One of Louisville’s biggest draws is its rich history, soaked with tales of bourbon business, explorers Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, Underground Railroad stops, and Gatsby-esque grandeur. With such rich history comes some shadowy stories, however, like those that surround the infamously haunted Waverly Hills Sanitorium. You don’t have to go far to find a good ghost story in Louisville -- you may just find one at your local bar.
So elegant that it served as inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, the Seelbach has a long history that’s left room for a ghost story or two. The most famous is the Lady in Blue, a specter in a blue dress thought to be the ghost of Patricia Wilson, a woman who died in the hotel after finding that her estranged husband was killed in a car accident on his way to make amends with her at the hotel. She was found at the bottom of the elevator shaft in July 1936, but it is unknown whether she ended up there through suicide, accident... or worse. She makes herself known by the sound of footsteps, the scent of her floral perfume, and the feeling of cold spots throughout the hotel. Though she favors the eighth floor, she’s been spotted throughout the building. Sit in the Seelbach’s bar, and you may feel her pass by on her way to the mezzanine.
The bar at The Brown Hotel sits in a building with a history that goes all the way back to 1923. Since then, ghost stories have floated around, most prominently of the hotel’s namesake, J. Graham Brown. The hotel paused operations after Brown’s death in 1969, resuming a decade later. Since then, mysterious occurrences have led visitors to believe that Brown is still occupying his 15th floor suite -- the elevator makes mysterious stops on the floor, and guests on the 14th floor can sometimes hear footsteps and furniture being pushed around. Brown can also be spotted in the mezzanine and other parts of the hotel, leaving behind the telltale smell of cigars.
Meta’s resident ghost takes the form of a former dancer from the next-door Show-n-Tell Lounge. Her nude image was painted on the wall inside the building, and was moved into an office after the bar opened. She used to like to come and sit with her painting… until a customer of the strip club killed her. The bar’s owners have reported feelings of unease, which might be explained by the fact that they’ve also claimed to see a woman walk through into the back hallway -- even though no one else was around. After a search, they still couldn’t discover anyone living.
Housed in one of the oldest firehouses in the country, the former Hook and Ladder No. 3 is host to a ghost named Kevin. Kevin died in a fire and, as is customary, was brought back to the station before his funeral... except Kevin was mistakenly taken to the wrong station. Now, he seems to like to hang around The Silver Dollar, and has been known to play small pranks on the employees.
Catty-corner to The Silver Dollar, Hilltop Tavern is another famously haunted local spot. Behind the bar, you’ll see tons of toys and figurines -- which have been placed there for a reason. It seems that there used to be some mysterious happenings (objects moving with no explanation, glasses breaking), attributed to some ghostly activity. When the owners put up the toys, it seemed to appease the ghosts, keeping them happy and harmless. The toys have stayed up ever since.
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Opened in 1907, The Oakroom has grown to become a beacon of fine dining in Downtown Kentucky, housed within the stately Seelbach Hotel, which has played host to eight U.S. presidents ranging from Taft to Clinton. Traditional American cuisine is the focus, with spoonfish caviar from Kentucky waters and Kentucky-raised rack of lamb illustrating the emphasis on homegrown ingredients. Originally a billiards room, the venue epitomizes the old boys’ club aesthetic, with oak wall paneling, upholstered armchairs, and “secret” doors that serve as passageways out of the hotel. The staff here know their stuff, so you shouldn’t be surprised to find that a third-generation Oakroom bartender is pouring your bourbon.
Louisville’s iconic sandwich, the Hot Brown, had its cheesy, glorious birth back in the ‘20s at The Brown Hotel, when Chef Fred K. Schmidt created the turkey-bacon-Mornay sandwich as a midnight snack for hotel patrons. Check out the glamorous Lobby Bar, which has a wide variety of bourbon and serves up excellent cocktails. Sip on the bar’s classic Mint Julep as you make yourself at home on one of the brocade silk couches, all while the hotel pianist performs for you.
Meta is a wonderful world of contrasts -- a marble-barred, copper-penny-floored temple of swank drinking lodged next to a strip club. But it’s not just bravado and balls that make Meta the best damn cocktail bar in a city that was doing craft cocktails long before they were trendy. The signatures are all grounded in tradition, but with a nice kick in the knickers. Take, for example, The High Pant, which augments some Old Fitzgerald with fernet and ginger to transform the Old Fashioned into something completely new. And hey, with cocktails this good, that strip club next door just keeps getting less lurid by the sip.
If it’s too loud... you’re at the right place. The Silver Dollar (located in a renovated firehouse) is known for loud honky-tonk and whiskey by the drink, and the Christmas lights décor extends to the back patio. Johnny Cash, Four Roses neat, and warm breeze -- nothing but a perfect year-round combination.
If you really want to hang out with locals, do so without ostentation at Hilltop Tavern, which has a ping pong table, a stack of board games, foosball, and pretty much everything you would expect from a local haunt. It doesn't hurt that their cuisine is a home-cooked, bourbon-syrup drizzled, and mouthwatering selection of American classics. Check out this friendly spot's Facebook page to get a sense of their changing daily specials.