What to do in Louisville?
May 28, 2012 8:38 PM   Subscribe

We're going to Louisville from 6/4-6/6. What to do? (Stuff we like after the fold.)

Me and my gentleman (griphus) are going to be in Louisville for three days and we want to get our vacation-times worth! Of course- we want to meet anyone in the area so here's the meetup announcement.

But what should we absolutely see?

We like: geek culture
comic books
live animals
haunted silliness
paleo/organic foodie places

I like and can con the gentleman into:
punk bars
horse everything

He likes: video games
factory tours
flea markets
live theater
posted by Blisterlips to Travel & Transportation around Louisville, KY (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I was just there and was absolutely blown away by what a fun city it is, and how much there was to do.

The Louisville Slugger Factory and also the Churchill Downs tour/Kentucky Derby Museum were both well worth the time and money. Louisville Slugger really exceeded expectations. Allow a couple hours at least for Churchill Downs - there's a museum with interactives, a film, and memorabilia that has a lot of stuff to check out, even if you don't like horses at all. Including a bourbon exhibit.

Check out the 21C museum hotel. It's what it sounds like - a hip, very contemporary hotel that's also a contemporary art museum with rotating exhibitions. Allow at least an hour for that.

Breakfast at Toast on Marketwas great. And a short way across the street is Joe Ley Antiques, four floors of wacky/weird old stuff in an old church. Great fun to browse.

I highly recommend Harvest restaurant. The co-owners are very serious about food - they actually began as farmers, and still farm, and source almost the entire menu from local farmers and growers. Excellent foodie destination.

I took one evening and went to a minor league ballgame, the Louisville Bats, which is right downtown so you can walk to it (assuming you're staying downtown, of course). All the pleasure of minor league baseball, cheap, plus the mascot is an adorable BAT. I mean come on.

My one big regret is that I didn't get to do the walking tour of Old Louisville. I mention it since you like history - it's billed as the best Victorian neighborhood in the US, which is really saying something. One of my colleagues did the walking tour and really enjoyed it.

I also didn't get to go to Bardstown Road, which was recommended to me as a funky/hip neighborhood.

Stop at the Visitors' Center on 4th street downtown, where you can get information about every single thing that happens in town, and also get your picture taken with an extremely lifelike wax model of Colonel Sanders.
posted by Miko at 9:00 PM on May 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

Hunter S Thompson is from Louisville ... does that work as a starting point?
posted by Relay at 12:20 AM on May 29, 2012

Seconding the Louisville Slugger factory tour. It's actually pretty cool. Doubly-so if you have any interest in baseball or its history.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:43 AM on May 29, 2012

If you like shoes and like saving boatloads of money on shoes, go to the Zappos Outlet. No joke, I bought six pairs of shoes the last time I was there (all name brands, all brand new) for $80.
posted by cooker girl at 5:13 AM on May 29, 2012

Blisterlips, Louisville is my hometown. My parents still live outside the city, so I go there a few times a year, as I now live in Charlotte.

Some things I would add to what has been suggested so far - Muhammad Ali is from Louisville, and there is now a center dedicated to his life in the downtown area. I have not been to it, but Ali is a really interesting historical figure not just in regards to boxing, but also with regards to Civil Rights and integration, as well as the Vietnam War era.

I think with regards to comics, I would recommend The Great Escape. It is in the Highlands, which the first poster recommended (the Bardstown Road area). So if you went to the Great Escape, you could tour other unique sites along Bardstown Road. Anyway, TGE is the store my sister and I went to all growing up to get our comics. We went there very regularly from about 1985 to '95 until we both were away in college. The store also has a music store attached now, so you can get old floppies, old trades, new comics/trades, old toys, old CDs, old DVDs, etc.

Unfortunately, you will miss the Stewart Promotions' flea markets. My parents are big into the estate sale, flea market, antique, vintage scene, so Louisville feels like a huge flea market city to me, but I think it's just that they drug me along to all this stuff throughout my childhood. Something you could do, if you REALLY like flea markets is visit a Peddler's Mall in Louisville. It is an interesting business model - they take old Wal-Marts that are abandoned when Super Wal-Marts are built and convert them into flea market / antique booth rental places, where locals then sell old stuff and junk. A fair portion of each store is given over to truly useless stuff, but you can sometimes find gems in there.

One last wacky recommendation in that vein is Toy Crazy Collectables. It is on the southern outskirts of the city, but it does have a stockpile of 80s toys, like Star Wars, GI Joe, Thundercats, HeMan, etc. I would call ahead, because I seem to remember that they are closed on odd days and whenever I go in, I am the only person in the store, so I wonder how they stay open. But it is JAM-packed with 70s/80s/90s toys.

Have a good time!
posted by Slothrop at 5:35 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Miko's already really knocked it out of the park, but I just wanted to add a few more suggestions:

The Garage Bar may be known for their pizzas, but they also have a ham tasting menu, a soda fountain, and outdoor ping-pong. Really, what more could one ask for? It's right down the street from Harvest, Joe Ley, and Toast in the area known as "NuLu."

The Meat Bar (website's under construction, so I'm linking to the Yelp reviews), unlike Garage Bar, is strictly a bar. Their cocktails are excellent. Lately on Mondays they've had a vinyl DJ team who are very popular here spinning. I think they're awesome, but I realize it may not be everyone's thing. Meat Bar is in Butchertown above a restaurant called The Blind Pig which is also worth checking out.

I know the Louisville Bats were already mentioned, but wanted to point out that they're only at home June 4th while you're here.

Seconding The Great Escape for comics & collectibles.

I personally love the Frazier Historical Arms Museum in downtown Louisville. It's on Main Street, about two blocks down from 21c Museum Hotel. They have a samurai exhibit I'm geeking out about right now but haven't gotten a chance to see yet.

Waverly Hills Sanatorium is on the south side of Louisville. It's an old tuberculosis hospital that's supposed to be haunted - it's popped up on Ghost Hunters, Scariest Places on Earth, etc. I do not know that they give tours during the week, though (and I'm having trouble with their website or I'd just check).

One thing about Louisville: many restaurants are closed Mondays, including the above-mentioned Harvest, Toast, and The Blind Pig. If you go out to eat Monday, you might want to call ahead or check online first to make sure they're open.

I don't know if I'll be at the meetup or not, but either way, have a great time!
posted by pecanpies at 7:08 AM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Louisville also has Comic Book World - www.comicbookworld.com - not as awesome as The Great Escape, but still very good.

4th Street Live has a lot of night life stuff...some chain-type places like Hard Rock and Howl At the Moon, but also some local spots.
posted by Billiken at 10:22 AM on May 29, 2012

Oh Hell yeah, I love giving people tips on what to do here. I've lived here--off and on, mostly on--for 33 years, so I have a lot of pent up Louisville Pride that I rarely get to release on outsiders. Chances are, your hosts know what to do, so you've likely heard all of these recommendations from them or from other folks in this thread. You can't have too many ideas, though, so here it goes:


For organic/paleo/foodie type stuff, a few places spring to mind. I see that Harvest has already been mentioned, and I'll second that, although I think the food is a bit overpriced, and the decor and atmosphere are a bit silly (lots of oversized photos of produce on those walls).

Roots/Heart & Soy is a good little pair of places. Roots is more "fine dining" while H&S is like a vegan deli/bakery. They're owned and operated by the same folks, and next door to one another. You can watch weird dudes make tofu in the weird glass booth at H&S, and they have really really good vegan green curry and awesome vegan ginger cookies.

For my money, the best place to get amazing food made with local ingredients is Mayan Cafe. Best lima beans in THE WORLD, and fairly priced for a nice night out.

Other fine(ish) dining spots I recommend are Decca, Coop, Hammerheads, Doc Crow's, Basa, and Proof. I have minor gripes with all these places, but they are all great restaurants. These are all a little more pricey, but good dinner spots.

For quicker, cheaper meals (lunch), I would check out NABC Bank Street (French bistro style food, and really really great house-brewed beers; they'll also give you a personal brewery tour if you ask!) across the bridge in Indiana. Also look into DakShin (Northern and Southern Indian food), Vietnam Kitchen (Vietnamese), Thai Smile (Thai food), Eiderdown (German/Southern US), and Holy Grale (more on that in a minute). A lot of those are little ethnic places, and if you're coming from NY none of them are likely to blow your mind, but they all provide a great lunch or dinner for a good price.

For bars, there is a LOT of stuff to choose from. This city drinks a lot, and loves its bars!

Dives/"punk" places/holes-in-walls:

Cahoots. In The Highlands, this is the major local dive. It's been around forever, first as a venue for punk/hardcore shows, now mostly as a little dive with a few pool tables, a surprisingly good food menu, and insanely strong drinks for a couple bucks. Seriously, a couple bucks. A $2 whiskey and coke there will be 90% whiskey. It's brutal. Weird crowd, too: pool hustlers, punk kids, neighborhood folks, junkies... the whole 9. Good place for an evening drink.

The Back Door. Also Highlands, Back Door is in the back of a shitty strip mall, but don't let that disuade you. They have really really good food (although buying a tuna steak sandwich from a bar in a strip mall at 3am always seems sketchy...), 7 good pool tables, skee-ball, pinball, darts, and insanely stiff drinks for very very cheap. The clientele is hugely mixed, as reflected in the bar's motto, "Bikers to Brain Surgeons."

Freddie's. On Broadway in a part of Downtown that is still dead after 8pm, Freddie's is kind of a locals-only dive. It's awesome though, because it has not changed since the 70s. Cash only, and don't forget to pet the cat that lives on the bar.

Nach Bar. This is my neighborhood bar, although I rarely go there. Nice and giant patio, great beer list, no food. Lots of dogs hanging out in the yard with their people. Sort of what people call a hipster bar, I guess, but it's a good place. Great jukebox, too!

Mag Bar. This one is in Old Louisville, and it tends to be divisive for locals. Personally, I love it, because I've been going there since I was 15, it's a genuine dive, and a few guys from local punk bands bought it a few years ago in order to retain its position in local punk-bar history. Cash only, cheap drinks, no food, nice patio (kinda), best jukebox in America. It's almost a must-go for me when I have visitors. Stay away on Wednesday, because that's the dance night, and it gets swamped with 19 year old college kids slumming it. Go in the early evening after you do the self-guided Old Louisville walk that I will suggest in a minute!

For "nicer" and less-divey bars, there are many many options. In the last 5 years, Louisville has placed itself squarely in the middle of this whole "craft cocktail" thing. If that's your bag, you'll have no issues at these places:

The bar at Proof on Main. Really good cocktails, and you can check out the great 21c museum and hotel (attached) for free. Just go there in the evening, get a drink, maybe some charcuterie, and check out the art museum (free) and hotel lobby. Be sure to use the restroom in the hotel, because it rules.

Silver Dollar, in Crescent Hill/Clifton. This place is new, and I think it's kind of corny (they modeled it after a Bakersfield CA honky-tonk, and it's kinda like an annoying simulacrum in that sense), but they have good cocktails. It's kind of loud at night, but would be a fine spot for an evening drink.

I would avoid Meat and Blind Pig. Both of those spots get a lot of attention, but frankly I don't think they have earned it. Too many gimmicks, not enough substance.

If you like beer, check out Sergio's World of Beer. It's really weird, but it has an incredible beer selection. Like, thousands of beers, and I think they are rated in the top 10 beer bars worldwide. Cash only.

Also on the beer front, the aforementioned Holy Grale. As far as food/drink places go, this is my only "must go" place. Old church that the owners converted into an awesome Belgian style beer spot, with about 12 taps rotating amazing beer selections and a very very good kitchen. Not really a dinner place, more appetizer-size plates and delicious beer. They just opened a really really lovely garden out back, too. You must go there. YOU MUST.

Okay, now sober up, because here are things I would suggest for day time fun!

The Louisville Slugger factory tour is indeed great. Doesn't take long, and it puts you downtown, right near Proof, 21c, Doc Crows, and lots of other spots.

A 30-40 minute drive out east puts you at Buffalo Trace Distillery. If you like bourbon at all, and want to do a distillery tour, this is the one. It's close, and it's the longest-operating distillery in America (they kept on going, right through prohibition, selling prescription bourbon!). The drive there is beautiful, going through lots of horse farms and whatnot. The tour itself is awesome, too, because it's small groups, and you get to see everything, and the grounds and buildings are gorgeous. Plus, you get to drink a lot of free bourbon.

A walk along Waterfront Park is a great way to spend an hour or two in the day.

Check out Cherokee Park, too. It's an Olmstead park, and it is hands down the nicest public park I have ever seen. It's in the middle of The Highlands, and is great to just drive through for half an hour or so.

Bardstown Road is a good place to walk around and whatnot. Lots of people, little shops (be sure to go to Why? Louisville), and bars/restaurants.

Walk around Old Louisville in the afternoon. Here is a map with good boundaries! The houses and streets here are amazing, and will be beautiful next week. There is a lot of street crime around here, though, so be alert (before dark it's totally fine, though, and even after dark it's nothing terribly dangerous).

Falls of The Ohio park in New Albany (across the bridge) is really cool. Ginat fossil beds, cool geology, a good nature center, etc. Only a 5 minute drive from downtown.

The Muhammad Ali center is a cool place, but there is not much there. It's not really a museum, per se, just a cool building project that has some Ali memorabilia in there. The best thing about it are the mosaic murals on the side of the building.

If you're interested in horses or racing at all, check out the Derby Museum and Churchill Downs. It's a fun place to spend some time, right in the South End of town.

I think that about does it for an off-the-cuff list of things. I'm not sure if I'll be in town for the meetup, but if I am I will do all I can to attend. Hope you guys have fun here! As you can probably tell, I like it quite a bit! Also, feel free to get in touch if you need anything at all, either before you come or once you're here. I know people! I can get things done.
posted by broadway bill at 11:03 AM on May 29, 2012 [4 favorites]

Oh! I forgot a couple things!

For comics and whatnot, Great Escape is awesome. Also check out Ultra Pop on Bardstown for pop culture stuff (toys, books, comics, blah blah blah).

For animals, we have a pretty good zoo. Personally, I would not waste time on it, just because a zoo is a zoo is a zoo, ya know? There is also Henry's Ark, a nearby petting zoo type place. It's kinda cool. Or, just go to Churchill Downs and make your way into the stables to see some bigass race horses.

For history stuff, just walk Old Louisville and The Highlands and check out homes and gardens. They are stunning. Or, I hear good things about the Frazier Museum, although I have not been.

I don't know of any haunted places for tours or anything, but Waverly Sanitarium is a neat place. I don't think you can really tour it, though, and most of the good stuff has already been torn out.
posted by broadway bill at 11:10 AM on May 29, 2012

OOPS! One ting I forgot to add:

Garage Bar, Joe Ley, Wiltshire, and a ton of other places in the disgustingly-named NULU district (seriously, I hate that name...) are all great. Just spending an afternoon wandering Joe Ley and getting a drink, some oysters, and some ping pong at Garage would be wonderful. Name aside, that area is great.
posted by broadway bill at 11:18 AM on May 29, 2012

Jeez, I just can't stay away, huh?

I forgot to add Cave Hill cemetery to the list. In the Highlands, it's a beautiful place with lakes, trees, animals, and lovely old markers and mausoleums. You can also see Col. Sanders grave there, with the statue of the old bird-tormenter right there in stone.

If you're staying in the Highlands, anywhere near "The Triangle" neighborhood, you could have a great day just walking to Cave Hill and then strolling around in the cemetery. It's gorgeous.
posted by broadway bill at 11:23 AM on May 29, 2012

broadway bill reminded me of Ultra Pop, so I will second that. It is not very far from The Great Escape, so you could do both easily.

Also, Billiken, my sister worked at Comic Book World for a few years during and after college. It was also while I was in college, so I didn't really have much money for comics, and so never went in there. If the location that she worked at is still open, it would be near a Peddler's Mall and also the Toy Crazy Collectables place I mentioned before.

I will definitely mine this thread when I go to Louisville in July!
posted by Slothrop at 2:25 PM on May 29, 2012

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