While Louisville is most well known for the Kentucky Derby held every May (where approximately 120,000 mint juleps are served over two days), there is so much more to see and do in Derby City. While there has been a swift uptick in bachelor/bachelorette parties thanks to the exploding bourbon scene, the architecturally impressive town is equally appealing for family vacations and even romantic weekends. Don’t get us wrong, the bourbon is well worth the visit. Louisville even has an Urban Bourbon Experience mapping out the best bars and restaurants with a serious bourbon culture as well as the ever-growing group of distilleries that have opened up downtown. Here is how to spend (and sip) your way through one day in Louisville.
9 a.m.: Weekdays, Atlantic No. 5 is the place to go for a handmade biscuit. Choose from a Honey Ham Slider, Bacon, Egg & Cheese biscuit or a simple side of butter and jam. If you are in town over the weekend head to brunch at Harvest where everything on their seasonal menu is locally sourced and will satiate all of your Southern fare requirements. Try the Fried Chicken Bahn Mi on a pretzel hoagie with bourbon barrel kimchi.
10 a.m.: A hearty stroll will be in order after your breakfast bonanza so take an Uber over to the Speed Art Museum. Opened in 1925 it is Kentucky’s oldest and largest museum housing mostly decorative arts. Completely overhauled in 2016, this airy museum is perfectly suited for daydreaming amongst the Degas and contemplating the equally impressive contemporary art collection.
12 p.m.: Keep on the culture track with a visit to the Muhammad Ali Center. We have seen grown men moved to tears while learning about the famous heavyweight champions life from his work with the Civil Rights movement to refusing the draft into the Vietnam War. From here, walk over to the impressive Omni hotel for lunch at Neighborhood Services where on a warm day you can sit outside. The menu is vast from copious Cobb salads to Hot Brown tater tots.
2 p.m.: Now that you have stuffed yourself for a second time, it’s time for a mosey on Main Street. From the Omni walk north to Main Street, take a left and walk down to the Louisville Slugger Museum. Even if you aren’t a huge baseball fan, the bat factory and museum are impressive. Of course, a photo with the world’s largest bat is also a fan favorite for Instagram. Across the street is the Frazier museum where the ‘Spirit of Kentucky’ exhibit is worth a gander. The museum has done a top-notch job of laying out the history of bourbon and their collection of vintage bourbon bottles is not to be missed. The fonts and illustrations on the labels are amusing and inspiring.
Any chocolate/bourbon aficionado must check out Art Eatables, two doors down from the Frazier. Opened in 2011, the shop is famous for their small batch bourbon truffles made with nearly every bourbon brand out there from Pappy to Old Forester. Don’t worry, they also offer non-alcoholic chocolates too.
4 p.m.: While there are many distilleries to explore downtown, Michter’s is the newest and very impressive. Housed in the historic Fort Nelson building, which the owners of Michter’s lovingly preserved from collapse, visitors should take a one hour guided tour of the distillery where you will learn about the history of the brand (originally called Shenks, George Washington bought some for his troops) as well as their ‘Cost be Damned’ approach to producing high-quality whiskey. Naturally, at the end guests are offered five different Michter’s expressions to try before heading up to their well-appointed bar for a cocktail demonstration and sample. Online reservations are recommended for tours.
5 p.m.: Since you have just been sampling the goods, it only makes sense to settle in for a proper cocktail at The Bar at Fort Nelson. Located on the second floor of Michter’s distillery, the views are great and the cocktails exceptional. Cocktail historian and author David Wondrich consulted on The Bar’s classic cocktail list and there is even an ‘ice program’ offering a variety of shapes, some hand cut from their massive ice block behind the bar. Try a Boulevardier and recap the days events before dinner.
7 p.m.: Once you are well oiled from your cocktail/tasting time, Uber over to the Butchertown section of town (a thriving area of shops, bars, and restaurants) for dinner at Butchertown Grocery. What was once an early 20th-century, family-owned grocery is now a lively restaurant serving simple yet hearty fare like bouillabaisse, steak frites and a serious lamb rack. Naturally, there is a seven-course bourbon tasting menu as well if you really want to hunker down.
9 p.m.: Continually voted the best cocktail bar in town, a nightcap at Meta is a must. While the term ‘speakeasy’ has been overused, this little bar has a vintage vibe with its marble tops and copper penny-tiled floors and is where you can find all the top local bartenders hanging on their nights off. Try the “Never Have I Ever…” Old Fashioned infused with fig and chocolate.
Where to Stay
While The Brown and Seelbach are iconic (The famous ‘Hot Brown’ hangover helper was invented at the former while F. Scott Fitzgerald immortalized the latter), The 21c Museum Hotel is one of the most unusual hotels in America. Founded by Brown-Forman heiress Laura Lee Brown and her husband Steve Wilson, the 91 room boutique hotel is also one of the best contemporary art museums in the nation. The lobby is filled with rotating exhibits and guests (as well as the public) can explore the basement gallery as well, with cocktail in hand. Their bar and restaurant, Proof on Main, is a local favorite. Order the whipped ricotta and bar fries together so you can dip the fries into the ricotta. You’re welcome.