Table of Contents
- Hotel Recommendation | The Brown Hotel
- 1. A Bourbon Distillery Tour
- 2. Visit Frankfort Avenue
- 3. Downtown Dining & Nightlife
Louisville is a city that keeps getting better.
With so much to see and do, you could easily spend more than a weekend in Louisville, Kentucky, but if a weekend is all you have, then here are a few tips for things to do in Louisville KY.
The Brown Hotel is my go-to favorite place to stay in Louisville KY. Here’s why:
◊ It is located in the heart of downtown Louisville at the corner of 4th and Broadway, within walking distance to most major attractions and restaurants.
◊ Classic elegance with stunning architectural detail in the Georgian-Revival style
◊ The Lobby Bar is an elegant cocktail in its own right, blending the refined with the relaxed and worth a visit whether you’re staying at the hotel or not. Order a bourbon, or a flight, or one of their stellar concoctions (the Manhattan gets my vote), and settle in to enjoy the live pianist churning out a wide variety of tunes.
◊ The English Grill–where the legendary “Hot Brown” was born. “In the 1920’s, The Brown Hotel drew over 1,200 guests each evening for its dinner dance. By the wee hours of the morning, guests would grow weary of dancing and make their way to the restaurant for a bite to eat. Sensing their desire for something more glamorous than traditional ham and eggs, Chef Fred Schmidt set out to create something new to tempt his guests’ palates. His unique dish? An open-faced turkey sandwich with bacon and a delicate Mornay sauce.” | TheBrownHotel.com
1. A Bourbon Distillery Tour
Kentucky is synonymous with bourbon (and, of course, the Derby and its show-stopping hats), so a trip to the heart of bourbon country isn’t complete without a tour of at least one of its many distilleries along the bourbon trail.
If you’re only in Louisville KY for a weekend, then you’re definitely not going to be able (or want) to cram in every bourbon distillery, so my suggestion is to pick a personal favorite bourbon brand (or two) or select an area (like Loretto/Bardstown or Frankfort/Versailles) and plan the bourbon distillery tours ahead of time.
Most basic tours are inexpensive and run fairly often, but for a more in-depth and smaller private tour experience, definitely go online to reserve/call ahead.
If you can only visit one Bourbon Distillery…
Located in Loretto, near historic Bardstown, the Maker’s Mark bourbon distillery is a little hard to find. Still, the scenery throughout the drive is dotted with green fields, horses, and farmhouses set back a distance from the road, outlined by shady groves of trees.
You go for the bourbon, but you’ll want to stay for the grounds. It’s a peaceful place to go for a stroll.
In addition to their regular, first-come-first-serve basic bourbon distillery tour, Maker’s Mark also offers specialty tours:
◊ Beyond the Mark
◊ Inside the Barrel
◊ Behind the Bar
◊ Heritage Tour
◊ Dinner at the Distillery
Distillery Tour Review: Beyond the Mark
“This unique, intimate bourbon experience will take you behind the scenes and into the inner workings of crafting the world’s finest bourbon. This exclusive tour (limited to 12 people or less) lasts 2 hours and includes stops not seen on the standard Maker’s Mark tour. The cost is $40 per person and includes a set of wax-dipped rocks glasses.
Reservations are required and all participants must be 21 years of age or older. This tour route includes extensive walking and climbing stairs. Comfortable clothing is recommended and closed-toe shoes are required.” | MakersMark.com
I rate this bourbon distillery tour a full 5 Stars. Having gone on the regular tour before and enjoyed it, I didn’t expect to get much more out of this upgraded experience. I was wrong.
First of all, since the group is limited to only 12 people, you can enter and view some of the more intimate areas of the Maker’s Mark distillery. The first stop is the fermentation and distillery building.
Not only do you get to see the massive containers of bubbling yellow mash in its varying stages of fermentation, but you also get to taste it if you like. It reminds me of sweet cornflake cereal with a slightly sour finish…
Up next is the “Big Dipper” portion of the tour. “Memorable” is putting the experience mildly.
Nestled in amongst the copper distilleries, you have the pleasure (or perhaps not, depending on your taste) to enjoy several tastings of “white dog”—the whiskey in its various early stages before barrel aging takes place.
A designated, long-handled dipper is reserved for this purpose. The guide fills it each time with the strong, clear liquor, and the dipper is passed from person to person.
Inevitably, there were various reactions, but everyone seemed to leave the building with slightly numb, happy faces and definitely a lighter spring in their step.
The tour continues along the brick-paved paths to the next destination: another charcoal gray house framed with red shutters where the focused blending and perfected tasting occur.
Without this crucial step in the distilling process, consistency in taste could not be achieved.
Next up is a visit to the rickhouse, a cool dark storing facility for the barrels where the aging of the bourbon occurs.
On our tour, a tiny bat had decided to make it his hangout but was being carefully removed. The cool darkness of the rick house must have been too inviting for him to resist.
Whiffs of aging bourbon melding together with oak–I see why the bat found it so alluring.
A newer part of the distillery is the Maker’s 46 and other specialty blends barrel-aging room, where you can smell the charred and caramelized staves that are inserted to give 46 its sweet, smooth flavor.
This particular bourbon barrel aging room had been built into the natural rock of the hillside and is impressive in its cool, cavernous quiet.
The tour also includes a glimpse into the technical aspects of the distillery: branding and bottling. The label-making room is small and smells distinctly of paper and ink, where each label is printed and cut on a 1935 Chandler & Price printing press.
One of the final stops is the bottling and wax dipping facility where the bottles are filled by machinery at a lightning-fast pace, and at the end of the assembly line are the workers who hand-dip the bottlenecks in the iconic red Maker’s Mark wax that drips at unique intervals down the sides of the bottle like molten lava.
If you’ve ever wondered where the idea for the red wax originally came from, it was Margie Samuels, the wife of Bill Samuels, Sr. (the creator of the Maker’s Mark recipe).
She not only came up with the brand name (inspired by the “maker’s marks” emblazoned on the best designs by whitesmiths), but she heated the wax she had on hand (which happened to be red) in a deep fryer and the rest is history.
The last stop on the tour, and the one everyone has been waiting for, is the bourbon tasting.
Situated inside a sleekly designed, quiet room, the samples are pre-set on a placemat indicating which bourbon you’re tasting.
A total of 6 samples are offered:
◊ Maker’s Mark Undermatured
◊ Maker’s Mark
◊ Maker’s Mark Overmatured
◊ Maker’s 46
◊ Maker’s Cask Strength
◊ Maker’s Mark Private Select
When you finish the bourbon tasting, don’t forget to take your gift bag containing commemorative Maker’s Mark wax-dipped glasses. The final treat? A rich bourbon chocolate truffle with a pecan on top. Delicious.
Before you’re let loose in the gift shop, you pass through a hallway under a swirling Chihuly glass ceiling, where hidden cherubs symbolize the “Angel’s Share.”
The Maker’s Mark gift shop is large and contains all manner of gifts, ranging from keychains to crystal glassware and decanters. You can also buy a bottle of bourbon and dip it in red wax yourself.
If you need a bite to eat after all of the bourbon tastings, there is a restaurant on-site: Star Hill Provisions. Located inside the renovated Distiller’s House, the restaurant offers locally sourced dishes and seasonal craft cocktails.
Additional Bourbon Distilleries in the Area
If you’re up for touring an additional bourbon distillery in the Loretto / Bardstown area, then two options are:
If you can’t take the time to visit one of the outlying distilleries such as Maker’s Mark or Woodford Reserve, then definitely check out the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience located on historic Whiskey Row in downtown Louisville KY.
Visitors learn the history of bourbon making in Louisville KY and Evan Williams’ part in it and the history of the city itself from its early origins, through the devastating time of Prohibition to the present.
The tasting takes place in a large elegant room designed in classic 1960s style with a curving polished bar. Our group tasted 4 bourbons:
◊ Traditional Evan Williams Black Label
◊ Evan Williams Single Barrel
◊ Evan Williams Private Select
◊ Evan Williams Red Label (Aged 12 years, 100 Proof)
There are 3 experiences offered here:
◊ Traditional Tour and Tasting
◊ Speakeasy Tasting Experience
◊ Sweet and Neat
2. Visit Frankfort Avenue
Frankfort Ave is one of the most interesting, historical, and fun-filled streets in all of Louisville KY.
If you’re in the mood for quirky shops, bookstores, coffee shops, one-of-a-kind bars and restaurants, or even an Escape Room experience, then Frankfort Ave is where you need to go.
Food & Drinks:
◊ The Irish Rover: Cozy authentic Irish pub with traditional dishes like Scotch Eggs and Bubble & Squeak. Not to mention great beers on tap as well as a load of Irish whiskeys (plus bourbon, of course).
◊ The Silver Dollar: “The Silver Dollar is a reimaging of a 1950s Bakersfield, California honky tonk. It’s an homage to gritty honky tonk music and gritty Southerners transplanted in Southern California.” And it is worth a trip to Frankfort Ave in its own right. Great food, great drinks, great vibes.
◊ Escape LOU: I recommend Dr. K’s Lethal Injection Mission. Although, I’m sure the other ones are great too. This company clearly pays attention to detail, and it will get your adrenaline pumping as you try to find and figure out all of the clues in time.
3. Downtown Dining & Nightlife
This restaurant is an absolute gem—artistry in the atmosphere, style, and entrees. The interior is a bustling hive of energy decorated in a colorfully eclectic and slightly bohemian style. The bar is its own separate, darker space, warmly lit and inviting for either the romantic or intellectual mood.
The menu is small, but every item is perfectly crafted and elegantly prepared. The plates are tapas-sized and easily shareable. Order several and just feast on all the flavors. If I lived in Louisville KY, I would be here all the time.
Did I mention it’s attached to an art gallery? The 21c Museum & Hotel features rotating exhibits, and it’s the perfect place to walk around and enjoy either before or after your meal.
A Reservation is a must if you want to enjoy a cocktail in this swanky, speakeasy space at Hell or High Water Bar.
Upon arrival, we were led past the curved bar and red velvet booths to a high-ceilinged room filled with bookshelves, leather sofas, and chairs, with an old piano in the corner.
Up the stairs to the mezzanine floor are curtained hideaways, perfect for 4 people.
A red lamp with gold tassels and fringe provides a soft glow, and 1920s and 30s music crackles out from an old radio behind the banquette.
A call button is also located there where you can ring up the waiter to request more drinks.
There is another private, “hidden” room located just opposite.
The exterior looks like a large wardrobe, giving off some extremely “Narnia-esque” vibes, but once you walk through the wardrobe and up a few steps, you find yourself in a large sitting room, also lined with bookshelves and a window offering views of the main floor below.
Hell or Highwater Bar is a class act with attention to detail, nostalgic jazzy music, and a wide array of books.
If you have the time, sample from both the “Hell” and “Highwater” sides of the cocktail menu.
This sultry spot is on my “must return” list for the next time I find myself in Louisville KY.
Louisville is a diverse city with so much to see and do combined with excellent, innovative restaurants. The area is a haven for bourbon lovers, yet also filled with family-friendly attractions too. I can’t wait for a return visit…
“Louisville is a place with no labels. It’s not the South, it’s not Chicago…It has some Southern romanticism to it, but also a Northern progressivism, this weird urban island in the middle of the state of Kentucky that has always provided a fertile, often dark, bed. For us, Louisville and the surrounding areas are the center of massive creativity and massive weirdness. The place has its flaws: You move away, but you’re always going to come back.”Jim James