Wednesday, September 25, 2019 - 9:28am
Written by Hillary Sutherland, Academic Advisor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering and GTAAN's resident Louisville, KY tour guide.

Say the word “Louisville” and the first thought that comes into peoples’ minds is the Kentucky Derby — but Louisville is so much more than the most popular two minutes in sports. It’s a vibrant, thriving city that’s full of great food, amazing attractions and a local flair that will definitely make you want to come back for a second or third visit (and not even during Derby).

First things first, let’s get a little Louisville knowledge and history out of the way. Let’s talk about how you say “Louisville.” It’s not Louey-ville or Lewisville; it’s Loo-ah-vul. That is how we say it.

Louisville sits on the edge of the Mason-Dixon line — the Ohio River — so it is a unique blend of North and South with a Midwestern layer iced over the top of it. There is a strong Southern sensibility here: You can taste it in the cooking, hear it in the accents and feel it in the extreme hospitality and friendliness. But the weather and the climate reveals its Northern geographic situation — this city definitely has four distinct seasons with a cold snowy winter, a crisp and damp autumn, a hot humid summer and a rainy temperamental spring. The Midwestern layer appears in the practicality of the people in Louisville with their humble natures. You might be sitting next to a very nondescript, casually dressed gentleman who happens to own a Derby-winning horse or run a major bourbon distillery here in town. That’s a normal occurrence here.

Places to Eat

  • Wild Eggs (downtown)
    • You must have breakfast (or brunch or lunch) from Wild Eggs. The food is sensational and the décor is bright and cheery.
  • Mussel and Burger Bar (downtown)
    • For lunch or dinner, pop into Mussel and Burger Bar, a top-ranked hip American Bistro with a stellar reputation.
  • Ei8ht Up (downtown)
    • Offers 3 different experiences under one roof and unparalleled views of downtown Louisville. Reservations recommended.
  • Feast
    • Louisville’s home for scratch Barbecue, Sides, Craft Beer and Slushies.
  • English Grill at the Brown Hotel (downtown)
    • Ever tasted a Hot Brown? It’s a Louisville tradition that was created at the Brown Hotel’s (an iconic Louisville restaurant) English Grill. It’s on the pricey side but it’s worth stopping by just to check out the lobby.
  • Bristol Bar & Grille (downtown & Highlands)
    • Offering a wide range of options, dishes are sourced from local farmers in Kentucky and Indiana. It’s a Louisville Staple.
  • Harvest (NuLu)
    • A locally grown restaurant, Harvest gets all of its ingredients from within a 100 mile radius of Louisville. Situated in the vibrant Downtown Nulu arts district (just 5 minutes outside of downtown). On the pricey side.
  • Toast on Market (downtown)
    • This restaurant is one of Louisville’s best spots for breakfast or brunch. They serve french toast and pancakes with a creative twist, offering things like Lemon Soufflé pancakes and Monte Cristo french toast.
  • Ramsi’s Café on the World (Highlands)
    • For international cuisine, put Ramsi’s Cafe on your list. This is another place with a very creative menu. They serve seafood, raw food, vegetarian food, and even have a gluten-free menu. Want Moroccan, Jamaican, Indian, or Vietnamese? This is your place. Please note: they tend to take their time with your experience.
  • Mark’s Feed Store BBQ (Highlands)
    • Since 1988, they have taken great pride in serving the best Barbecue (BBQ) in Louisville, KY.
  • Troll Pub Under the Bridge (Downtown)
    • If you are looking for cold local beers, delicious libations, or the best pub-grub in the ’Ville with a historic and unique ambiance, find Louie the Troll! He is proudly standing at the corner of 2nd and Washington streets, pointing you in the right direction.

 

Things to do

  • Fourth Street Live
    • Looking for Hard Rock Cafe, TGI Fridays, or the Jim Beam Urban Stillhouse? They can all be found here, along with many more restaurants, bars, and activities for the everyone. Fourth Street Live also hosts concerts and events.
  • The Highlands
    • Bardstown Road, Louisville’s original “Restaurant Row,” is situated in the city’s Highlands neighborhood. In addition to being a dining Mecca, it’s also known for its eccentric collection of shops and is one of the most popular neighborhoods for local nightlife. It’s a great place to take a stroll and see the historic neighborhoods while eating, drinking and buying the best souvenirs Louisville has to offer.
  • NuLu
    • The East Market District of downtown, also referred to as NuLu (New Louisville) is becoming known for unique art galleries, specialty stores, antique shops and a growing number of local restaurants. "Thrillist" even named NuLu one of the 18 Best Food Neighborhoods in America.
  • Louisville Jack O’ Lantern Spectacular
    • I can’t tell you how magical it is to take a glittering candle-lit walk through thousands of impeccably carved pumpkins, all built together to form larger than life works of Art. The Jack O ’Lantern Spectacular in Iroquois Park is hands down the most special Halloween event in Louisville
    • I suggest purchase tickets prior to the event to avoid long lines and waiting
  • Visit the iconic Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs
    • Everyone knows that Louisville is the home of the Kentucky Derby, the world’s most famous house race. Alas, the Derby is in May and the races will be hosted at Keeneland (Lexington, KY) during the NACADA conference but you can still get a taste of the races at the Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs. From the wall of winners to Riders Up (a simulated experience), you’ll love it all.
  • Louisville Slugger Museum
    • Haven’t you always wanted to get your picture with a 120 foot tall baseball bat? It’s a feature in the Louisville Skyline. You can tour the museum and factory and even see them make the bats. Don’t worry, you’ll get a miniature sized replica of the one outside to take home with you (your fellow seat mate probably wouldn’t appreciate a 120 foot bat under the seat in front of you).
  • The Big Four Bridge
    • This pedestrian bridge is awash in a rainbow of colors at night. From here, you get an interesting perspective of the Louisville skyline. This bridge connects Kentucky with Indiana so you can walk from one state to the other.

Things and Places to Drink (and eat – outside of the distilleries and breweries, all of the other locations serve food)

  • Official Drinks to try
    • Old Fashioned – the official cocktail of Louisville – a spirit forward cocktail made form bourbon, sugar or syrup, bitters, and orange peel.
    • Mint Julep – the official cocktail of the Kentucky Derby, not Louisville. Not trip to Louisville is complete without an ice cold Mint Julep.
  • Louisville Distilleries (Make sure you plan early and set up a tour)
    • Angel's Envy Distillery
      • Situated right in downtown Louisville is the Angel’s Envy distillery. These small batch bourbon distillers pride themselves on making a smooth sipping, unique finished bourbon.  Guests can take a full tour of the gorgeous Louisville distillery along with a bourbon tasting, or the speed round called the Sensory Tour, which also includes a bourbon tasting (and chocolate, too).
    • Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience at Stitzel-Weller
      • Located just 5 miles from downtown Louisville you’ll find The Bulleit Experience. Take a $10 tour and tasting and you’ll get a chance to explore the office where Pappy van Winkle himself used to work, later inspiring what is now one of the most loved and expensive varieties of bourbon available today (last time I checked, you can get a shot of Pappy Van Winkle for $100 at my favorite bourbon bar in San Francisco, so there’s that). Sadly, they aren’t handing out any sample-sized bottles of Pappy, but the tour is still fantastic and well worth a stop.
    • Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
      • Two things Louisville loves – theater and bourbon – merge at another downtown Louisville distillery: The Evan Williams Experience. Visitors have the choice between two tours and tastings. The first is a film and unique historical walk through the founding of the distillery to today. The other option is a Speakeasy Tour, which takes guests through a safe and into a Prohibition era bar where you’ll sample the premium bourbons. Both tours include tastings, as well as a souvenir distillers glass.
    • Kentucky Peerless Distilling
      • Located next to Museum Row sits Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co. Wanna talk credentials? The first bourbon this family made went into the barrel in 1889. You know what else happened that year? Montana, Washington, and the Dakotas became states. It’s pretty safe to say these guys know bourbon, y’all. Unlike some of the other bourbon distilleries in Louisville, Peerless Distilling does everything from milling to shipping all under the same roof. What does that mean to you? Well it means you can see every step along the way!
  • Louisville Bourbon Bars (to make it on this list, the bar must offer 50+ different varieties of bourbon)
    • Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse and Raw Bar
      • Situated on Whiskey Row, which serves up delicious food alongside a plethora of bourbon. Try anything from the smoker, the mint julep lemonade, and for dessert order the Wilbur sundae with brown butter praline ice cream, candied bacon and cinnamon pork rinds.
    • Sidebar at Whiskey Row
      • Bourbon, burgers, and beer: if you’re a fan of any of these things, you’ll definitely want to visit Sidebar at Whiskey Row. Local legend has it that their burgers are the best in town. Pair your burger with a barrel aged cocktail (yes, y’all) or an expertly crafted bourbon cocktail.
    • Buck’s restaurant and Bar
      • An upscale bourbon bar in the beautiful historic Old Louisville neighborhood. Be sure to give yourself time to take a stroll around the neighborhood, which is a fabulous places to explore in Louisville.
  • Louisville Breweries
    • Louisville may be known for its bourbon but it is quickly gaining footing in the craft beer scene.
      • Monnik Beer
        • Monnik Beer sources all of their ingredients locally and won’t put a single drop they don’t love in your glass. Their beer list is long and varied, making this a crowd pleaser bar for anyone looking to grab a beer in Germantown (just a few minutes outside of the city).
      • Mile Wide Beer
        • “Like our namesake, the mighty Ohio River, we never stop moving forward” is the tagline for Mile Wide Beer, and it shows. The brewery was once a biscuit factory and the very first brewpub in Louisville, and Mile Wide has turned it into something truly special. Not to mention it is located in the Highlands, a beautiful historic section of Louisville featuring numerous shops, restaurants and bars.
      • Great Flood Brewing
        • Tucked unobtrusively into a space on Bardstown Road in the Highlands Neighborhood, Great Flood Brewing is much larger inside than it first appears from the outside.
      • Apocalypse Brew Works
        • This excellent Louisville brewery’s tasting room is called “The Fallout Shelter,” and it serves up small batch brews. The beers are all appropriately named.
      • Old Louisville Brewery
        • Old Louisville Brewery started as a passion project between two brothers and has grown steadily for the past few years. They are located in the heart of Old Louisville, one of my favorite (and Louisville’s most beautiful) neighborhoods. It’s proximity to University of Louisville makes this a lively spot, but not so much so that you feel old.
      • Akasha
        • From humble beginnings brewing 5-gallon batches in a kitchen at home, they now brew 15 barrels at a time, and serve up to 15 of their own beers, brewed on-site, at any given time. From the light, crisp, and drinkable Fehr's XL to the tart classic Gose, the taproom lineup has something for all beer lovers.
    • Louisville Bars
      • International Tap
        •  Voted “Top 100 Craft Beer Bar” by DRAFT Magazine, our 44 drafts and hundreds of bottles stand inferior only to their knowledgeable staff.
      • Garage Bar
        • Garage Bar is housed in a former auto service garage in downtown Louisville’s vibrant East Market or NuLu neighborhood. A nod to its roots as a historic saloon, Garage Bar serves up ice cold draft and bottled craft beers, Kentucky Bourbons, seasonal cocktails and wine. The casual neighborhood spot features pizzas from a wood-fired brick oven and Southern specialties, with an emphasis on fresh, local ingredients.