Go west, Louisville

A guide to eating, shopping, learning and more in the West End

There’s an abandoned building at 30th and Main that I’m smitten with. It looks like it was an apartment building at some point, but now it’s boarded up. Lonely. Crumbling. The thing that’s striking about the building is that the entire façade is covered with cement patterned to look like bricks, and the cement is embedded with shards and fragments of stained glass. There’s a heavy band of orange glass near the top of the façade that wraps all the way around the building — a planned design, but the rest is a riot of colors, shapes and textures. Creating it must have taken time and care. I wonder how long it’ll last. I also wonder how many people have given up on this building. It’s rough around the edges, but it retains an amazing beauty, and something powerful continues to hold it all together.

West Louisville is a bit like the building: infused with history, energy and creative beauty, but also resilience. And like the building, our western neighborhoods are worth your time and attention.

This guide focuses on the neighborhoods bounded by Ninth Street to the east, Algonquin Parkway to the south and the Ohio River to the west and north: Algonquin, Park Hill, Parkland, Park DuValle, Shawnee, Chickasaw, California, Russell and Portland.

I fell in love with these neighborhoods first as a curious newcomer, fond of wandering around to get a feel for the city. Louisville is a good place to get lost. First of all, it’s not as big as it often likes to believe it is, so you’ll never get too terribly lost for too long. Second, I guarantee — if you let yourself roam — you will find amazing things. I found my glass building wandering around, showing the West End to Lexington friends.

Louisville is a great city because each quarter — north, south, east and west — is distinct, right down to the neighborhoods. And each has something to offer. And each has its drawbacks and challenges. If you’ve never spent time in west Louisville, you’ve been missing out. This is a great time to start getting to know these neighborhoods and your neighbors. 

No guide can ever be definitive. Listings like this grow, shrink and change with time. Working on this guide, visiting new places and revisiting favorites, I was blessed with new friends and discoveries. And I fell in love with these neighborhoods all over again. 

Where to Eat

We live in a city that lauds eating local, but that attitude could be better extended to more parts of our city. There is good food to be found in our western neighborhoods. It may not all be light, healthy fare, but it is good food. Big Momma’s cabbage made me a believer, with a subtle smokiness. And Forty Acres’ hot water cornbread is a find (try spreading their richly spiced mashed sweet potatoes on top for a treat). Roof Top Grill is a great addition to the mix, and Pam Haines has made Sweet Peaches a great lunch option for anyone downtown. Barbecue stands pop up all over the West End, and anybody who would like to spend the remaining pleasant-weather months skipping from grill to grill with me is welcome.

Accessing fresh, healthy, affordable food remains a challenge for many in these neighborhoods, and many in the West End want healthier and more refined options for dining out. Some business owners are working to bring these options to the neighborhoods, but it will take time and money.  

Big Momma’s
4532 W. Broadway • 772-9580

A Louisville legend, you might want to call ahead to make sure they didn’t run out of your favorite. Check out the photos of Cardinals and celebrities on the wall while you wait. Step up to the mic and place your order for amazing food served up so generously that you might not need to eat again for a few days. The menu changes somewhat daily, with some items like catfish only offered on certain days. They also make their own sweet tea, sold in mini jugs to-go. Get in line early on Sunday to beat the after-church crowd. There are precious few seats at a counter inside, so assume you’ll be taking out. Luckily, Shawnee Park is across the street. If the weather’s right, set yourself up at a table in the shade, enjoy your meal and be sure to leave time for a nap.

Drop’s Delicious Deli
418 S. 18th St. • 356-3908

Derrick, or “Drop,” cooks up good food for a song. Look for the big smoker out front, right across from the parking lot of the Kentucky African-American Heritage Center, and three or four big chalkboards boasting $5 combo meals. Lunch for $8 included enough food (fried fish with two sides) for two meals, a drink and a slice of homemade caramel cake. 

Forty Acres & A Mule
1800 Dixie Hwy., (just north of Algonquin Pkwy) • 776-5600

Soul food done well, featuring prepared and fresh selections. Daily specials include St. Louis BBQ Wednesdays and Fish & Grits Fridays (very exciting to a Southern coastal transplant). Plus, don’t skip the delicious hot water cornbread and homemade desserts. Take-out only. Catering available. 

Franco’s
3300 Dixie Hwy. • 448-8044

Another Louisville soul food institution, this time buffet-style. Yes, it’s south of Algonquin, but we’re throwing it in anyway because it was a place immediately recommended by so many in the West End. Call ahead to check the specials and see what they’ve run out of. I got lucky once, arriving for dinner just before closing. They sent me home with extra fish.

In & Out Dairy Mart
2329 Portland Ave. • 778-9536

You can get a little of everything from this tiny store: used clothing, penny candy, basic groceries. Most importantly, however, is the hand-dipped ice cream and good company. Grab a cone, shake or malt and stick around to hang out with proprietor Mike Taylor, born and raised in the neighborhood, and chat with residents as they come and go. Hopefully, you’ll arrive on a sidewalk sale day, when there are lots of curiosities to be found.

Papa Mike’s
3400 W. Market St. • 883-1009

Burgers, cheese steaks, pizza, fries … The burgers come recommended by a few folks I spoke with.

Portland Beer Depot
3633 Pflanz Ave. • 772-0090

Get back to basics and enjoy a really good burger, fish sandwich, fries and a cold beer with a seasoned neighborhood crowd. Two of us enjoyed just that recently along with two cold Miller High Lifes on a hot Saturday afternoon for less than $20 with tip. There is a pool table, darts and a few video games, too. Ask about daily specials. Before or after, walk right down the alley to check out the historic Portland Cemetery. 

Rite-Way Bar-B-Cue House
1548 W. St. Catherine St. • 584-9385

The first few times I caught a glimpse of the sign, I assumed I was seeing things. Tucked into a big old house on a small street near the California Community Center, seemingly never open, I figured it was a remnant of days past. Not so — we can all thank the Johnson family for sticking with it since 1943. I’d love to tell you the hours, but they’re pretty fluid. Find the spot at a time they’re open and the prize is yours. 

Roof Top Grill
708 Louis Coleman Jr. Drive • 776-4444

Excellent, reasonably priced Jamaican food and very friendly folks. They serve fish, chicken, goat, beef, wings and burgers. The escovitch fish dinner is an amazing deal at $12 — an entire red snapper served with cooked onions and carrots atop a mound of rice and beans with two sides (my fella came around to sweet potatoes thanks to theirs). Curry goat and jerk dishes are also good. Additionally, they have delicious Jamaican patties, hand pies stuffed with vegetables, chicken or beef. Jamaican sodas are available, including ginger beer and Ting.

T’s BBQ
Garland at 32nd St. 

Pull up a chair in the shade of this refurbished art deco gas station, featuring fun original artwork by local artist Arielle Biddix, aka Red. Cory, aka Lil’ Roach, is usually manning the grill and serving up barbecue, drinks and snacks. If you don’t mind sharing a spot with strangers and if you’re willing, there’s usually a good conversation and some laughs to be had.

Sweet Peaches
1800 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd. • 356-0232

Pam Haines serves up breakfast all day, including breakfast sandwiches, baked goods and waffles. Coffee, tea, soups and other items are also available. Combo meals including a side and drink make this spot another great lunch option for the downtown crowd. A satisfying lunch costs $10 with tip. They host open-mic nights and poetry slams regularly, and there are plans for a gospel brunch on the last Sunday of the month, starting in August.

Where to Shop

Much of our community understands the value of spending money close to home. Where I was born and raised, many local businesses died off long ago, taking with them the character and depth of the place. Make a concerted effort to spread that love of local to all our community, and make an investment in keeping all of Louisville weird.

Better Days Records West
Lyle’s Mall, 2600 W. Broadway • 774-9909

Another branch of the locally owned record store.

Good Garbage: Center for Creative Reuse
20202 Duncan St. • 774-9900

A great way to go creatively green. You’ve heard the old saying “One man’s junk is another one’s treasure”? This place proves it’s true. You can donate your junk, trash and other items, or get the junk you need for your projects, art and other creative work. And there’s even a gallery and boutique for people to sell the works they create with the junk.

Louisville Habitat for Humanity ReStore
1631 Rowan St. • 583-0332

The three ReStores in town are always a good bet when you’re looking for furniture, building supplies, appliances and other items for your home projects. I’m constantly amazed at the great deals I find.

Janes Bros. Hardware
2527 Portland Ave. • 778-8727

This fabulous Ali Baba’s cave of a hardware store is fascinating to wander around. Their helpful, friendly staff can help you with just about anything. You can also get your fishing license here and even pick up live crickets for bait. The façade and signage out front evoke the photography of Walker Evans.

Les’ Meat Market
1066 S. 28th St. • 772-0777

If you’re barbecuing or doing anything meat-related, you can get what you need here. Look for the big red building with white lettering that looks like the work of a folk artist. Les Estephane has been in the business for 35 years and knows his stuff. There’s a wealth of culinary knowledge walking in and out, from backyard ’cue masters to professional chefs, and they just might have the bit of knowledge you’re looking for. “This community has contributed to my family’s success,” says Les. “I won’t sell you something I wouldn’t feed to my family.”

Shaheen’s
2604 Portland Ave. • 778-9741

It’s the original location for the Louisville department store chain, with men’s, women’s and children’s clothing and shoes.

Where to See Art

Currently, the infusion of new business and creative types is centered in Portland, but The Mammoth co-op space being developed now might help spur development closer to downtown. There are artists already at work in the neighborhoods, and you sometimes can see their work exhibited in local spaces.

Tim Faulkner Gallery
1512 Portland Ave. • 389-0347

Recently relocated from Butchertown, the gallery features local and regional art and also has an area for concerts, event space and more. There’s always something good going on — check out timfaulknergalleryart.com. 

Bryce Hudson Studios
2318 Portland Ave. • 767-8051 • ?brycehudson.com

The renowned contemporary artist moved his studio and art space into a dilapidated Portland medical office long before anyone would think it hip (or even sane), and yet he has persevered and helped bring new people to Portland.

The Mammoth
744 S 13th St, Louisville, KY 40210
(502) 758-8338

An art and performance space in a remarkable, cavernous brick warehouse built in 1865.

Where to Drink

Decide what you want from a night out in the West End, and it can probably provide it. You can enjoy a rowdier evening, or you can find a more low-key scene at other establishments. We prefer neighborhood spots with people reconnecting and relaxing over drinks, and welcoming the uninitiated. That’s exactly what we found on the nights we tried out a few West End bars and nightclubs.

You may not find craft beer and fancy cocktails, but you will get oft-generous pours and a final tab that won’t break the bank. Several establishments offer free buffets on special nights and have food available on site or adjacent, like the good barbecue available next door to Joe’s Palm Room.

Joe’s Palm Room
1821 W. Jefferson St. • 581-1251

This legendary Louisville watering hole boasts a relaxed, friendly crowd, reasonably priced drinks and great barbecue from the stand next door. Joe’s often offers free buffets as part of special theme nights. The selection of entertainment includes live music and karaoke. It’s the kind of place where most folks have known each other for a long time, but they’ll make a newcomer feel welcome just the same. 

Cole’s Place
2928 W. Kentucky
(502) 778-4330

The other big West Louisville spot, and supposedly the place to be during Derby. 

Executive Club
2829 W. Market St. • 774-5093

Great atmosphere and strong drinks anyone can afford. What more can you ask for?

Club Cedar
416 S. 26th St. • 772-2081

A few folks were torn on suggesting this or not, but we refuse to write it off. One person, who admitted she hadn’t been to the club in a long while, said they served the best burger in town.

Lucky’s Tavern
2331 W. Main St. • 774-2557

Look for the giant, once-fabulous horseshoe sign.

Syl’s Lounge
2403 W. Broadway • 776-9105

Blues and R&B performances, and LEO’s Joe Sonka recently wrote, “Syl’s Lounge is the best bar in Louisville. Period.”

Where to Play

The West End is greener than you might think. Parks are the gems of neighborhoods, from the larger, well-known spaces to the many tiny pocket parks scattered throughout the area. This part of town is great for bicycling, with broad parkways and quiet side streets, and the Louisville Loop winds southward along the Ohio River.

Algonquin Park
1614 Cypress St.

It’s got everything you’d expect from a city park — ball field, basketball court, four tennis courts, volleyball, picnic tables and shelter, grills, multi-purpose field, playground, sprayground, walking path and a swimming pool.

Chickasaw Park 
1200 Southwestern Pkwy.

Originally a segregated park for the city’s African-American community, the Chickasaw Park features the only free public clay tennis courts in the area, beautiful views of the Ohio River, hard court tennis courts, a basketball court, splash fountain, fishing pond, walking paths and picnic facilities.

Shawnee Park 
4501 W. Broadway

It’s got walking paths, picnic facilities, ball fields, tennis courts and excellent playground and sprayground. Plenty of open space for Frisbee, etc. It’s also the scene of many community events throughout the year.

Victory Park
1051 S. 23rd St. • 368-5865

This small park in the California neighborhood features a splash fountain, playground, basketball courts and picnic tables and grills. A community room is available for events. 

California Park and ?California Community Center
1104 S. 16th St. • 574-2658

Options include baseball, basketball, football, playground, sprayground, tennis courts, volleyball court and always lots of shade to beat the heat.

Shawnee Golf Course
460 Northwestern Pkwy. • 776-9389

Shawnee Golf Course is a beautiful course that runs along the river and offers instruction, pro shop, leagues and facility rentals for special events.

Where to Learn

These are just a few highlights from the neighborhoods. Depending on your interest, there are plenty of things to see in the West End. A great resource for those interested in accessing some of Louisville’s important sites relating to Civil Rights is the Anne Braden Center’s Civil Rights Driving Tour. You can access a map and information online at anne-braden.org.

Braden Home
4403 Virginia Ave.

The former home of local civil rights legends Anne and Carl Braden, and a meeting place for countless activists from every corner of the globe.

Portland Museum
2308 Portland Ave. • 776-7678

This is a great spot to learn the history of our river city. They also host special events and art exhibits.

Muhammad Ali’s Childhood Home
3302 Grand Ave.

Here’s hoping the out-of-town investor who purchased this little wood frame house actually steps up and follows through with a plan to turn the home into a museum. Look for the historic marker out front.

McAlpine Dam & Locks
805 N. 27th St.

As a boat/ship/barge nerd, I could sit here for a while and watch the vessels pass through the locks and on their way down the river. Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the locks help move coal, grains and other items up and down the Ohio. Displays and a self-guided tour explain the workings of the system and highlight river history, including major floods.

Shippingport Island

Cross the bridge and head west over the locks. You’ll find a lot of the island off-limits, but there’s a great fishing spot and sometimes even a bit of beach on the west side. Rummage around and see what the river coughs up. It’s shaded and often peaceful among the trees. 

Cemeteries

Many West End cemeteries are rich in history and beautiful stonework. A few of note: Portland (35th at Bank), St. John’s (Duncan at 26th) and Western (16th at Jefferson).

Where to Find Community

You’ll hear a thousand different voices and ideas about what’s best for the western neighborhoods and residents. There are plenty of ways to learn more and get involved. I’ve listed a few to get you started, but as with the rest of this guide, this is your entry. You’ll have to do a bit of heavy lifting to go beyond. There are many community centers, houses of worship, neighborhood groups and others working hard within their portion of town to bring positive change. Get out there, listen, learn and see what role you might play.

Carl Braden Memorial Center
3208 W. Broadway • 778-8130

Dedicated in memory of the local activist and husband of the equally remarkable Anne Braden, the center has served community groups, progressive organizations and youth working against racism and for progressive social change locally, nationally and internationally since 1969.

Parkland Community Gardens
28th & Dumesnil streets • 468-8695

This beautiful spot, built by the community with support from Councilwoman Attica Scott, celebrated its first birthday in April. For more information about the garden and how to volunteer, contact Mary Agnew at 468-8695.

Shawnee People’s Garden & Shippingport Memorial Garden
409 Northwestern Pkwy. & ?2500 Montgomery St. • 681-5106

Both are projects of Louisville Grows and continue to evolve with plots available for the season, greenhouses and farmers markets. The farmers market at Shawnee People’s Garden is on the third Saturday of each month from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. with a free garden workshop at 11 a.m. from Sustainable Agriculture of Louisville. 

Kentucky African American ?Heritage Center
1701 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd. • 583-4100

A beautiful repurposing of the city’s former trolley barn, this is open for special events and available for rentals. There are plans for permanent exhibits in the ?future.