By Belinda Cai
If there’s one city in Kentucky that’s ideal for artsy young people looking for community, foodies, tourists and families alike it’s Louisville. And the bonus is nothing is much more than 10 to 20 minutes away from anything else, though it is the largest city in the state with about 600,000 residents.
Louisville borders the Ohio River with Indiana as its neighbor to the north. The city has both an urban, metropolitan feel and that small-town local charm, replete with bars, restaurants, cafes, venues, museums, parks and cozy spots for any day of the week.
Downtown and Nearby
This is, of course, the first spot tourists and new residents may
check out—the lively and bustling downtown area. In Louisville downtown may be best known commercially for its nightlife. Fourth Street Live! is the Las Vegas strip, of sorts, of Louisville and what may be first noticed by out-of-towners. It’s a restaurant that features live music, sometimes outdoors where all the lights and crowds are.
Some popular bars in that area include Howl at the Moon, META and Proof on Main. An entertaining and unique spot is Haymarket, which is a whiskey bar and bottle shop but has a more dive bar/speakeasy feel. It often features local and touring bands playing live music.
A new spot, Garage Bar, has been widely popular and continues gaining more and more attention. It’s technically in the downtown area, but more specifically located in “New Louisville” or “NuLu,” which is a little east of downtown. Lauren Titus is the general manager of Garage Bar and has been a long-time resident of Louisville.
“[Garage Bar’s] ambience has a little bit of whimsy and
nostalgia. There’s outdoor, sculptured seating where people can relax. There are Ping-Pong tables outside made from crushed cars, with our theme of being in a former automotive garage,” she says. “It’s a place to have a really casual hang-out session. Inside we have a dining area with a more formal sit-down area. The food and some of the drinks are farm-to-table. We try to cater to all ages and diverse types of guests.”
Titus describes the NuLu District, formally known as the East Market Gallery District, as a place for art lovers and local, independent businesses.
“So we like to be a part of that community,” she explains. “It’s a little edgier and more forward thinking [than the main parts of downtown], and very much locally based; it’s not like the chain restaurants.”
Titus says that in the past 20 years downtown Louisville has become much more vibrant and welcoming to locals and tourists. A 21c hotel that opened on Seventh and Main Street helped bring attention to the downtown area and is keeping with the whole theme of the art happening in NuLu.
Germantown + Headliners Music Hall
Southeast of downtown, Germantown is the place for arts, music and culture. There are various bars that are also music venues, hosting both local and touring acts on a regular basis. Popular ones include Kaiju, Nachbar, Zanzabar—which has an arcade in it—and The New Vintage.
“It’s residential and very affordable to live there,” Titus says. “The businesses are easily supported by those who live there and it maintains that neighborhood feel. Germantown has a new influx of young people because of the affordability. There are so many amazing restaurants and bars.”
She says the music scene is largely what draws these people in, but many of the spaces are just nice for locals to hang out in. A bar like Nachbar has been a community staple, but is not something a tourist would necessarily stumble upon.
“You kind of have to know where you’re going,” says Titus. “We send people [to Germantown] if they want to know what life is really like in Louisville in the 21-31 age demographic.”
As far as food goes The Post is a fun pizza joint and Lydia House serves some really good brunch (including vegan options), Eiderdown has delicious German food for which the neighborhood is known and Kashmir Indian restaurant has great options, both meat and vegetarian/vegan.
And while not located in Germantown, but rather near Clifton in an area technically known as Irish Hill, Headliners Music Hall is the place to go for mid-sized to larger touring acts. For instance, artists like Neko Case and Dinosaur Jr. played in March. It also hosts programs like The Moth Story Slam, where guests can go on stage and tell stories in an open-mic setting.
East of downtown, Clifton is a homey neighborhood that’s named after its hilliness; some of them are steep so proceed
with caution in the wintertime. With Victorian houses left and right, this antiquated-feeling neighborhood is full of boutiques and warm spots for food and drink. Some popular bars are Hilltop Tavern, The Silver Dollar, The Bard’s Town, Crescent Hill Craft House and Barcode 1758.
Popular dining spots are the excellent Sunday brunch place The Silver Dollar, Mediterranean hideaway The Grape Leaf, Mexican eatery El Mundo, Nancy’s Bagels and Japanese and sushi restaurant Osaka.
“Frankfort Avenue and St. Matthews toward Clifton have always been a little bit upscale in some parts with nice boutique shops and fine-dining restaurants,” Titus explains. “But toward Clifton it’s more independently owned. Guestroom Records is in that area, for example. It’s another sort of place that has a neighborhood vibe to it but there are more offerings there for larger swaths of the population. There are both upscale and affordable things. There is still that focus on things being unique and Louisville-based.”
Some relaxing cafes in the Clifton area include Sweet Surrender Dessert Café, Café Aroma, Please and Thank You, Four Sisters, VINT and North End Café. Other hidden treasures include aforementioned Guestroom Records, the antique store Jerry’s Junk and Carmichael’s Bookstore.
Parks and Nature Locations
Cherokee Park, The Walking Bridge, Willow Park, Louisville Waterfront Park, Locust Grove and Iroquois Park are just a few of the outdoor offerings Louisville has for nature lovers and those who want to spend some time getting sun and fresh air. The parks are great for a daytime hike or dog walk and the Walking Bridge allows you to overlook the city and catch a glimpse of Indiana.
“The Louisville ramp [of the Walking Bridge] is a quarter mile, the bridge is half a mile and the Jeffersonville ramp is another quarter mile. This is a total of one mile,” says Titus, who notes that the bridge is off-limits for cars. “They have music playing across the bridge through speakers sometimes. They also have little stops along the bridge that have information on Louisville.”
For a more hidden locale Iroquois Park is a secluded park located at 2120 Rundill Road on the edge of the city. The park allows you to hike up to the tallest point in the city where you can have a picnic, relax and have a view of all of Louisville.
For more places to explore visit midwesterntraveler.com.