The spirit of Louisville is bourbon, and Louisvillians will judge you (harshly, if necessary) both by your favorite bottle, and whether you think Early Times is bourbon (it’s not). They make it, they drink it, and they have some of the best bars to drink it in. But finally, The 'Ville's culinary star is also on an upward trajectory, with signature restaurants and new, world-class hotspots to match their 'tail scene. Here is where Louisville residents are indulging in their own local favorites, and, if you find yourself needing even more, head to Thrillist Louisville for hot openings and the rest of our longtime favorites.
Where the locals eat and drink in Louisville
Why you're here: Award-winning 'tails (their bar is on our best bourbon bars picks, too!) and signature plates, like charred octopus.
What you're getting: Proof on Main changed the culinary landscape of Louisville the moment it opened its doors in 2006. Located within the 21c Museum Hotel, the museum galleries spill into the dining room where rotating contemporary art exhibitions offer the perfect setting to enjoy the carefully curated dishes turned out by chef Levon Wallace and his team.
Why you're here: An old-school example of fine dining in Louisville and classic dishes, like their beef filet with prosciutto & asparagus.
What you're getting: Established way back in 1933, Jack Fry's has been a long-standing staple of the Louisville fine-dining scene. Southern flavors are showcased using classical French techniques and the atmosphere is always buzzy. The slew of photos lining the walls leaves no doubt that you are in horse country, and it's the go-to for an authentic Louisville dining experience.
Why you're here: Barbecue, beer, and bourbon in a totally laid-back, local-approved atmosphere.
What you're getting: You can smell the Frankfort Avenue Beer Depot long before you reach its doors, and that isn't a bad thing. Two large smokers use the low-and-slow method to grill up some of the very best barbecue in town. Plus? You get cornhole and makeshift mini-golf out back, with cold beer and bourbon never more than a few feet away.
Why you're here: A chef's choice meal
What you're getting: Tucked into a quiet corner of the Old Louisville neighborhood, 610 Magnolia is intimate and tailor-made for special occasions. Louisville's only restaurant with an exclusive and ever-changing prix fixe menu, chef Edward Lee has garnered national attention for the refined nature of his restaurant and for his celebration of the bounty of the Bluegrass.
Why you're here: Unexpectedly amazing signatures, like tok-sel lima beans
What you're getting: The Mayan Cafe stood at the helm of East Market Street long before the NuLu neighborhood captured national attention for its wealth of local eats. A pioneer in Louisville's farm-to-table movement, chef Bruce Ucán cooks seasonally, crafting dishes inspired by his Mayan heritage.
Why you're here: They'll do justice to whatever your favorite steak is
What you're getting: Pat's opened over 50 years ago on Brownsboro Road and pretty quickly established itself as Louisville's signature steakhouse. But it's not all about the cow cuts at this old-fashioned restaurant. Frog legs and pan-fried oysters are up for offer and they are as well-known for their variety of side dishes, all served family-style, as they are for their aged, hand-cut beef.
Why you're here: Locally sourced Southern plates, like fried chicken
What you're getting: Chef Kathy Cary more or less introduced locavore-style, farm-fresh, and locally grown food to Louisville's palate years ago, and continues the tradition today with the Southern-inspired and authentically Bluegrass offerings on her menu.
Why you're here: Their famous Derby sandwich, eaten a stone's throw away from Churchill Downs.
What you're getting: Wagner's has been serving up breakfast and lunch to the who's who of the equine world since 1922. The food is simple, homemade, and hearty, and if you're visiting the tracks, it's practically illegal not to drop in.
Why you're here: Glowing ping-pong tables, AstroTurf-covered places to perch, and the fact that it actually is a renovated garage.
What you're getting: The drinks are delicious, and include 25 craft beers, cocktails like their jalapeño/absinthe High Heat, and a modest 30+ bourbons/ryes. To cap it all off, they have a wood-fired pizza oven, for goodness creatively topped with ingredients like walnuts, shaved Brussels sprouts, and sweet corn.
Why you're here: It's one of the swankiest joints in town, but is awesomely/terribly located right beside a strip club.
What you're getting: The floor is tiled with shiny copper pennies offset by a white marble bar, and the cocktail list features house originals that each trace their origins back to a classic cocktail; the High Pant (Old Fitzgerald, fernet, ginger, orange, bitters) for instance, traces its genesis to the Old Fashioned.
Why you're here: El Camino is trying its hardest to make Tiki drinks the second-favorite type of cocktail in the bourbon state.
What you're getting: The drink menu is loaded with twists on traditionals like a Mai Tai or a daiquiri, as well as large-style punch bowls, and their beers appropriately lean toward the SoCal direction, too. It’s the closest thing you can find to a surf beach in Kentucky, and it’s one of the best new bars not just in The ‘Ville, but in the country, too.
Why you're here: It's located in a renovated Unitarian church in the Highlands, and it’s practically a temple to craft beer.
What you're getting: Their draft menu and beer list change almost daily, but there are at least 20 excellent, rare, and interesting beers on tap at any time. There’s a choir loft available for additional seating or event space, and a gorgeous garden behind the church that connects to the associated coffee house: Gralehaus. It’s your one-stop shop for dinner, drinks, and hangover cures!
Why you're here: The bar games you'd expect at a local haunt, plus a magnificent food menu.
What you're getting: Hilltop's booze is impressive (vodka infusions rotate seasonally, a cocktail list stays on-trend, and there’s a solid list of draft beers), and it’s affordable: a (well) bourbon and Coke at this joint will set you back a mere $3. They also have a ping-pong table, board games, foosball & more, and the food on their menu is home-cooked, bourbon syrup-drizzled, and mouthwatering (pulled pork tacos? Yep. Smoked PBR chicken? Yep.).
Why you're here: A good outdoor area, a great beer selection, and inexpensive drinks.
What you're getting: Nach Bar is a well-kept Germantown secret. On the surface, it’s just your run-of-the-mill neighborhood bar, but some would say Nach Bar is the soul of young Louisville’s music-loving, sort-of-hipster, just-wanna-hang-out-somewhere-tonight youth. They embrace their dive-ier aspects, and they do it well.
Why you're here: Live music with a funky-fun atmosphere
What you're getting: Haymarket Whiskey Bar more than earns its brown booze credentials thanks to more than 100 bourbons and almost 200 whiskeys thrown on top of that -- as well as putting on live music four-plus nights a week. Visit for the décor alone: '80s memorabilia, Star Wars posters, old pinball machines, and a frankly gorgeous green glass bar.
Why you're here: They have their own bourbon.
What you're getting: Down One’s bourbon list is so large, it's divided into eras (Pre-Prohibition, Post-Prohibition, and Modern), all of which find their way onto the cocktail menu. And you'll even find a Manhattan made with their own Down One Single Barrel bourbon; a proprietary bottling of 10-year-old Knob Creek, and a sure sign a bar is taking its bourbon seriously.
Why you're here: Bourbon flights
What you're getting: Set in a building that dates back to 1877 (that's more than 130 years), Bistro's truly world-class selection boasts over 130 bottles, many of which can be sampled via their amazing flights -- the “Traditional”, for instance, hits you with Jim Beam White Label, Wild Turkey, and Ancient Age; while the “Wheated” lines up Old Fitzgerald Prime, Weller Special Antique, and Maker’s Mark.
Why you're here: A one-stop cultural & culinary exploration of Louisville
What you're getting: The 21c Museum/Hotel and the attached Proof on Main restaurant are upscale bastions of modern art and culture in Louisville. Proof Bar -- sandwiched between the two -- has an incredible bourbon selection, including some numbers bottled exclusively for Proof on Main. Also? The attached museum is open 24 hours a day, and the cocktail menu is regularly updated with new drinks inspired by the artwork.
Why you're here: A night of sipping bourbon Prohibition-style
What you're getting: Drinking at the Old Seelbach Bar feels like stepping into a scene from The Great Gatsby (the good one), which is fitting since the Seelbach Hotel literally served as inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. The Seelbach’s signature cocktail is an appropriately decadent bourbon & Champagne combo, but you'll also find dozens of rare numbers available by the glass.
Why you're here: Cocktails at Louisville's most genuine honky tonk
What you're getting: Located in a renovated firehouse (they even kept the pole), The Silver Dollar serves amazing bourbon cocktails like the standout Gold Rush (made simply with lemon, Old Fitzgerald, and honey) while spinning Merle Haggard, and generally making you feel like you just finished a shift at the ranch.
Why you're here: Full-on bourbon saturation... from the butter to your drink.
What you're getting: Louisville’s Marriott East is a bourbon-themed hotel, and their bar and restaurant, Charr’d, has bourbon barbecue sauce, bourbon butter, bourbon-smoked wings, a bourbon-marinated portobello sandwich... the list goes on. Oh, and there's 130+ liquid bourbon choices.
Why you're here: To drink bourbon in the 19th-century warehouses that once housed bourbon barrels from 19 distilleries.
What you're getting: The only establishment on this list with the distinction of being located on Whiskey Row, Doc Crow’s serves down-home Southern fare, raw oysters, and a wide selection of whiskey and bourbon. They also make excellent mint julep lemonade, and carry bourbon barrel-aged beers to boot.
1. Proof on Main702 W Main St, Louisville
2. Jack Fry's1007 Bardstown Rd, Louisville
3. Lilly's Bistro1147 Bardstown Rd, Louisville
4. Pat's Steakhouse2437 Brownsboro Rd, Louisville
5. Wagner's Pharmacy3113 S 4th St, Louisville
6. 610 Magnolia610 W Magnolia Ave, Louisville
7. Frankfort Avenue Beer Depot3204 Frankfort Ave, Louisville
8. Mayan Café813 E Market St, Louisville
9. Nach Bar969 Charles St, Louisville
10. Holy Grale1034 Bardstown Rd, Louisville
11. El Camino1314 Bardstown Rd, Louisville
12. Hilltop Tavern1800 Frankfort Ave, Louisville
13. Meta425 W Chestnut St, Louisville
14. Garage Bar700 E Market St, Louisville
15. Haymarket Whiskey Bar331 E Market St, Louisville
16. The Silver Dollar1761 Frankfort Ave, Louisville
17. Bourbons Bistro2255 Frankfort Ave, Louisville
18. The Old Seelbach Bar500 S 4th St, Louisville
19. Down One Bourbon Bar & Restaurant321 W Main St, Louisville
20. Charr'd Bourbon Kitchen and Lounge1903 Embassy Square Blvd, Louisville
21. Doc Crow's Southern Smokehouse & Raw Bar127 W Main St, Louisville
Located in The 21c Museum Hotel Louisville, a boutique hotel and art museum, Proof on Main serves up gourmet meals from Chef Levon Wallace, including a unique and scrumptious burger made out of bison and topped with a Jezebel sauce that gives it a fruity, earthy flavor, plus Tillamook cheddar and applewood-smoked bacon. You'll want to throw in a side of the crispy cauliflower, and top it all off with the s'mores dessert. This trendy spot houses the Proof Bar, too, which offers an enormous bourbon list (we're talking upwards of 50 varieties).
Established in 1933, Jack Fry's has been a long-standing staple of the Louisville fine-dining scene. This Highlands resto features Southern flavors that are showcased using classical French techniques and the atmosphere is always buzzy.
Located in the heart of the Highlands, Lilly's is a go-to spot for celebrations. Chef Kathy Cary introduced farm-fresh and locally grown food to Louisville's palate years ago and continues the tradition today with the Southern-inspired offerings on her menu.
This old-school, classic steakhouse in Clifton opened more than 50 years ago, and has continued to draw customers in with its white-glove service and quality cuts of meat. Alongside New York strip and porterhouse t-bone, Pat's also offers non-beef entrees, like frog legs and pan-fried oysters, a decent selection of wine, and homestyle desserts.
Located just outside Churchill Downs, the pharmacy/general store opened in 1922 and branched into a cafe to gain the business and friendship of the racetrack workers and horse trainers. You’ll get plenty of history with your huge and cheap breakfast plate (go for sausage & eggs with biscuits and potatoes), and you might also overhear a tip before placing your bet for the day.
Tucked into a quiet corner of the Old Louisville neighborhood, 610 Magnolia features an always-changing prix fixe menu filled with delicious bites created by Chef Edward Lee.
You can smell the Frankfort Avenue Beer Depot long before you reach it's doors and that isn't a bad thing. Two large smokers use the low and slow method to grill up some of the very best barbecue in town. Frankford Avenue also features a large selection of cold beer (duh) and there's even a mini-golf course out back. What are you waiting for?
Chef Bruce Ucán heads up Mayan Cafe, a beloved veteran restaurant in NuLu, infusing the traditional flavors of his Yucatan heritage into every beautiful plate on the menu -- from the signature tok-sel lima beans to the Mayan Burger, a grass-fed beef patty topped with chili aioli, greens, pickled onions, mozzarella cheese, and tomatoes, and (best of all) served on a warm pretzel bun.
On the surface, this Germantown drinkery just your run-of-the-mill, neighborhood bar with a good outdoor area (and it’s dog-friendly!), a great beer selection, and inexpensive drinks. But some would say Nach Bar is the soul of young Louisville’s music-loving, sort-of-hipster, just-wanna-hang-out-somewhere-tonight youth.
This converted century-old church now works full-service as an artisanal pub specializing in beer and food pairings. The space is equal parts ingenious adaptation and gorgeous design and the menu is always changing, as are the beers. Be sure not to miss the choir loft and the beer garden, and if the Scotch quail eggs are on the menu, order them immediately.
Tequila might never be the most popular spirit in The 'Ville, but El Camino is certainly making it a runner-up. The drink menu here is “artisan Tiki” offering both twists on traditional options like a Mai Tai or a daiquiri, and more traditional libations like bowls of punch that you should definitely not try to drink by yourself. And whoever said honky-tonks don't deliver on food hasn't checked out El Camino's list of Mexican eats, which includes savory creations like grilled petite filete with cotija, and a pan roasted salmon with grilled pear.
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.
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.
Especially in the warmer months, this renovated garage in the trendy NuLu area is a must-visit. Glowing ping pong tables, Astroturf-covered places to perch, and a consistently ultra-hip crowd make this bar the go-to destination for sticky, hot nights in The ‘Ville. Garage Bar uses local veggies and cured meats to top its pizzas, which bake in a blistering wood-fired brick oven. Be sure to order a tasting platter from the ham bar (yes, it has a bar dedicated to ham) to pair with your pie. It’s got a pretty extensive beer list, too.
Haymarket Whiskey Bar has more than 100 bourbons and almost 200 whiskeys, as well as live music four-plus nights a week. If the extensive liquor selection isn't enticing enough, visit for the décor alone: '80s memorabilia, Star Wars posters, old pinball machines, and a gorgeous green glass bar.
Perched inside a former firehouse, the redbrick Kentucky whiskey temple merges fine food, old-school country records, and craft cocktails. Their six-page spirit menu is laden with (obviously) a huge list of bourbons, which are sorted by distillery, plus moonshine, rye, and seasoned bourbon -- all from the Bluegrass State.
Bourbons has a truly world-class selection, and offers amazing bourbon flights: like the “Traditional” flight with Jim Beam White Label, Wild Turkey, and Ancient Age; or the “Wheated” flight with Old Fitzgerald Prime, Weller Special Antique, and Maker’s Mark.
Drinking at the Old Seelbach Bar feels like stepping into a scene from The Great Gatsby; which is fitting since the Seelbach Hotel served as inspiration for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. The Seelbach’s signature cocktail features bourbon and Champagne, an uncommon but deliciously fizzy combination.
Down One’s bourbon list is so large it is divided into eras: Pre-Prohibition, Post-Prohibition, and Modern. And their “Get Splashed” wall is the perfect photo opportunity for the bourbon lover.
Louisville’s Marriott East is a bourbon-themed hotel, and their bar and restaurant, Charr’d, has bourbon barbecue sauce, bourbon butter, bourbon-smoked wings, a bourbon-marinated Portobello sandwich... the list goes on. Naturally, a great bourbon and cocktail list accompanies this menu.
Located on the famous Whiskey Row, Doc Crow’s serves down-home Southern fare, raw oysters, and a wide selection of whiskey and bourbon, and they also make excellent mint julep lemonade, and carry bourbon-barrel-aged beers.