Lou's Your Own Adventure
The official ACBN guide to spending a weekend in Louisville, Kentucky
Travel season is upon us. Spring break is imminent, and summer will be here before you know it. The days are already getting longer and warmer, and you might be getting the itch to hit the road. Whether or not you’ve got big travel plans this year, I’m going to make the case today for squeezing in a weekend trip.
[Zoidberg from Futurama voice] Why not Louisville?
You see, I happen to think that Louisville is the perfect weekend-trip city.
Sure, it may not have the top-end sights or immense breadth of options of a London, Paris, New York or Tokyo, but I firmly believe that Louisville can put up a first 48 hours to rival many larger cities. It’s affordable, easy to get around, and a fairly short trip from most of the East Coast, Midwest and South.
As someone with a moderate amount of online visibility who happens to live here in Louisville, I often get requests for recommendations from people who are planning to visit the city and want to know where to eat, drink, and have fun.
I’m always happy to oblige, but today I’m going to go one step further. I’ve compiled some of my most-current recommendations into a loose weekend itinerary, one that can be tailored to whatever tastes you have.
Just call me the Rick Steves of Kentuckiana.
Now, this is by no means a definitive guide. I am a lame middle-aged person with two jobs and two kids—I’m not out on the town every night, and I’m not up on every place in town. What this is is a list of places and things that I have personally enjoyed and think that others will, too. Nothing on this list is sponsored, nor do I have a financial relationship with any place on this list. That said, I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t influenced in some cases by personal acquaintance with places on the list, or by petty grudges against places not on the list. I am human and I am not going to pretend to be objective. You’re not here for journalism, you’re here for good times.
That’s what The Action Cookbook Newsletter is all about.
Let’s get started.
You’ve hopped off the plane at SDF with your dreams and a cardigan. Now what?
If you got in with some afternoon time to kill, you can get the most-touristy-but-still-fun thing out of the way and hit the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory tour (800 West Main Street) or learn about The Greatest at the Muhammad Ali Center (144 N. 6th Street). Both are open until 5pm on weekdays and a short walk from downtown hotels I’d recommend like the 21c Museum Hotel (700 West Main Street), Omni Louisville (400 South 2nd Street) and The Grady Hotel (601 West Main Street).
Friday Night: Downtown, NuLu and Butchertown
For Friday night’s scope, I’ll keep the recommendations close to the center of town.
For dinner if…
… you’re feeling fancy nouveau Italian?
Bar Vetti (727 East Market Street)
… you want some of the best wood-fired Neapolitan pizza you’ve ever hand?
Pizza Lupo (1540 Frankfort Avenue)
… you want to sear your face off and wash it down with a bourbon slushy?
Royals Hot Chicken (736 East Market Street)
… you want to stuff yourself with top-notch Cuban food?
La Bodeguita de Mima (725 East Market Street)
Then, go for drinks after if…
… you want a few locally-brewed beers in a spacious indoor-outdoor setting?
West Sixth NuLu (817 East Market Street)
… you want creative cocktails in an unassumingsetting?
Expo (114 West Main Street)
… you’re looking for a bottle of wine and some small plates?
Nouvelle Bar & Bottle (214 South Clay Street)
… you want to do some late-night bowling?
Vernon Lanes (1575 Story Avenue)
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Saturday Morning: Shelby Park
My Saturday morning recommendation really boils down to one place with a bunch of options, and that’s Logan Street Market (1001 Logan Street), a big under-one-roof market with food/drink vendors and cute artisan shops, that includes…
… spectacular breads and pastries from The Grainwright
… bagels and lox from Cold Smoke Bagels
… crepes and waffles from La Maison de Crepes
… a bottle of wine for later from Breeze Wine & Spirits
Saturday Afternoon: Our roads diverge.
This is the meat of your visit, right? This is where personal preferences can really steer you in multiple directions, and I’ve got idea for each.
Did you come to town for the bourbon?
Well, then now’s the time to check out a distillery, and which one depends on if…
… you’re willing to travel a bit?
Woodford Reserve (7785 McCracken Pike, Versailles, KY, about an hour east of downtown Louisville) is the Wrigley Field of distillery tours—it’s small, it’s charming as heck, and little precious. If you’re only going to one place, it looks exactly like what you think a Kentucky bourbon distillery should look like, nestled among handsome horse farms in the heart of the Bluegrass.
… if you want to stay in town, but you’re willing to drive?
Stitzel-Weller (3860 Fitzgerald Road, Shively, KY, about 15 minutes south of downtown) does a great tour, and you can also book special cocktail-making classes or reserve a visit to the Garden & Gun Club, a neat little cocktail bar upstairs.
… you do not want to leave downtown at all?
Old Forester Distilling Co. (119 West Main Street) is a shiny new-ish temple to bourbon right in the center of downtown, and they put on a good show, including showing you how to char an oak barrel for aging whiskey. It’s fun!
Are you more of the outdoors type?
Louisville’s situated in a very pretty part of the country, and you’ve got some great options if you want to get out and move around, depending on if…
… you want an excursion?
Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest (2075 Clermont Road, Clermont, KY, about 25 minutes south of downtown) is a beautiful wooded setting with miles of hiking trails and the wonderfully-whimsical Forest Giants, fairy-tale outdoor sculptures by Danish artist Thomas Dambo.
… you want a nice walk, but not a trip?
The Big Four Bridge (1101 River Road) is a former railroad bridge spanning the Ohio River between Kentucky and Southern Indiana that was repurposed into a walking/cycling bridge in 2013. It’s about 3/4 of a mile from Louisville’s Waterfront Park to Big Four Station Park in Jeffersonville, Indiana, where a number of restaurants and shops have sprung up in recent years thanks to the bridge’s popularity.
… you want something vaguely educational?
Falls of the Ohio State Park (201 West Riverside Drive, Clarksville, IN, just across the river) offers a close-up look at the natural feature—the titular Falls of the Ohio—that’s responsible for Louisville’s existence, and the Interpretive Center offers lessons on the geology and ecology of the area from prehistory to present.
You’re not here for the whiskey or the outdoors?
Well then, maybe you’d like to…
… go vintage shopping at a massive indoor market with dozens of unique vendors?
Fleur de Flea Vintage Market (947 East Breckinridge Street, not far from Logan Street Market)
… see what all the horsin’ around is about?
The Kentucky Derby Museum (704 Central Avenue) is a nice museum with some lovely exhibits, but the real pull is the chance to take a tour of the adjacent grounds of Churchill Downs. It’s the rare sporting venue that still has that feel of history in spite of numerous massive renovations over the years.
While you’re in that part of town, hit up Wagner’s Pharmacy (3113 South 4th Street) for a wonderfully-unpretentious diner lunch right across from the Downs.
Saturday Evening: We’re back, baby.
Okay. We’ve all had our fun either drinking or hiking or antiquing or all three. I bet we’ve worked up an appetite. I’ve got some great ideas if…
… you’re keeping it casual?
Toasty’s Tavern (1258 South Shelby Street) serves up superb smashburgers and killer fries in a bustling diner-like setting.
… you want upscale comfort food?
The Fat Lamb (2011 Grinstead Drive) has a chef-y-in-the-good-way menu in a casual bar-like setting. The last time I was there I had Kimchi Arancini. Kimchi Arancini.
… you’re feeling fancy?
Seviche (1538 Bardstown Road) offers up high-end Latin cuisine with local touches.
… you want the best damn meal you’ll ever eat in a horse barn?
Barn8 at Hermitage Farm (10500 W Highway 42, Goshen, KY, about 25 minutes east of downtown) is a fabulous farm-to-table restaurant in a beautifully-restored horse barn, situated on the stunning grounds of Hermitage Farm. After dinner, you can take their Art Walk on a boardwalk through the woods, where creative light-art animates nature. This is the unofficial restaurant of Special Occasions in the Cookbook Household, and I have never gone wrong here.
Now, after-dinner drinks?
You’ve still got energy left? Well, say no more. There’s the perfect nightcap if…
… you want a casual, cool bar with cheap beer and a tiki-inspired cocktail menu?
The MerryWeather (1101 Lydia Street) was the setting for the first ACBN live event!
… the weather’s good and you want to drink on a patio?
ShopBar (950 Barret Avenue) is the feel-good bar of each summer.
… you want a nice glass of natural wine with some light snacks?
Canary Club (1247 South Shelby Street, very close to Toasty’s) is quickly becoming one of my local favorites.
Hungover, or just plain tired? I’ve got you set for the final stretch, if…
… you just need coffee, and maybe a cookie?
Please & Thank You (800 East Market Street) has terrific coffee, vinyl records and the best chocolate-chip cookie in town. Grab a batch of their Derby Bar mix to take home.
… you need a full-on brunch, with something for everyone?
Wild Eggs (multiple locations, but downtown at 121 South Floyd Street) is where I take pretty much any out-of-town guest, and no one’s ever complained. Their menu is expansive and it’s all great.
… you want a fancy brunch, and maybe a hair-of-the-dog cocktail?
North of Bourbon (935 Goss Avenue) has a New Orleans-inspired menu and a killer list of cocktails in a really cool space. Some of the booths are giant bourbon barrels!
Of course, there’s more where that all came from.
Thinking of making a trip here? Bookmark this post, as I’ll update it periodically as new things occur to me or places open/close.
Also, you can always reach out to me, and I’ll be happy to answer any questions you might have.
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)
I loathe the way the word “dive” is used to describe bars these days, and I don’t think it’s wholly appropriate, but it’s at least the aesthetic.
A curated weekend in Louisville, with the Cookbook!
Olaf not included.
I want that bagel sandwich worse than I want air