Read this guide to help you experience Louisville like a local.
Smoked brisket in a restored fire station, a bicycle built for booze and a little horsing around – these are just a few unique Louisville experiences suggested by our Insider panel.
Larry Rice, proprietor of The Silver Dollar, of course, recommends trying his establishment on Frankfort Ave. In May GQ magazine named it one of the top 10 whiskey bars in America, and The Silver Dollar with its 100-plus Kentucky Bourbons recently joined the Urban Bourbon Trail. But it’s not only about liquor at The Silver Dollar, located in a 120-year-old firehouse. Rice says, “Everybody likes to try our brisket, and the chicken livers and fried oyster appetizers are a big hit.”
He also recommends the tiny basement restaurant called Hammerheads, where, he says, “They smoke everything in house. Go for the duck tacos.”
In the NuLu area (think “New Louisville”), just east of downtown on Main and Market streets, Rice likes Why Louisville for quirky gifts and souvenirs; Rye and Decca for outstanding, locally sourced meals; and Please and Thank You for coffee, sandwiches and pastries.
Clark Welch, economic development project manager for the Louisville Downtown Partnership, suggests a hearty breakfast at the Main Street Café, downtown at 217 E. Main St. “Order the Main Street Kentucky – eggs, country ham, red eye gravy and biscuits with Sorghum Butter – you can’t beat it,” he says. “Later, it’s worth exploring one of the six restaurants located in historic Whiskey Row. O’Shea’s, Doc Crow’s, Sol Aztecas, Bearnos, Sidebar and Troll Pub offer a variety of dining options within some of Louisville’s oldest real estate.” In NuLu, he takes visitors to the Mayan Café and Garage Bar, both of which offer unique Louisville experiences and menu choices.
“While you’re in town, definitely make a point to get a group together and make reservations to ride the Thirsty Pedaler,” Welch says. This 15-seat bicycle imported from The Netherlands allows its riders to explore downtown Louisville while periodically stopping at various bars and pubs to grab a pint.
Tracy Keller, a copy writer with The Learning House, loves Louisville’s network of parks and parkways designed by famed landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted. “I am a huge supporter of our parks system and regularly volunteer in the restoration and renewal efforts that help sustain these green spaces. I take advantage of my home’s close proximity to many of the parks by hitting the pavement and the trails for long runs.”
When she has guests in town, they often head to Yafa Café, downtown on 4th Street. “The Mediterranean fare is the best in the city,” she says.
Jason Brauner, owner and founder of Bourbons Bistro, says a favorite local activity on the final Friday of every month (Oct. 25) is to hop on a trolley along Frankfort Avenue for F.A.T. Friday. “Most of the restaurants, retail shops and galleries along Frankfort Ave. open early and stay open late featuring fun music, special drinks and lots of great food,” he said. “A trolley runs up and down the street, so it is easy to get around.”
A huge favorite at Bourbons Bistro is the roasted garlic and goat cheese appetizer. It has sweet peppers, pimento, arugula, garlic confit, all mixed with whipped goat cheese. It is served in a cast iron skillet with toast points. He says, “To accompany this, of course, we suggest a bourbon neat or on the rocks, and we have over 130 bourbons to choose from!”
He also likes to eat at Jack Fry’s on Bardstown Road. “It is a true Louisville classic. The historic atmosphere, the black and white photos of famous horses on the wall and the great food and drinks make it a standout.”
One of Louisville’s newest dining establishments is Sidebar, next to the 2nd Street Bridge. It is known for its signature burgers, each with a unique name relating to the “constitutional” theme throughout the restaurant. One of general manager Richard Ruth’s favorites is the “Hung Jury.” It is a Certified Angus Beef® burger layered with bourbon mushrooms, onions and beer cheese. For “The Verdict” or dessert, guests can select from a list of hand-blended, liquor-laced, vanilla bean ice cream milkshakes.
When Ruth hosts visitors, he always includes a stop at Churchill Downs. “I have only been in Louisville for three years, but I am still fascinated by Churchill Downs,” he says. “Not having any relation to or understanding of the horse industry before I moved here, the first time I took a tour of Churchill Downs, I was just in awe.”