A weekend guide to Louisville for ride-or-die Milwaukeeans.
I’ve taken a few apartment-scouting road trips to Louisville in the months since finding out I’m moving there, and it occurred to me on my third such visit that Derby City would make an excellent weekend getaway for the denizens of Brew City. Besides its surprising proximity (about 6 hours, just a bit farther than the twin cities), The Ville puts a unique “gateway to the south” spin on many of the same things Milwaukeeans are accustomed to.
If you like Blue’s Egg…
…then try Wild Eggs
Both establishments share an eponymous appreciation for eggs, and both have won Best Of awards from their respective city magazines for the breakfast or brunch category. If you’re a Blue’s Egg monkey bread devotee, might I suggest the Wild Eggs Sweet Home Apple Bourbon Crepes? And a worthy foil for the Blue’s Browns are the grits of the day (or better yet, get a Hot Brown, Louisville’s official sandwich). Wait times can be long (yet another similarity!), but the Downtown location features a first-come/first-served breakfast bar if you’re particularly peckish.
If you like Stone Creek Coffee (or Colectivo)…
…then try Quills Coffee (or Please & Thank You)
There’s no shortage of local coffee roasters and caffeine-powered WiFi hotspots in either Milwaukee or Louisville. Two early favorites are Quills Coffee and Please & Thank You, which I’m going to crudely shoehorn into analogues for Stone Creek and Colectivo, respectively.
Either way, you’ll get a great cup of joe and a stylish place to set up your laptop — but choose Quills if you want a mad-scientist barista or a bag of beans with exhaustive geographical provenance. Please and Thank You is better if you’re looking for a chocolate chip cookie and a debate about, say, the unsung merits of serif fonts with your java.
If you like Snack Boys…
…then try Hammerheads
Hammerheads, tucked into an unassuming corner of the residential Germantown neighborhood, is the love child of an odd tryst between a dive bar and a small plates establishment. Like Walker’s Point’s Snack Boys, the vibe at Hammerheads is tongue-in-cheek and self-consciously hipster — except when it comes to the food. Try the chicken and waffles, deep-fried cheese balls or a heaping plate of house-made fries. Your gut might protest, but your taste buds will sing.
If you like Good City Brewing…
…then try Against the Grain
With a sizable, industrial-chic taproom and sun-dappled patio just steps from Slugger Field, Against the Grain makes a great afternoon activity no matter the weather. Though I can’t personally vouch for the food, this brewery clearly takes dining as seriously as drinking, if the giant patio smoker and accompanying aromas are to serve as evidence. Try a flight of irreverently-named brews (Citra Ass Down, anyone?) paired with something smoked and slathered in BBQ sauce.
If you like Wolski’s…
…then try Third Street Dive
Dive bar purists might scoff at bumper sticker-famous Wolski’s (or any bar with the word “dive” in its actual name), but I get the sense that both joints are exploiting the aesthetics of the dive bar, more than its ethos — perfect if you’d rather your shoes didn’t stick to the floor.
Third Street Dive positions itself as “the antidote for Fourth Street Live!” (see below), a wink and a nod to those who prefer a bit of irony with their IPA. Cheap drinks, live tunes, chalkboard wall graffiti and pool tables make for a low-key alternative to the hustle and bustle of Fourth Street.
If you like barhopping on Kinnickinnic…
…then try it on Bardstown Road
The Highlands are to Louisville what Bay View is to Milwaukee. Once christened “Restaurant Row,” Bardstown has no shortage of nightclubs, vegetarian dining, vintage shops and people-watching opportunities. Look up the word “eclectic” in the dictionary, and if you don’t find a Street View shot of Bardstown Road it’s because the dictionary decided to go with Kinnickinnic Ave. instead. Fuel up with a nice meal at Louvino, wash it down with a Bourbon slush at Big Bar, sweat it off at Nowhere Bar, then see where the night takes you.
If you like the Deer District…
…then try Fourth Street Live!
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Fourth Street Live! is what happens when you mix Guy Fieri with a few dueling pianos under the ethereal glow of a whole lot of neon. The jury’s still out on whether Louisville locals actually patronize Fourth Street Live! or if it’s just a flashy trap for all the visitors in town for various business conferences who haven’t had a night out since they made middle manager. The jury’s out on the Deer District, too, which is still new enough to remain a novelty for locals. But if you like the idea of a bar crawl and don’t want to take the time to plan a route, this conglomeration of watering holes is an easy alternative.
Things to Do
If you like shopping on Brady St…
…then try shopping in Nulu
Louisvillians are ardently trying to make “Nulu” happen, and the earnest sobriquet (aka “New Louisville”) is faring a lot better than “fetch.” The name refers to the Market St. business corridor between Hancock and Baxter dotted with ice cream shops, plant shops, beer shops and more.
Stop in at Revelry for funky jewelry and local art pieces, peruse three-story Joe Ley Antique Store (notable for its byzantine pricing system and that every item is owned by the same man) and swing by Garage Bar for a cold one in the midst of the world’s slowest car crash. And don’t leave the Nulu area without at least Instagramming a Hi-Five donut.
If you like Veterans Park…
…then try Waterfront Park
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Stroll along the Ohio River in Louisville’s expansive Waterfront Park, and you just might stumble upon an in-progress festival. In my assessment, Louisville gives Milwaukee a run for its “festival city” money, and ample evidence can be found in this 85-acre park: Kentuckiana Pride, Funk Fest, Forecastle Fest and National Jug Band Jubilee, to name a few.
Other activities include traversing the Big Four Bridge to Indiana, posing with the Flock of Finns installation (three words: giant metal chickens) and renting a Surrey bike from the same company that supplies them to Veterans Park.
If you like Brewery tours…
…then try a distillery tour
Perhaps the most obvious parallel between these two cities is the matching affinity for their bev of choice — and corresponding interest in the minutiae of its production. For a straightforward bourbon “experience,” with high production value (complete with a bourbon waterfall inside a giant, teetering rocks glass), go with Evan Williams, whose tour is akin to the Miller Brewery tour here in Milwaukee. For irreverent jokes, a peek at a fully operational distillery and access to the exclusive Finishing Room distillery bar, try Angel’s Envy, which will likely appeal more to fans of the Lakefront tour.
If you like the Iron Horse Hotel…
…then try 21C
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It’s not just a hotel: it’s also a (free) art museum, a craft cocktail bar and a fine dining establishment. Located on Main St. in the cheeky shadow of a replica of Michelangelo’s David, 21C‘s vibe is upscale kitschy. A quartet of red plastic penguins sits atop the entry doors like gargoyles; inside the bar is a hodgepodge of baroque frames against so-gaudy-it’s-chic floral wallpaper; and in guest room showers, you’ll find a complimentary rubber ducky. Try to book the “Asleep in the Cyclone” room, which doubles as “a completely immersive art experience.”
If you like the Kimpton Journeyman Hotel…
…then try the Omni Hotel
Louisville’s newest high-rise opened about a year ago to major acclaim. Omni is the place to stay if you appreciate amenities — outdoor pool, first-floor food hall, full-sized bourbon bottles in the mini bar, upscale spa — or if you have an expense account.