LEO’S BIG LIST: 48 ½ things we love about our town


Illustration by Britany Baker

Illustration by Britany Baker

Take it where you can get it
Once a year, by edict of the alt weekly gods, and pursuant to a clause buried deep within the glossary to the index of the old SayWhat Corp.’s policy manual (these days available only on eBay unless you know the location of John Yarmuth’s secret bunker/personal storage unit), the maladjusted malcontents who weekly bring you the News According to LEO are directed — required! — to take their cynicism and put it in a sack.*
That is to say, this week we are all happy. (Don’t get used to it; we’ll only break your heart.) To that end, to complement the list of winners as chosen by our readers, we bring you our own list of 481/2 things that make our city cool/great/interesting/otherwise special. Why 481/2? Well, because we’re LEO, you jackasses — uh, sorry.

Seriously, this list has a lot of what you’d typically call obvious things. But then, sometimes it’s the most obvious things in our lives that we take for granted. If you took them away, we’d miss ’em. So, after you digest the list of great things as chosen by our readers, spend some time with LEO’s Big List. And let’s all give credit where credit is due, and think about how some of the things we see day in and day out really do bring value to life as we know it.

•    Paper only; no plastic.


Louisville, how do we love thee? Let us count the parks. Louisville can credit the vision of American landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, his sons and their company, Olmsted Brothers, who designed Cherokee and later nearby Seneca, Iroquois, Shawnee, Chickasaw, Baxter Square, Boone Square, Shelby and Wayside parks. The Olmsted vision also endures in Louisville’s six parkway corridors — Algonquin, Cherokee, Eastern, Northwestern, Southern and Southwestern. (www.olmstedparks.org)

History flourishes in buildings found in the heart of the city and on its outer edges, with many of them on the National Register of Historic Places. On West Main Street you’ll find the largest collection of cast iron facades outside of New York’s SoHo district. Old Louisville, with its Victorians, is the third-largest historic preservation district in the United States. Beyond the city core are the majestic houses of Cherokee Triangle, the United States Marine Hospital in Portland, the 1837 Farnsley-Moremen House, The Water Tower, which is the oldest ornamental water tower in the world, and Locust Grove, built in 1816 and designed by Thomas Jefferson. (www.oldlouisville.com; www.locustgrove.org; www.riverside-landing.org)

Illustration by Britany Baker

Illustration by Britany Baker

Louisville often crows about having the major arts groups — Actors Theatre of Louisville, Louisville Ballet, Louisville Orchestra, Kentucky Opera and The Speed Art Museum — which does make us rare among American cities. Having this exposure to the power of art is not success in and of itself; that happens when the groups stir artists to bring their own ideas and talents to the city.

In the past decade, we’ve experienced a boom in our number of foreign-born residents — a 388 percent increase since 1990, according to data interpreted by the Urban Institute, a non-profit policy research organization. A big reason is the city’s large federal refugee resettlement program, managed by Catholic Charities and Kentucky Refugee Ministries. Most of these newcomers are highly educated. They are diverse and come from all over the world, bringing languages like Wolof (Senegal) and Tagalog (the Philippines). Meanwhile, the Metro Office of International Affairs has stepped up to help local institutions help this population find a place here, and for the community feel at home with them.

Don’t call Schnitzelburg Germantown. And you better not confuse Russell with Portland. These neighborhoods, and so many others throughout Louisville, have their own histories, and the citizens of each are proud of it. Metro government, through its Department of Neighborhoods, has worked to tap this pride and support the neighborhood associations. That effort includes the Mayor’s Neighborhood Summit, held each fall, which includes workshops on leadership, crime prevention, working with developers, neighborhood disaster preparation and more. (www.louisvilleky.gov/Neighborhoods/default.htm)

Take a stroll down East Market Street and it is obvious that art has a special attraction. Notice all of the developers that have flocked to build condos there. The scene is a far cry from what artist Billy Hertz found when he opened a gallery there and held his first reception on Sept. 13, 1991. (He has since closed that gallery and opened another at 711 S. Third St.) Hertz’s bold move 16 years ago encouraged other galleries (Swanson Reed Contemporary and Zephyr Gallery both opened there in 1998). And Barbara Smith, who owned many properties on the strip, helped several artists purchase their own buildings, and renovated buildings on the street that she rented out to businesses. Now East Market, with its throng of galleries, restaurants and shops, draws huge crowds during the First Friday Gallery Hops.

Nothing tells you your city has arrived like a bike messenger whipping past as you wait in traffic, like that dude Puck from the Real World San Francisco. Here we’ve got about one, the Bike Depot, emanating from First and Market streets. Use ’em if you need a quick, eco-friendly delivery in the CBD. (www.bikedepot.com)

Illustration by Britany Baker

Illustration by Britany Baker

Tom Jurich, athletic director at the University of Louisville, has made sports other than basketball supreme fun again in the ’Ville. The Cards are national heavyweights in hoops, football, baseball, golf, track & field, soccer, field hockey … seriously, what else do you need? Ah, a new hoops arena?


The Louisville Peace Action Community (LPAC) is one of the most dedicated antiwar groups anywhere — the rallying cry cuts through rain, snow and shine. But recently, more than 800 folks gathered for a protest against the Iraq war — the largest gathering in the country, on a night full of them. National onlookers are taking note of the progressives here. Keep it up!

How many people do you know who leave Louisville after high school, work a few years out of college, and wind up right back here, all reinvigorated about how great we have it and such? ’Nuff said.


Donnie Wahlberg nearly set the Seelbach on fire, and Al Capone ran booze through it. F. Scott Fitzgerald drank booze there. Muhammad Ali may have thrown his Olympic gold medal into the Ohio River here. Hunter S. Thompson teased Sue Grafton on the bus to school many a morning in Louisville. Anna Nicole Smith hooked up with some dude from here and now their spawn’s birthday party happens here. Indigenous.

After the city and county governments merged in 2003, taxes evened out and services — well, maybe they will someday. In one of the most glaring injustices of merger, residents of the Old City still get free trash pickup, while Old County dwellers still have to pay — even though our taxes are the same! Stinky.

A citizen movement whose outlook on Louisville’s future substitutes quality of life for the ease of car congestion, 8664.org has won over tens of thousands with its alternative plan to the Ohio River Bridges Project’s concrete jungle. Check out the Web site if you haven’t yet. If you’re not at least curious, you’re not paying attention. (www.8664.org)

Perhaps nothing in our burg is more often taken for granted. It’s 981 miles long, and its widest point — one mile — occurs west of downtown Louisville. It’s got history and natural beauty, and it’s a great place to recreate … uh, to have fun on the water. You’d be hard-pressed to name a great city that’s not near a significant body of water.

Speaking of the Ohio River and natural history, the Falls of the Ohio and the interpretive center that explain it are the sorts of amazing places that seem to hide in plain sight. Have you been? Have you taken the youngsters in your life? Go and see what inspired John James Audubon. (www.fallsoftheohio.org)

Illustration by Britany Baker

Illustration by Britany Baker

It is amusing to watch non-natives struggle with how we say our name and try to get a handle on our pace of life. After they hang around a bit, they sorta start getting it, how this looks enough like a city but feels like a small town. Where’d you go to high school, by the way?

OK, so trying to put a nice spin on the valley sludge we call air may be a stretch. Mankind is not meant to breath water, after all. But we are in a valley, and there are a lot of good things about that. And sometimes, if someone takes away something familiar but annoying, you just feel more annoyed.

The UPS hub is not here because of the Casey family’s intrinsic love for us. It is that old real estate maxim — LOCATION, LOCATION,  LOCATION. It is good to be less than a day’s drive from cities such as Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Nashville, St. Louis, Chicago, Atlanta, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Detroit. Especially when your musical heroes never quite make it to the Ville.

Next time you fly into Louisville, look out the window and take note of the overwhelming greenness. If a City of Parks isn’t your thing, check out the knobs in Southern Indiana, where glaciers left their mark in the form of huge hills.

You’ve heard it said often — Louisville is a food town, with a high concentration of locally owned restaurants and even some decent chains. No one seems to have real data on that, and it’s quite possible the spinmeisters have created a great myth. Then again, clearly there are a lot of good to great places to eat here, with some diversity and affordability.

Wick’s, Impellizzeri’s, Clifton Pizza … these are not for the fainthearted. Some call it casserole. This is pizza to eat with both hands. This is pizza to take home for the next day.

Heine Brothers has been at it long enough to qualify for local institution status. Then there’s Highland Coffee. And Day’s. And Sunergos. Did we mention the Atomic Saucer? Buffalo Madison? Jackson’s Organic? What did we leave out? We’re too buzzed to think.

If you don’t know about Muth’s (est. 1921) and Schimpff’s (est. 1891), you must be a commie. Both stores offer a wide variety of home-made goods (Muth’s is particularly known for modjeskas, and Schimpff’s for red hots and turtles) and both justify a trip just to indulge a sweet tooth. (Muth’s: 630 E. Market St.; 1-800-55MUTHS; www.shopmuthscandy.com; Schmipff’s: 347 Spring St., Jeffersonville; 812-283-8367; www.schimpffs.com)

Illustration by Britany Baker

Illustration by Britany Baker

Since its founding in 1912, The Center for Woman and Families has become a vital lifeline for women and children throughout the region. Its offices offering services to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault stretch from Marengo, Ind., to Shelbyville, Ky. Moreover, the center works with other entities, from police departments to schools to arts organizations, to find means of preventing domestic and sexual violence. (www.thecenteronline.org)


There’s been some nasty discourse playing out on the op-ed pages of the C-J, driven by a letter to the editor that basically said, “Why would I go downtown where I have to deal with homeless people?” Well, now, wouldn’t we all like to live in a bubble and be hand-fed peaches and cream and bon-bons and watch Oprah 24/7 in hi-def? Our city has a network of compassionate people who model the Golden Rule. That’s something to feel good about.

The thing that is “Derby Fever” around here — that lengthy and ubiquitous and over-hyped part of the calendar that starts sometime in April — well, it’s not for everyone. Some people actually schedule time off and get the hell outta Dodge. That’s kinda cool, because it leaves more for the visitors — and the natives who stick around.


LEO loves this place, a family-owned business that opened in 1951. It’s the premier setting for watching corny summer blockbusters and horror flicks. Check out the screenings during its annual Halloween Horror Fest. There’s even a playground for the kids. And for those seeking nostalgia — working drive-in window speakers. (8200 Ind. 64, Georgetown, Ind.; 812-951-2616; www.georgetowndrivein.com)


Is it Phoenix Hill? Who the hell knows. It’s just kind of a kick to descend Bardstown Road/Baxter Avenue and look up to see the tops of the bridges. It makes you go, “Oh, that’s why they call it the Highlands.” Remember that the next time it floods.


We’re not really a major league town, which means we don’t have to hear so much about our athletes
and police blotters and ridiculous ticket and concession prices. Slugger Field is an architectural and aesthetic gem, and hanging out there
is a more pure experience for it.

Take a good look at it from the expressways. The Great Lawn beckons you — come on down and play. Anyone remember when it was a scrapyard? Sure you do. Most excellent. (www.louisvillewaterfront.com)


Too many to name, but don’t you love our parkways (Eastern, Southern, Northwestern, Southwestern, Algonquin) and River Road and Utica Pike? That’s not even to mention all of the great rural vistas on both sides of the river. They’re a great place to get away for an afternoon when the fall weather starts moving in. About like right now.

Brennan Callan be damned (he should be stranded on Six Mile Island with Todd Kelly, dontcha think?), she’s still around and going strong. Steamboats represent another time in American history, and thank god we can still see it every day. (www.belleoflouisville.org)

Our area has sent some folks to the nation’s highest court. Louis Brandeis, namesake of the U of L Law School, left a huge mark. Less known is Sherman Minton, the Georgetown, Ind. native who was a U. S. senator before he was appointed to the court by President Harry S. Truman. Minton’s record was mixed, but they still named a bridge after him. Did you ever notice it’s a two-decker?


Hard to say how many folks in this burg have run the mile in under 4 minutes, but Swag, a Brit who came here to run at Western Kentucky University in the 1970s, has. For a long time now, he’s operated a fantastic athletic shoe store in the South End, where they take great care to make sure you get the right shoe. The personal touch personified. (www.swagssportshoes.com)

WNAS-FM 88.1
Sure it’s cool that New Albany High School has a laboratory of sorts where students can get hands-on experience working in radio. What’s even cooler is that it the long-running station truly hews to no particular format, meaning you might hear any number of incongruent song pairings. Remember when FM radio was kinda like that? (www.wnas.org)

The first artificial heart-transplant was done here, and our docs continue to innovate in that realm. The first hand transplant was done here, and our docs continue to innovate in that realm. U of L’s med school is growing downtown, which means we’ll be attracting more smart people to town. There are worse things.

We still pine for the days when public radio programming seemed more freewheeling, but really, we are blessed to have the Public Radio Partnership, three topnotch stations bringing us tons of intelligent stuff. The same goes for KET. Knowledge is power, and while a little reality TV is OK in the same way eating the occasional Twinkie is, one of nature’s immutable laws is that a steady diet of crap will turn you into, uh, crap. (www.prp.org; www.ket.org)


Muhammad Ali, Pee Wee Reese, Hunter S. Thompson, Paul Hornung, Mary T. Meagher, Griff, Lionel Hampton, the Louisville Slugger and the Kentucky Derby … that’s just a partial list of Louisville people and stuff that have touched the world.


These days, MySpace and YouTube elevate any schmo to near-celebrity status, so underground doesn’t carry quite the same meaning it used to. So it is refreshing that our artists, from Slint and its progeny to the MMJs and VHS or Betas, earned their stripes the old-fashioned way: busting ass.


Our odd little burg deserves kudos for being whatever the hell it wants to be on any given day, since time immemorial: jug, punk, thrash, experimental, twangy and downright strange. We’re not going to call it a scene, per se, since that word has pretty much jumped the shark and should be retired. More like a … community. Yeah, that’s it.


This does go without saying, but we’re gonna hit you over the head anyway. Bardstown Road’s locally owned outfits — ear X-tacy, Guitar Emporium, Carmichael’s Book Store, Comedy Caravan and Wild and Woolly Video — all deserve props for elevating our local culture. Their owners personify the can-do attitude and prove that mentality leads to a good place. (www.earx-tacy.com; www.guitar-emporium.com; www.carmichaelsbookstore.com; www.comedycaravan.com; www.wandwvideo.com)


Stepping into this East Market Street pool hall makes you wanna look over your shoulder for Al Capone — or at least Paul Newman circa “The Color of Money” era. Affordable tables, affordable booze and a laid-back vibe — it sure beats a noisy bar any day of the week. (www.bankshotbilliards.com)


Vernon Lanes is the oldest bowling alley in the area, and stakes a claim to being the third-oldest in the United States. That’s right, Louisvillians have been heaving heavy black balls down these Butchertown lanes since 1886. But why break a nail when you can get $1 PBRs on Wednesday nights? (1575 Story Ave., 584-8460, www.bowlvernon.com)


A quick Web surf found only two states with later last calls — Alaska (5 a.m.) and Nevada (never). We’re tied with both New York and Illinois. Who knew Louisville had such a seedy reputation? We did, of course.

“Take me drunk, I’m home, Super Scooters!” Avoid any guilt in the morning with this remarkable taxi service that gets you and your car home. Just don’t ask for a ride on their scooters. And no, you cannot wear the shirts, even if you hurled on yours. (56-NO-DUI, www.cityscoot.com)

You’re really not a hipster unless you swear off mass-produced swill in favor of thick, dark, mind-blowing, liver-bloating, locally brewed beer. Let’s hear it for the fearsome foursome: Bluegrass Brewing Company (aka BBC, 3929 Shelbyville Road, 899-7070; 2 Theater Sq., 568-2224; 636 E. Main St., 584-2739); Browning’s Brewery: (401 E. Main St., 515-0174); Cumberland Brews: (1576 Bardstown Road, 458-8728); and New Albanian Brewing Company: (3312 Plaza Drive, 812-949-2804).


If you know where to look, you can find a shot of Maker’s Mark cheaper than a gallon of gas right now. Not that we’re gonna spill the beans … or bourbon.


Tailgating is serious business for those who cheer for a red bird with teeth. Beer-stocked coolers? Check. Grill? Check. Cornhole? Check. Fifth of Jim Beam? Check. State-of-the-art stereo system? Check. Port-o-Pots? Check. Tickets? Oops. Guess we won’t be going inside anyway.

We’ve jokingly written about the alley between Third and Fourth that is slowly being gentrified with the tasty rehab of the Henry Clay (the old YWCA). There’s something oddly charming about that alley — how the buildings leave a narrow opening that frames the evening sunset over Fourth Street or the morning sun over Third. The scalawags and ne’er-do-wells who sit on the concrete stoop and drink their drinks. The weird stuff they leave behind. It’s unlikely that anyone will write an elegy when the alley really does get scrubbed up. But we will. (www.thereisnowebsiteyet.com)