September 3, 2012

Beer and Bourbon in the Gateway to the South a.k.a. LOUISVILLE 101

When I mentioned to a few people that I was flying to Louisville for four days- they seemed confused.
It's summer and most people are shaking sand out of their clothes- and dealing with expressway traffic- why would I want to immerse myself in joyful bluegrass and contemplate my next five years over ounce-after-ounce of bourbon?

When you date a man who eeny meeny miny moes between Bakers and Blantons  and you're charged with taking him on a surprise trip, no surprise would make him happier than Bardstown- just an hour outside Louisville- the gateway to the South (with plenty of southern accents).

All-female packaging line. Dipping bottles into the signature red wax.

The crew. I was surprising Lance with Trip but my Allagash brewers were in town too!
We got a driver the first day there to pick us up from the airport. I found him on Craig's List- which some would find sketchy- but he was very professional. He told me "his fleet" had a Lexus and a 30 ft. pink Cadillac. 1996 with a white roof. What would you do? What would anyone do? I had to go with the Pink Panther. His fares were reasonable. If you need his info let me know.

Lance drinking White Whisky. That's Greg Davis  in the background, Maker's Master Distiller
We kept it to two just distilleries, Makers Mark and Jim Beam and spent a lot of time on what Louisville markets as the "Urban Bourbon Trail." So- no Four Roses- no Woodford Reserve and no Buffalo Trace, the home of the much-praised Pappy Van Winkle.  I expect to hear a lot of people panning that decision but I was shackled by time and car rental and forced to make such choices.

We had awesome tours both days. We were truly spoiled at Makers as we had Master Distiller Greg Davis as our tour guide. He's the youngest Master Distiller in the  US. He also used to work in beer- bonus!

Makers Mark. They had a very nice use of red throughout the grounds. Great Branding.
The World's OLDEST operating bourbon whiskey distillery is Maker's Mark

Sour Mash @ Makers Mark Distillery
Smallest REAL distillery at Jim Beam
Barrel-filling room at JIM BEAM

Rob and Branch sporting their new hats in hopes of bestowing some luck on their golf game.

The best part is the flight is only about an  1 1/2 hours from Philly-soooooooo close.
 Here's a list of some hip-sticking, liver-inflaming things you can once your settled in River City. (Ohio river to the East). 

This is the restaurant at 21C- one of the world's best hotels.  It's a modern art museum in a hotel complete with a 24 red penguin plastic rookery. The penguins are relocated throughout the hotel all the day long.

The restaurant serves up great cocktails and the food- comtemporary American- hit the proverbial spot after a long day. Excellent octopus and gnudi.
Dining Room at Proof


We stayed at the GALT HOUSE on the waterfront. The main Louisville hotels you have to decide between are 21c, The Brown Hotel, Seelbach Hilton, Downtown Marriott and Galt House. I pricelined it and Galt House was very affordable. It you have a $299 dollars lying around- splurge for 21c.  But Galt House is only a four block walk from the museum/hotel.  People like the Galt House because it's right on the water and has so many cafes and restaurants. Our favorite place in the hotel was the Jockey Silks Bar. It's considered one of the world's best bourbon bars. They also have a piano there- but no one was tickling the keys during our visit.

My Galt House highlight was probably their lobby aviary

This is definitely a cab ride from down town but well worth it. I think this took top billing for Lance Romance as far as food goes.  We had an awesome bartender, Jeremy who gave us more tips than we had time for.  Of course Lance was sipping on bourbon with every beer but there was plenty of beer around the city as well. We saw a lot of Founders and Bells which we are privy to here, so we were hoping for more local flavor. Bluegrass Brewing is the big guy down there and Falls City. Upstairs from Blind Pig- is a cocktail bar called Meat. I say both are must hits while you're in town.

This is an indie rock venue in town. We were coincidentally down there at the same time as Philly musician, Langhorne Slim-so we saw him perform on Friday night while we got to sip on Southern Tier Dbl IPA, and Bells two-hearted.  It's a small enough venue that there's not a bad view of the stage. General Admission.
Langhorne doing his thing. Talking about thorns, heartbreak and his pa, Sid.

This is a pizza spot that celebrates Philadelphia.  The owner moved to Louisville 8 years ago from our fair city. Tastycake bumperstickers are about and you can certainly see Rocky's mug. Wish the pizza was a bit better.  It's right on the way to the bar-lined Bardstown Rd-so worth a stop.
Note the shoes on the wire- Philly style

I met the owner Tyler up at the Shelton Brothers/12 % Festival in Worcester this past July.  He runs it with his lady friend Lori.  The hip (and dare I say attractive) staff imparts their beer wisdom upon you in this renovated church turned bier cafe.  Great outdoor seating was just added. For their next project they are going to rent out a room in the back and do a "bed and beer." They also own the Louisville Beer Store right in the East Market area known as Nu Lu. This should be a must-stop for better beer fans.

While TOAST has a line out the door and packed benches with hungry brunchers waiting for their tables, Harvest is next door happy to seat you promptly with pep.  It's not that the food isn't amazing- cuz it is- but perhaps people think of them as more of a dinner spot. I was happy to take my seat right away in the dining room where black and white 3 ft by 5 ft photos of regional farmers covered the walls.  Every ingredient is soo farm fresh that Lance actually thought he had visible fat in his milk.  I had an egg sandwich with comte cheese on a pretzel croissant. It was simple yet so delicious. I say this is also mandatory.

Pretzel Croissant with pesto, egg, and bacon awesome slaw on the side.

Harvest Dining Room

My Louisville research quickly led me to Please and Thank you.  It's a coffee shop with records and "treats." You can select a record and play it in their listening booth and you feel like your DJ for hire for five minutes as people sip their thai coffee to YOUR jam. The owners that I met was so nice and gave us a BIG tip to go to Baxter STation, which ended up being a highlight of our trip.

I also had the BEST, yes- the best chocolate chip cookie of my life. I'm not sure what she does- I keep thinking condensed milk was involved- but she does it exceptionally well. Note: Thai Coffee, Chocolate Chip Cookie next thing best to Bruce Springsteen, DeerTick and Tom Waits going on tour together.

This is on Bardstown Rd. Stop in an see Vic and admire his awesome Brooks seat selection.
I purchased a cool spoke-turned-bracelet there for $8 because I wanted to support him after chatting a bit, and a bike was a smidge unrealistic.
Vic's Bike

I really want this saddle. Anyone got $120 for me??

Cool Liquor store/bar.  We hung out here for a while talking to a young gentleman who enjoyed long-boarding around town, coaching at LU, and spending time with his girlfriend. We drank Three Floyds alpha king while we couched it and watched "Shark Week" on TV. We had no agenda and it was a nice way to pass the time.  At night they have live music outdoors with a tall tree taking center stage.  It seems as though it might be a nice oasis compared to some of the cheesey bars on Bardstown Rd. And an oasis is only made nicer with Alpha King.

Mural at the gate of the "Highlands" admittedly stole saying from Austin, Tx.

Yep- that's what its called. We were there while they were celebrating their 30th anniversary so our ice cream was only .30 cents.

Cool lil brewpub that several people told us to checkout in the "Highlands."   We sat outside and watched as Trustifarians played tamborine and tried to get a few dollars to have a beer. Beer was decent. I tried the house wit to compare to that "other wit" ;) and Lance had a ginger beer.

Right next door to Cumberland Brews- so you can hit them both on Bardstown Rd. He (Adam) just opened up the bar -so he's still forming relationships and such.  They serve the largest soft pretzel I've ever seen.

Named one of the best bars in the world.  They haven't had a guy on the piano since January so that was a little disappointing, but the Sazerac was anything but.

Lance and I got cheesy one night. This is meant to be like a 50s supper club. Lots of mango  in the dining room and I'm not talking about the fruit. We had fine steaks, split a bottle of wine, and took in the live entertainment that's on stage every night of the week.  It's not for everyone, and I m not quite sure it was for us, but we felt a lot better about ourselves the next day. Also- the proprietor's claim to fame is that he paraded OJ Simpson around the bar (in town for the Derby in 2007), and then when it came time for Simpson to dine- he refused to serve him.

4th St . Live
This is similar to Xfinity Live -it's like a mall of bars.  We went to the Dueling piano bar, "Howl at the Moon."  Admittedly we waited in a small line AND paid $7 to get in. We were the only people there that weren't at a wedding or bachelor party.  I requested Bruce Springsteen and I didn't make the cut. The dueling piano players were talented and were joined by drums and guitar so it was like a full band. I drank Sierra Nevada while Lance sipped on bourbon. I was impressed but what's up with piano players and live karaoke bands never wanting to play Bruce?
The Dueling Pianos "band" at Howl at the Moon

This was recommended to us by a few people. Probably one of my favorite spots of the trip. Your bartender splits time between talking bourbon and playing records. I had the Best shrimp and grits of my life. 
Kentucky is all about superlatives: Oldest, best, most authentic..... so I felt that I should join in the ranking system. Most importantly-your hangover dissipates with the Mexican Coca-cola. Oddly, we didn't have one mint julep in Derby town, but we DID have Moscow Mules;)  This is in the Irish Hill- perhaps a cab ride is you are staying downtown.

Dining Room at the Silver Dollar. Back Patio too.
Photo Credit: Lance Romance
Nothing says vacation (other than a mint julep)  like a moscow mule. 

World's greatest hang-over curing Shrimp and Grits

Sergios is actually ranked in the top 10 beers spots in the WORLD.  It's on Story ave -a short walk from "The Silver Dollar." Sergio is from Brazil, his sous chef is from Mexico- so the menu is rather diverse.
But not as diverse as the beers. Sergio was there (I think he's always there-although he's quite the family man) and he noticed how I "walked the room"- he commented - "you didn't look in all of them. There's more. There's this one and that one." Just when you thought you had opened every fridge- there was one more.
We had a great chat with Sergio and had some industry friends in common. And we became facebook friends before I left. It's the perfect place to lose an afternoon and drink beers you've never heard of.
I was happy to see a bunch of Three Floyds there and smuggled two back in my suit case.
But guests are encouraged to take in the ambiance and have them there vs purchasing them for take-out.  I met some Allagash fans there and Sergio was even inspired to open a 2010 bottle of Fluxus (imperial stout.)
There are no TVs, there is no music. There's just your new drinking buddy for the afternoon. Mine was from Canada.
Sandwiched between Sergio and Lance

As I previously mentioned we were told to come here. We were told that the owner Andrew had fair prices on Pappy and it was a local's favorite.  We walked from SERGIOS to get there just about a mile. And we walked that mile to a locked door. Bar stools up. But a light on, and a warm smile that greeted us from the barkeep side.  He came around and opened the door. I told him that we were sent there for bourbon but it appeared that he was closed. He replied "I am closed, but I can still pour you a bourbon."  With that he took down two chairs and we started to chat.  He placed two settings in front of us, and offered to make dinner as thought we were famished and fatigued from our mile journey. I was still thinking about those shrimp and grits so we weren't hungry for anything but conversation, but he would hear none of it. Brie Salads and Pasta dishes were en route. He talked to us about his world travels trying to keep up with ol' Gulliver.
We signed his book and it was time to close up shop for real. He suggested that we go to the Nach bar (2nd time that day we received those visiting orders) but it was too far of a walk so he would just have to take us.

This bar rocked figuratively and literally. The decor was straight out of my parents house in 1978. Wood Paneling, Olive green upholstery, owl lamps. The bartenders were very 2012. They were hipper than a stetson man but just as hunky. (Sorry Lance) An Oompa band took the stage out back and played for a yard that was 75% filled on a Sunday night. No food but awesome beer. They have a sister restaurant with German food a block away. **This is also Lew Bryson's favorite bar in Louisville.
NACHBAR! in their Germantown

Nachbar backyard concert

Same operators of PROOF at 21c opened this bar in the last couple of months.  There's ping Pong, and landscaped seating. There's craft beer and apparently it's one of the best spots in town. We only walked by en route to Please and Thank you.
Garage Bar

This is the sister bar of  the Franklin Mortgage crew. Just opened this Spring. We thought we would save the best for last and end our trip there. But we got there at 11 pm on a Sunday night and they already called last call. Not from Philly or from Philly didn't matter you weren't getting in- so I can't comment on it ;( Next time.

This was a pleasant surprise. We wanted breakfast on the way to the airport and this was two blocks from our hotel.  They serve their version of the town dish, "Hot Brown" there.  Service is quite friendly. The menu pays tribute to all their regulars.  Their Derby Pie is a must try. Then off to the SDF you go.
Dish's take on the "Hot Brown" creamy dreamy calorie laden skillet

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