This is What You Do if You Have 24 Hours to Live in Louisville
The rules: you’ve got 24 hours to take in the essence of Louisville’s greatness, including its landmark-worthy food & drink, you get one hour at each stop, and then you have to die because, hey, it's in the headline, man (we're kidding please don't die). Are you up to the all-day and all-night challenge? Because forget everything you thought you knew about Kentucky -- Louisville is about to blow your mind, one hour at a time.
12am: Magnolia Bar & Grill
There is no better dive to commence your 24-hour Louisville binge at than Mag Bar, where all true Louisvillians have a story -- and you'll be no different, as you make a memory in this gritty, border-line grimy but totally lovable Louisville legend. Prepare to play pinball or pool to the local sounds of a variety of home-grown music like instrumental indie rock band Tracers, as well as regional acts such as the pop punk band with a name so simplistically beautiful you'll be mad you didn't think of it first: The Razor Ramones.
1am: Against the Grain
A quick ride through the Victorian-home-lined-streets of Old Louisville and you’re in the heart of the downtown district. Parched, you head straight for Against the Grain Brewery. With the addition of a massive off-site brewing facility last year, ATG virtually tripled their production (we’re talking nearly 8,000 barrels of beer), taking Kentucky beer to parts previously unknown, both national and international, and solidifying themselves as the driving force behind Louisville’s rapidly growing beer scene. ATG is building a beer empire and you can’t truly experience this city without tasting their suds. Enjoy one of their ever-changing, irreverently named brews on their Main Street facing patio or at the long communal bar table inside, overlooking the brewing tanks.
A short stroll around the block brings you to Haymarket Whiskey Bar, known for its extensive collection of bourbon and whiskey, the largest in the city (and that's not an idle boast in a state like Kentucky) with over 150 on hand, in fact. Sip on some of Kentucky’s greatest gift to the world and take in the particularly unique setting of this century old building, complete with photo booth and beer vending machine, and enjoy the sounds of Haymarket, which plays regular host to punk rock bands.
3am: Stevie Ray’s
Next up is a drop-in at Stevie Ray’s, Louisville’s requisite blues bar, where the music is always on, the drinks flow freely, and the people watching is as good as it gets, with an eclectic mix of leather-clad motorcycle enthusiasts, dancing cougars, and a sprinkling of 20-somethings, for good measure.
4am: White Castle
With four solid hours of hard living under your belt, it’s time for some sustenance. Luckily a White Castle is just around the corner from Stevie Ray’s and caters handily to the late-night Louisville bar scene and to your very specific mission. Why? Because this location is open 24 hours a freakin' day. And in those 24 hours it's whipping out every single item on the menu, breakfast included. It's understandable if you're feeling overwhelmed with so many options, so here's a cheat sheet.
5am: Museum Tour at 21c
Fortified for the moment, make your way six blocks up Main Street to 21c Museum Hotel, which is open 24-7-365, no admission fee required. You didn't think we'd let you get away without a little culture, did you? Regularly voted one of the top hotels in the country, this boutique is randomly and awesomely home to a world-class contemporary art museum. The exhibitions rotate regularly and are a fantastic way to spend any hour of the day, particularly the ghostly hour of 5am. And make sure not to miss the men’s room: the urinal is conveniently located along a one-way mirror with views out into the lobby, meaning you can watch the hotel take care of business while you, er, also take care of business?
Time to wash down that culture with a classic diner breakfast. Hail a cab over to Barbara Lee’s, a 24-hour joint in the Crescent Hill neighborhood. As with Mag Bar, every local has a Barbara Lee’s story and this place has seen its fair share of local characters over the years (think third shift blue-collar workers, sleepless University of Louisville students, and the requisite Kentucky good ol' boy) who roll in primarily during the twilight hours, when only diner food and no questions will do.
7am: Quills Coffee
After pulling an all-nighter, diner coffee just isn’t going to cut it. Swing over to Louisville’s beloved Highlands neighborhood and drop into Quill’s, where they roast their own beans, make a mean espresso, and were recently crowned "Best Coffee House" at CoffeeFest in Chicago. Grab a second cup of your latte of choice to go and continue through the Highlands to…
8am: Walk/Nap in Cherokee Park
…Cherokee Park. Louisville’s crowning jewel of parks, Cherokee Park is a sprawling, wooded retreat in the heart of the Highlands. Sad that your one day won't include the wonders of cliché, must-visit cities like New York? Fret not, Cherokee was designed by none other than Frederick Law Olmstead, the man who created Central Park. Post up at the top of 'dog hill’ for the best view and spot to catch a crucial second wind.
Everyone wishes they would have read more before kicking the bucket, so make a pit stop at Carmichael’s, Louisville’s oldest independent bookstore. Browse the small, eclectic, and expertly curated library of books for sale and pickup a coffee from the local favorite Heine Brothers if you choose -- they’re right next door. Nod while making deep-thinking noises (Hrmmmmm) at the first five pages of your smartly chosen, lesser known David Foster Wallace novel before realizing you have a lot more eating and drinking to get to.
10am: Guitar Emporium
Just down the road from Carmichael’s you will find Guitar Emporium, home to a vast collection of new and vintage guitars, and host to an unbelievable list of clientele including Eric Clapton, ACDC, and The Rolling Stones. Strum around the store and take in the various autographed photos and album covers while you work up a taste for more…
11am: Evan Williams
... bourbon! Somehow you haven’t had a drink since nearly 4am. It’s time to correct this, just as soon as you take in a little bit of in-depth Kentucky bourbon history. After a quick taxi ride to Sixth and Main, you will find yourself on the front doorstep of the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, a downtown mini-distillery (yes, we have distilleries in the middle of our cities, eat it... everywhere else that doesn't have those) with an animated 45 minute tour that will walk you through how bourbon came to be in Kentucky and the unique practices used in making Evan Williams. Not to worry, there’s a tasting of their signature bourbons waiting for you at the end of the tour.
The lunch bell is ringing so head out of downtown toward Churchill Downs, there you will find a small pharmacy/diner called Wagner’s, where horsemen and racing fanatics have been dining since 1922. Select a sandwich and then buy yourself some jockey gear. Yes, Wagner's has a full supply of jockey duds ready for purchase, and a house-made "Racehorse Liniment" which is "useful in the field of superficial irritation"... we have no idea if it's meant for horses or people, but might as well rub some of it on now.
1pm: Churchill Downs
Rock your new gear to Churchill and see if anyone will let you on a horse... they won't, but you can’t pay a visit to Louisville without betting on the ponies. Races not in season? Not to worry. Head next door to the Kentucky Derby Museum, where there’s a 360-degree video that will make you feel as if you are a part of the action (especially in your cute jockey outfit... you're never taking it off).
2pm: Copper & Kings
With a fair dose of Kentucky history on hand, it’s time to check out one of the greatest new additions to Louisville, the Copper & Kings brandy distillery. Swing over to Butchertown where this highly modern distillery is operating to the beat of their own drum, literally. Touring through the barrels, you’ll find subwoofers blasting a variety of rock and roll directly at the aging brandy, in the belief that the vibrations will result in a better liquor. Enjoy the tour, which ends with a brandy and absinthe tasting on their rooftop deck that offers sweeping views of the Louisville skyline.
3pm: Muhammad Ali Center
The Greatest himself, Muhammad Ali, was born and raised in Louisville. Walk through his remarkable life as both a boxer and an activist at the Muhammad Ali Center. Don’t miss the hands-on installations, where you can take a turn sparing with Ali in the virtual boxing ring, and find yourself face-to-face with Ali’s shadow, fists up, ready to float like a butterfly and sting like a bee (spoiler alert, you’ll lose).
4pm: Slugger Museum
Keeping with the sporting theme, walk two blocks west to the Louisville Slugger Museum (you can’t miss it -- just keep your eye out for the HUGE bat). Take a spin through the factory, the only place in America where you can watch the official bat of the MLB being made.
5pm: Ping Pong and Pizza and Oysters at Garage Bar
It’s happy hour! Garage Bar is located on the east end of downtown in the relatively new and insanely popular NuLu neighborhood. Known for its wood-fired pizzas and extensive beer list, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better place to simply hang in town than on their expansive patio, which features astroturf-covered benches and ping pong tables. Order a pie and a dozen oysters to share while you compete in your own mini table-tennis tournament (allowing for plenty of beer-sipping breaks, of course).
6pm: Big Four Bridge
Waterfront Park Downtown
By now you’ve noticed that downtown Louisville sits directly on the banks of the Ohio River. Get a closer look with a walk through Waterfront Park and over the Big Four Bridge. Originally constructed as a railway crossing in 1895, the Big Four Bridge was updated and converted to a pedestrian-only skywalk, making it easy to stroll from state to state. If it happens to be a Wednesday, you may be lucky enough to catch one of the insanely popular free concerts the city puts on each summer, with the stage sitting directly below the bridge.
7pm: Holy Grale
Enough with the daytime tourist shtick, it’s time to for more food and drink. We’re back in the Highlands now, and worshiping the beer gods at the Holy Grale, a tomb dedicated to craft beer and gastropub fare, located in a restored 1905 church. Make sure not to miss the choir loft and the beer garden, and if the Scotch quail eggs are on the menu, order them immediately. If you're going to go out in a church, make sure it's one like this.
8pm: Martini at Jack Fry’s
It's time to add a touch of class to your final hours. Directly across the street from the Holy Grale you will find Jack Fry’s, a Louisville original since the '30s. Easily the hardest reservation to snag come Derby week, Jack Fry’s is home to some of Louisville’s very best fine dining; the walls of this small establishment are lined with horse racing paraphernalia and photos from days long ago. Make your way to the bar and order a martini. The setting demands it.
9pm: Dinner at Proof on Main
You've had a taste of the old for your final meal, now it's time for the new. Locals will tell you Proof on Main is one of, if not the, very best restaurants in the city. You simply can’t miss a meal here if you visit Louisville. Located within the 21c Museum Hotel (where you took that lovely 5am stroll) the culinary geniuses at Proof cook with ingredients sourced from their very own farm, adding as much local flavor into these artfully crafted dishes as possible. The pork chop is always a hit, and make sure to save room for the complimentary cotton candy that's delivered with your tab.
10pm: Cocktail at Meta
Bellies full, make your way to Meta, the intimate and clever cocktail bar located less than a mile from Proof, on the corner of Fifth and Chestnut Streets. The people of Meta are known to be a bit rebellious, making waves last year when they used their precious allotment of Pappy Van Winkle bourbon to make jello shots. In terms of craft cocktails, we’re partial to The High Pant, their take on a classic Old Fashioned and not how we wear our snug khakis.
11pm: Old Seelbach Bar
What better way to spend your final hour than in the place that inspired the immortal line: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." Find a seat at the Old Seelbach Bar, located in the Seelbach Hotel, where the infamous Al Capone used to play poker and gamble, and where, yes, F. Scott Fitzgerald found inspiration for The Great Gatsby. Order a bourbon -- preparation of your choosing -- and toast yourself for a day well lived. You’ve earned it.