Where to pretune and prolong Waterfront Wednesday Concerts

On the last Wednesday of every month from April through September, free live music, compliments of WFPK, drifts through the air of a muggy Ohio Valley night accompanied with the transient fumes of corn dogs and bourbon amongst thousands of our closest friends. A cosmic and familial feeling arises within us city dwellers when Laura Shine welcomes us, Instagram feeds fluttering with vibrant sunset pictures over the rainbow-lit Big Four Bridge. If you’re like me, you like to arrive at the grassy knoll of crop tops and trucker hats with an ample buzz, so I’ve crafted a list of must-stops for before and after the festivities, because we all know a satisfactory level of tipsy is needed when you’re going to wait in line for 15 minutes for your Old 502 Winery chardonnay.

My first stop, around 4:30 p.m., is the never-to-disappoint Louisville Beer Store (746 E. Market). With free parking on Shelby Street, it’s a foolproof spot to park, start drinking, and then meander down towards the Big Four Lawn (and Uber back to your vehicle in the a.m.!). While its name may give you the notion that Louisville Beer Store is only a market for take-away brews (and what a floor-to-ceiling myriad it has!), LBS also hosts eight draft beers on tap, a knowledgeable “beertender,” and a gorgeous beer garden draped with canopy lights out back. This week, beertender Lucas let us sample a few and suggested the Alvinne/Stillwater Artisanal Ales collaboration: Wild West (a sour aged in burgundy barrels). Lucas described it as “lactic, acidic and juicy,” and at 6 percent alcohol, two pints of that golden nectar started our evening just right.

My next pre-show go-to is always Against the Grain (5:30 p.m., so you can still reap the happy hour benefits). Quality and convenience collide here: Grab a delicious locally brewed pint off their ever-changing draft list, a $7 shot of Old Forester, and if you’re like me, most likely run into a group of friends you didn’t even know would be there and you can all stumble down to the Big Four Lawn like a giant yuccie posse. At this point, it’s clearly time for a Louisville sunset and some live tunes.

When the Waterfront Wednesday headliner rounds out their set (this past week it was the American roots stylings of Pokey LaFarge), I don’t know about you guys, but I sink into that post-vacation depression: “It’s already over?” I’m panicking, y’all, and I can’t possibly wait until next month to experience this kind of hometown ecstasy again. An after-show plan is crucial to eclipse the hole in my heart, and luckily Louisville has much to offer.

There’s Louis’s the Ton right up the street in Butchertown (1601 Story Ave.), a public house with immense space for large groups (i.e., “Everyone! We’re going to Louis’s the Ton!”), a wide selection of libations, “working-class” prices, a sassy and adorable bartender named Alicia, and even pizza! Alternately, for a mildly swankier and still downtown option, 8UP Elevated Drinkery & Kitchen hosts DJ Matt Anthony’s “High Sounds” each Wednesday from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m.  With free cover, you can keep your dancin’ shoes on after Waterfront Wednesday and peer out over the Louisville skyline, but beware, lately the staff up there seems a bit overwhelmed with high volume – my friend James and I ordered a bottle of chardonnay and were told we could have it, but they had no clean glassware. Good thing I don’t mind drinking from the bottle.

While both Louis’s and 8UP are stellar options and many more bars make the post-WFW decision oh-so-difficult, this past Wednesday and many before, The Monkey Wrench takes my cake. With Relic Bluegrass playing their standing Wednesday night performance at the Wrench, after Waterfront, Grammy-winning artist Michael Cleveland joined their set — literally known as “the best violin player in the world.” It doesn’t stop there, though, Pokey LaFarge himself decided to make his way to the 10-year-old Louisville establishment after his riverside set, played for a mere thirty people, and enjoyed the delicious culinary samplings of Lil’ Cheezer’s (whose kitchen now resides in Monkey Wrench). Boasting a rooftop deck that owner Dennie Humphrey refers to as the “Island in the Highlands,” a quick and passionate bar staff and an emphasis on beer and bourbon, it’s no wonder namely musicians would enjoy the Wrench. “The Monkey Wrench has always been a hotbed of musical of activity,” says Lil’ Cheezer’s founder and Oracle of Operations, Matt Davis, “Most notable musicians from anywhere around this area have played there and typically find their way back no matter their level of success … you never know who might be hanging out at the Wrench.”