would you order that if you could get a Mama’s Boy? I ordered this Hulk sized monstrocity and was happy as a pig in shit. It comes with a juicy piece of fried chicken (which surprisingly was delicious and well-seasoned on its own), fried green tomatoes and sweet pickles all smothered in a spicy jalapeño-roasted pimento cheese spread...I’m doing squats right now just thinking about it.  
  • Doc Crow's Southern Smokehouse & Raw Bar: Doc Crow’s is located basically next door to Old Forester's tasting room and is a great spot to duck into either right before or right after your tour. The restaurant serves up an impressive array of barbecue staples like pulled pork, beef brisket and baby back ribs and also some damn fine seafood. When I visited I couldn’t decide on what to order so I literally got everything. I had the smoked gulf shrimp appetizer which was covered in a red-hot spicy paste and served with bourbon mignonette and a horseradish-ladened cocktail sauce. I also got the smokehouse sampler which is basically a plate full of the restaurant’s greatest hits like pulled pork & beef brisket with a choice of chicken or a half rack of ribs. I’ll be honest, the barbecue isn’t seasoned all that well, but they have an array of house-made sauces that help. Also, when you’re whiskey wasted you just need something in your belly to help sop up that liquor so sit down, order a few items and sober up.
  • Butchertown Grocery: Located in one of Louisville’s historic neighborhoods, Butchertown Grocery led by chef/owner Bobby Benjamin is turning out some of the best food not just in Louisville, but in the South. There are restaurants you go to and think “hmm, that meal was good considering we’re in Louisville '' and others that are just delicious periodt. Butchertown Grocery is the latter. The dinner menu here is fairly eclectic but leans more on the side of seasonably fresh ingredients and Italian-ish spins on Southern cuisine. By far the dish that blew my mind the most was the gnocchi. A lovely server dropped it off fresh from the kitchen topped with oyster mushrooms, fresh herbs and enough parmigiano-reggiano to make your Italian grandmother blush. The restaurant also offers a bourbon tasting menu but at $110/$200 per person, I’ll have to wait until I win the lottery travel back with my dad to try it out.
  • Rye: Obviously this is my city guide so it includes places I actually love but dammit, Rye restaurant’s food doesn’t have to be as good as it is. From the freshly imported raw oysters to the aged bone-in-ribeye, the restaurant offers a masterclass small city fine dining. I like to go here for dinner when the lighting is forgiving enough to look past your face, puffy and possibly red from drinking all day. Being that you are in Louisville and you’re dining at a restaurant named after a type of whiskey, don’t fight it. Order another boozy drink and keep the party rolling.

Where To Drink

Saddle up to the whiskey bar at the Silver Dollar where you’re sure to find something to wet your whistle. [Photo courtesy of Silver Dollar  Facebook ]
Saddle up to the whiskey bar at the Silver Dollar where you’re sure to find something to wet your whistle. [Photo courtesy of Silver Dollar Facebook]
  • Proof on Main: Proof on Main is located in 21c Museum Hotel and, blessedly open late. While the bar does serve amazing cocktails and has an impressive wine list, the whiskey flights are really what you should take advantage of here. While the bar does offer pre-selected flights you can also build your own. I love to do this since it’s a relatively affordable way to try out whiskeys that would otherwise cost hundreds of dollars to purchase full bottles of.
  • Silver Dollar: Silver Dollar bills itself as “a reimagining of a 1950s Bakersfield, California honky tonk. It’s an homage to gritty honky tonk music and gritty Southerners transplanted in Southern California.” Ummm so basically this bar was literally created for me. Silver Dollar serves comfort food staples like fried pickles (which in my opinion should always be paired with whiskey), beer can chicken and a barbecue pork sandwich that I massacred during a trip there. I’m not going to lie however, the main reason I love Silver Dollar is because of its extensive whiskey collection. Here is where you go to try out bourbons from distilleries you didn’t make it to. When I was there they were featuring a bespoke whiskey menu featuring bourbons from the 1970s that came from a private collection. I’m not ashamed to admit that I spent $30 on a one-ounce pour. It was worth it.
  • Taste Fine Wine and Bourbon: Hands down, this is my absolute favorite place to grab a drink in Louisville. This small unassuming wine and whiskey shop should be at the top of your must visit list. It’s rarely crowded and the people who work here are incredibly knowledgeable about not only what they can offer whiskey wise, but what you might like based on getting to know you a little better. The best part is they also sell a good amount of the whiskies they let you taste which means that you can easily go home with your favorite bottle.
  • Pro Tip: Ask for Jerry, he’s one of the owners and the nicest guy ever.

What To Do

The Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville. [Photo courtesy of Muhammad Ali Center  Facebook ]
The Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville. [Photo courtesy of Muhammad Ali Center Facebook]
  • Ummmm whiskey tours what else. Like, what else are you really in Louisville to do? Thankfully, downtown Louisville has a ton for you to visit. Make sure you visit Old Forester, Angel’s Envy, Michter’s, Copper and Kings and Evan Williams.
  • Of course there is also the Louisville Slugger Museum if you’re into that sort of thing and Churchill Downs where the Kentucky Derby is held every year.  
  • If you’re really craving some culture head to the Muhammad Ali Center which highlights the contributions the late boxing star made not only to the U.S. but globally.
  • Lastly, Shep dragged me to Indiana to go to French Lick 1. Because there are casinos there and his one vice in life is gambling. 2.) Apparently Larry Bird is from there and is known (affectionately?) as the “Hick from French Lick” and 3.) Because I’m pretty sure he was trying to kill me. It’s a quick hour or so drive away from Louisville...but also a world away...if you know what I mean. If you have a death wish, by all means head there.

Do you have any favorites that aren’t on this list? I’d love to try them out. Drop me a line and let me know where your favorite place/s to sleep, eat and drink in Louisville are.

Cheers! Xoxo.
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