Nightlife… and a lot of day life, too. Our picks for fun and time-wasting in the Derby City

Welcome Derby, visitors!

Spend money in our bars, restaurants and shops. Lots of it… Don’t cause trouble for us residents. Leave Louisville as soon as possible after Derby, but clean up after yourselves before you do.

While you are here, however — have fun… the way we locals do. Below is a non-exhaustive list of our picks for what to do when you are not watching the ponies.

My picks for Things You Won’t Find in Condé Nast… or Whatever

Outside media, and God love ‘em for at least trying to cover our quirky city, tend to be deeply uncreative in their Louisville to-do lists. It’s not entirely their fault. In the interest of meeting deadlines, hey probably just consult the hotel concierge and lo, enjoy these 20 different articles about Garage Bar.

So welcome to Louisville during Derby! Do you want to party like an effete travel writer, or do you want to party like the people who live in the city with a 4 a.m. last call?

For dinner, new kid on the block Portage House (117 E. Riverside Drive) offers chef-driven continental fare that’s a little Kentucky, a little Midwest and a little international, too (everything from fresh oysters to stewed chickpeas). Housed in a historic mansion across the river in Jeffersonville, Indiana, who has straight-schooled Louisville in terms of leveraging new business around the Big Four pedestrian bridge, despite existing in the state that birthed the Captain Murphy-lookin’ shitlord Mike Pence, their patio gifts absolutely killer views of downtown. Avoid the tolls and get their by foot on a mild evening.

Or if somethin’ spicier is your zone, El Mundo’s (2345 Frankfort Ave.) new al fresco expansion is a perfect environment to sip $4 midweek margaritas of an almost nuclear potency. By admission of their own menu, it’s strongly advised to not consume more than two. Pair ‘em with inspired takes on Latin cuisine, such as their steamed mussels in a creamy chipotle broth, with just a splash of Dos Equis. Be advised Cinco de Mayo does fall on Oaks.

If those dogs are itchin’, storied Germantown dive Seidenfaden’s (1134 E. Breckinridge St.) hosts the weekend’s best dance parties. Saving Our Style concocts the best mix of hip-hop for real heads on Friday, while Saturday’s Stop! Drink! Listen! serves up everything from certified bangers to deep cut scuzz disco soundtracked to art house films and found footage on projector screens. Both parties start after 11.

For a more laid back experience and true flavor of Louisville, nothing beats Nachbar (969 Charles St). Inherently nothing special yet wholly unique — a neighborhood retreat replete with grandpa’s basement-chic, the city’s finest jukebox, absurdly cheap drinks, and a comfortable biergarten-style patio. It’s where creative 20-to-40-somethings imbibe alongside old school townies. You might run into a free rock or jazz concert, or local treasure Rusty hockin’ his $5 beef jerky. —Michael C. Powell

Three others:
Kaiju, 1004 E. Oak. St.
Zanzabar (full disclosure: kinda work there… because it’s also kinda a dope place), 2100 S. Preston St.
Seafood Lady, 103 W. Oak St.

El Molcajete

My pick for tacos

Eleven years of living in Los Angeles did not make me a taco authority, but I sure ate a lot of tacos. A. Lot. Of. Tacos. So I know what I like. And what I like are traditional, straight-forward, double-tortilla tacos with cilantro and onions. I like my asada chewy, but not like jerky. I like my barbacoa piquant and tender. I like my carnitas seasoned, with bits of texture. I like my chorizo with just a little grease and salt but enough spice to bring a flush to my face. And that is a good start, without mentioning lengua, sesos and pollo. Now at my geographic balancing point — 11 years in Louisville — I have found my favorite taco. Although, I must admit, there are more places opening each day, and my caprice knows no limits. Yes it does. No it doesn’t. Anyway, at the moment, my favorite is El Molcajete (2932 S. Fourth St.), conveniently near Churchill Downs. Its tacos hit all of the above-mentioned notes, and the sauces are diverse and delicious. If you are more in the mood for a designer taco, or are with vegetable-tarians, then my pick is Migo (2222 Dundee Road) at Douglass Loop. It offers a range of meat tacos, including duck, lamb and crab. But its vegetarian tacos, including one with crispy tofu, are to die from, with a smile. —Keith Stone

Three others:
La Tropicana, 5215 Preston Highway
La Rosita Sol, 8730 Westport Road
Las Gorditas, 4778-4780 Bardstown Road

My picks for a bite in the wee hours

Who doesn’t get powerfully hungry after an evening on the town? I do, that’s for sure, and I’ll bet you do, too. And it only makes matters worse that most of the city’s fine dining rooms close well before the bars do. That’s why White Castle was created, of course, not to mention Spinelli’s (downtown: 239 S. Fifth St.) and La Bamba “Burritos Bigger than your Head” (1237 Bardstown Road). But hey! We can do better than that! If a burger will do you, one of my favorites is Burger Boy (1450 S. Brook St.), on the edge of Old Louisville, which stands ready to satisfy your hamburger needs, and diner fare, too, 24 hours a day. But when you want something just a little more fancy — and  Derby is made for fancy — let me offer you three more enticing alternatives. LOLA, the upstairs lounge at Butchertown Grocery (1076 E. Washington St.), offers a limited but intriguing menu of burgers and bar fare until 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, and midnight Wednesdays and Sundays. Ramsi’s Cafe on the World (1293 Bardstown Road) offers its extensive, international menu until 1 a.m. nightly and extends that to 2 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. And Barcode 1758 (1758 Frankfort Ave.) serves its sushi-centric Japanese bill of fare until 2 a.m. daily except Sunday, when it shuts the doors early — at midnight.
—Robin Garr

Three more:
Mirin, 2011 Frankfort Ave.
Asiatique, 1767 Bardstown Road
Gerstle’s Place, 3801 Frankfort Ave.

My picks for where to chow down on the morning after the night before

Is there a happier word than “brunch”? Well, OK, maybe a few, like “love” and “world peace.” But grant me this: Brunch is one of those sweet indulgences that gives us a happy. Especially during Derby or any other celebratory season, what better way is there to recharge after a night on the town, than sit down with an excellent brunch to greet the new day? Or to be more realistic, maybe, to greet the new afternoon. With a nod to Rivue (140 N. Fourth St.) atop the Galt House for its the classic sumptuous brunch buffet with rooftop view, and the Bristol Bar & Grille (The Highlands: 1321 Bardstown Road) for long-term consistency with an excellent brunch that’s been a Louisville fixture since the 1970s, allow me to present three personal brunch favorites: Con Huevos (2339 Frankfort Ave.) is my No. 1 go-to, even if there’s a line at this tiny Clifton storefront. Serious, flavorful Mexican breakfast fare (and lunch) prepared with skill and presented with fancy plating that kicks it up another notch. Selena’s at Willow Lake Tavern (10609 La Grange Road) is another favorite. The evocative setting of the old Willow Lake Tavern elevates an extensive, first-rate brunch menu on Saturdays and Sundays. Finally, Captain’s Quarters (5700 Captains Quarters Road, Prospect) is a favored destination at any time, but its Sunday brunch is particularly inviting, a lavish and delicious spread. Brunch: It’s what’s for breakfast, and lunch, too. —Robin Garr

Three more:
Harvest, 624 E. Market St.
Finn’s Southern Kitchen, 1318 McHenry St.
Gospel Bird, 207 E. Main St., New Albany, Indiana

My pick for where to drink bourbon

Paristown Pointe isn’t known for much, but it does possess a hidden gem called Brooke & Billy’s (751 Vine St.), where you will find the best bourbon selection not on the bourbon trail. Selections from Pappy Van Winkle, Elijah Craig, Colonel E.H. Taylor, Old Forester Birthday Bourbon and more can all be found behind their bar. Of course they also have the lesser expensive varieties, including Maker’s Mark, Bulleit and Larceny among others. “We have a bourbon for pretty much any taste,” owner Bill Darling told me. “I’ve spent a lot of time putting together our collection, and we’re good at steering people toward something they’ll like.” Since this place is located on a quieter street, they don’t attract the same crowd that you find at bars on Bardstown Road. It has an outdoor patio and drink specials during the summer, plus the food is fantastic. I recommend the angus burgers or fried chicken, both of which are incredibly satisfying. Brooke & Billy’s keeps normal restaurant hours so this is not the place to have a rowdy, drunken Saturday night, but it is my choice spot for day-drinking and sampling a few more bourbons than I should. —Mariah Kline

Three others:
Bourbons Bistro, 2255 Frankfort Ave.
Doc Crow’s, 127 W. Main St.
The Silver Dollar, 1761 Frankfort Ave.

My pick for an old fashioned

It’s not hard to trounce around Derby City and find a quality old fashioned cocktail at every corner. From Bourbons Bistro to Proof on Main to Butchertown Grocery, if it’s a Louisville original, they probably know how to stir you one just right. While unearthing the No. 1 old fashioned in Louisville seems unattainable, as bartenders and beverage directors are always coming up with new riffs on the classic libation, and often establishment doors will open and close with the wind, I like to stick with right now. Currently, my favorite old fashioned is found on East Market Street at Taj Louisville (807 E. Market St.). Not for the myriad of fancy ingredients, or the barkeeps in leather aprons and suspenders, or the pretension that may be found elsewhere, but for the easy pour. Just these ingredients: Four Roses Yellow Label, China China (a bitter aperitif liqueur), house-made bitters and demerara simple syrup. My personal favorite is made by bartendress, Cassandra (perhaps it’s because she’s got a shot of Fernet waiting for me when I walk through the doors?), who’s often slinging bevvies until close. Drink it in while sitting atop one of the bar stools crafted from an antique elevator shaft, close your eyes and breathe. The Taj feels like home. —Kelsey Westbrook

Three others:
The Old Seelbach Bar, 500 S. Fourth St.
Silver Dollar, 1761 Frankfort Ave.
Down One Bourbon Bar, 321 W. Main St.

My pick for a nonalcoholic drink

I get it, I get it. Mint Julips are wonderful. But the last time I had one — well, several — things got real weird.

So what about all the folks who won’t be drinking come Derby time? If you’re pregnant, on probation or you just got a late start on giving up a vice for Lent, you deserve happy things in your mouth as much as any body else. First off, any decent cocktail bar should either have a list of “pregnant cocktails,” or bartenders skilled enough to whip you up something damn tasty.

But my favorite by far is the Grapefruit Fizz at Decca (812 E. Market St.). It’s a light blend of cilantro, grapefruit, lemon, bitters, sugar and tonic. I swear to God, it taste like the first warm day of spring, when you were 16 and driving around listening to the tape player in best friend’s beat-up Civic.

And not for nothing, it’s nice that Decca offers this drink, and several others, on the big kid menu, so you can just say the name, and you don’t feel like you’re ordering a gottdamn Shirley Temple when you ask for it.

If you’re in for something a little less subtle, Garage Bar (700 E. Market St.) has several house-made sodas, as well as a couple of bottled options. You can’t go wrong with an Ale-8-One (a Kentucky favorite), or Abita Root Beer, but it’s Derby for crying out loud. Have an adventure and order the Lavender Lemon Soda, then segue into the super-sweet Red Cream Soda.

Up in Germantown you can hit up Lydia House (1101 Lydia St.) for house-made sodas and its own kombucha on tap.

And if you must hang out on Bardstown Road, swing by the Outlook Inn (916 Baxter Ave.) for what I have long believed to be the best Virgin Mary in Louisville. No it doesn’t have a bunch of fancy green shit hanging out the top, but that doesn’t matter, because it tastes good.

Then, day after Derby, when you’re feeling chipper and swell, serve your friends some runny eggs for breakfast and bask in the feeling of moral superiority. —Eli Keel

Three others:
Rye,  900 E. Market St.
Buthertown Grocery, 1076. E Washington St.
The Louisville Beer Store, 746 E. Market St.

My pick for breweries

I don’t go in for the Derby hype. I appreciate the Kentucky Derby, what it does for the city of Louisville, and how it helps to define us. But I’m not going to lie: The week leading up to Derby, not to mention Oaks and Derby nights themselves, can be amateur hour if you’re out and about.

So, if you want to escape with a bit of quiet time and good beer, visit those breweries around the city you haven’t been to yet. Do it on Derby Day or on successive nights, whatever works for you. And the four breweries I hear from most people that they haven’t tried yet are: Old Louisville Brewery (625 W. Magnolia Ave.), Holsopple Brewing (8023 Catherine Lane), 3rd Turn Brewing (10408 Watterson Trail) and Gordon Biersch (400 S. Fourth St.).

Old Louisville, on Magnolia, recently rolled out a very tasty Citra-hopped pale ale; Holsopple, in Lyndon, has an intriguing single-hop IPA series, not to mention a fine pilsner, and 3rd Turn, out in Jeffersontown, makes one helluva good stout (and recently released a Northeast IPA). Gordon Biersch, at Fourth Street Live!, is often left out because it’s a chain, but it’s not what you think — brewer Nick Landers knows his stuff and brews up several of his own recipes, giving you options if the German-style house beers aren’t your thing.

Roll into each brewery, get a flight with a friend, and when you find one you like, linger over a pint. If you find one you love, well, get yourself a growler to take home, so you can get back to your couch or patio before the madness starts. Because if it’s Oaks or Derby night, it will be madness. And nothing good ever happened during amateur hour. —Kevin Gibson

Three others:
Great Flood Brewing Company, 2120 Bardstown Road
Donum Dei Brewery, 3211 Grant Line Road
Akasha Brewing Company, 909 E. Market St.

My picks for LGBTQ-Friendly Fun

When it comes to Louisville’s LGBTQ community going “out,” we’re tremendously fortunate to have such a myriad of options around town. Not every city of our size can boast such an eclectic and diverse array of establishments specifically oriented toward our community, and while of course more would always be welcome, I for one am certainly satisfied with the variety available to us. That said, it seems that one place in particular stands slightly taller than the rest. With its massive size, expansive entertainment programming and engagement with the community, PLAY Louisville — for me — is the go-to gay bar in Louisville (1101 E. Washington St.).

Whether you’re looking to sit and have a drink with a friend, spend the night watching Louisville’s top drag performers at their finest or get lost on the dance floor, PLAY is the place for you. Its three very different rooms allow you to make your night out the experience you want it to be, and getting bored is the only option that’s off limits. Additionally, PLAY is constantly booking the country’s most recognizable faces of drag, often pulling from the well of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” elevating it as one of the premier clubs in the nation to catch a drag show. Finally, the owners of PLAY are some of the most generous folks in the city, and the club regularly allows local nonprofits to take over and host an event at PLAY, which allows organizations that wouldn’t ordinarily have a budget for such large-scale events to perhaps host a major fundraiser and take in more proceeds than ever before possible. To date, in its three years of business, PLAY Louisville has helped raise over $350,000 for Kentuckiana nonprofits.

With only a $10 cover, there’s even more reason to meet your friends down in Butchertown — if not only for the fun to be had at PLAY than for its sincere commitment to safety and ensuring that anyone and everyone who comes through the doors feels safe, included and welcomed. With PLAY Louisville now on the local landscape, there is finally a place for everyone to play, and we as a community couldn’t be luckier. —Remy Sisk

Three more:
Big Bar, 1202 Bardstown Road
Chill Bar, 1117 Bardstown Road
Nowhere Bar Louisville, 1133 Bardstown Road


My pick for where to play video games

Sure, gambling is fun, I guess, but watching your horse come in has got nothing on when Pac-Man gets the big white dot just before the ghosts close in and suddenly they are what’s for dinner. And a silly $5 bet sure can’t touch the moment when you turtle shell the leader in Mario Kart and come from behind to take the mother fucking gold on Mushroom Bridge. Suck on that Steve from down the hall in my freshmen dorm!


A wide range of bars have realized that we are all still video-game junkies at heart, and offer an array of arcade classics, pinball machines and systems such as the Super NES to entertain you while your waiting for that one horse race people like or whatever.

For sheer variety, Jeffersontown’s Recbar (10301 Taylorsville Road) takes the crown. It has over 70 games, including a couple of dozen full cabinet, old school video games. There are just as many pinball games varying in age and complexity and some hoops games, table hockey, and ski ball.

For something inside the Watterson, check out Zanzabar (2100 S. Preston St.). Its selection is almost as big, and their old school Star Trek Pinball machine is a thing of beauty that belongs in a museum. Also, it makes bread pudding out of donuts.

But for many of us, gaming just doesn’t feel right unless it involves head to head action, handheld controllers with long skinny wires, the sweet taste of victory, and epic shit talking.

Just on the edge of Germantown is Kaiju (1004 E. Oak St.), a nerdy little watering hole with giant monsters on the wall, the coolest and dirtiest back room stage in all of Louisville, and a collection of classic console gaming options, hooked into some large TVs, and magically free to use. It’s a pretty unbeatable combo, cheap beer and free video games. And most nights there’s some great comedy, performance art or underground music playing in the back room if you need a break from kicking Steve’s ass in Tekken. Go ahead Steve, use Eddie Gordo, you button mashing piece of garbage. It won’t save you now.

Keep it nerdy, Derby city. —Eli Keel

Three others:
The Tavern on Fourth, 427 S. Fourth St.
Hilltop Tavern, 1800 Frankfort Ave.
Hideaway Saloon, 1607 Bardstown Road

My pick for the best show to catch

If you’re coming in from out of town for the weekend, I’ll assume you’re getting in Thursday. That night, you’ll probably look for something low-key and close-by to do, and you may get way more drunk than you planned on, because that’s how these things work. Then, on Friday, during the day, you’ll probably either go to Oaks or explore a neighborhood, but at night, maybe you want to hit some sort of event. And, if you’re looking for live music, the Wax Fang show at Headliners is my pick. This atmospheric rock band is hosting an album-release party for their forthcoming record, Victory Laps, which contains a string of clever, layered, three-minute, pop-infused songs that are equal parts hook-focused gold and experimental acrobatics that take the band in new directions. Opening the show are Brenda and Billy Nelson, two local acts that each recently released a solid record. Plus, Headliners is a great venue, where you can buy a beer without spending all your trifecta money. —Scott Recker

Three others:
James Lindsay, Sam Sneed, DJ Vane at Galaxie on Thursday, May 4:
Town Mountain at Zanzabar on Thursday, May 4:
Curio Key Club, Nick Dittmeier & The Sawdusters, The Moonlight Peddlers on Friday, May 5 at the Old Louisville Oaks on Oak: Search Facebook

Speed Art Museum

My pick on where to see art

Walk around downtown and you will practically trip over public art. Bike racks that double as sculpture (around downtown) — check. Waterfront Park’s “Gracehoper” (on the Overlook) by Tony Smith and “Flock of Finns” (Preston and Witherspoon streets) — check. “The Red Feather” (501 W. Main St.) by Alexander Calder in front of the Kentucky Center — check.

Public art is art that’s outside for all to see. And we are fortunate that Louisville city government wants us to see more of it (as does New Albany across the river). The Public Art Initiative and the Commission on Public Art are the programs to do just that.

They created a database of outdoor art owned by Louisville Metro as well as other public works. Looking for a sculpture you know is in Louisville but can’t remember where? The database is searchable and added to continuously:

If you are on Main Street at Eighth Street, look for the sign “Public Art on the Loop.” In 2015, the “Connect/Disconnect” art exhibition was temporarily installed near the Louisville Loop (a walking path that hugs the Ohio River) between Eighth and 12th streets. Some of those works are still on display.

Happy art hunting. —Jo Anne Triplett

Three others:
Speed Art Museum, 2035 S. Third St.
21c Museum Hotel Louisville, 700 W. Main St.
Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, 715 W. Main St.

My pick on where to see historic architecture

Without a doubt, the best place to see block after block of historic architecture is the Victorian wonderland that is Old Louisville:

The neighborhood has bragging rights as the largest contiguous collection of Victorian buildings in America (yes, I know San Francisco gets all the glory with its “Painted Ladies” but we’re larger).

Old Louisville national preservation district, with its 45 square blocks of 19th-century buildings, is the third largest such district in the nation. The American Planning Association named it “One of the Great Places of America” in 2016. It’s home to the Conrad Caldwell House Museum (1402 St. James Court), the Filson Historical Society (1310 S. Third St.) and one of the largest art shows in the country, the St. James Court Art Show.

Another highlight is Central Park, a 17-acre park designed by master landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted in 1904. The Old Louisville Visitors Center (1340 S. Fourth St.) is in the park and offers guided walking tours in May through October.

If you want to read up on Old Louisville before you go, here are a few books to get you familiar with the area: “Belgravia Court: Old Louisville’s Premier Walking Court” by Shawn Fields Williams, “Ghosts of Old Louisville: True Stories of Hauntings in America’s Largest Victorian Neighborhood” by David Domine and “Old Louisville: The Victorian Era” by Samuel W. Thomas.

—Jo Anne Triplett

Three others:
West Main Street Preservation District, Third Street to Roy Wilkins Avenue
Shotgun houses,
The Louisville Palace, 625 S. Fourth St.

My pick for where to walk your dog

I hesitate to even divulge my favorite spot to walk my dog-children to the masses, as it seems to me only neighborhood folks and bikers take full advantage of its glory. Selfishly, I want to keep its splendor all to myself and my pups, Pierre and Nala, and the various foster dogs I have along the way. Yet, I know if I spoke on someplace else, I’d be doing all of you in LEO Land (and your pooches) a grave disservice. Portland Wharf Park (719 N. 32nd St.), just off Northwestern Parkway on the cusp of the Portland Neighborhood has been my sanctuary for dog walkin’s for some time. A vast field, sprinkled with large stones cut with a bike path, lies just behind the looming Victorian homes of Northwestern Parkway. The path leads down to wooded trails that weave behind the neighborhood to the left, and to the right, unfinished construction of further lanes hugging the shores of the Ohio. Those unfinished bike paths are the perfect spot for my pooches, but wear hiking boots, as this area can get muddy (just the way my kiddos like it). Waves crashing as barges push past, downtown New Albany just across the water, and a practically empty (and huge) green space? Portland Wharf Park is a hidden gem in a city of fabulous parks. —Kelsey Westbrook

Three others:
Cherokee Park dog park
Jefferson Memorial Forest
Iroquois Park

My pick for a place to run or jog

“Veronica and I are trying this new fad… jogging. I believe it’s jogging, or yogging. It might be a soft-j. I’m not sure.” —Ron Burgandy, “Anchorman.”

Jogging or yogging, Cherokee Park, which connects with Seneca Park through miles of beautifully wooded, hilly trails, paths and paved roads, offers the variety for anyone to create the jog (or yog) that’s right for them. The Scenic Loop in Cherokee is 2.4 miles. It’s a great mix of flat to one large hill and back down. If the weather is nice — which, who knows? — it will be busy, but not claustrophobic. Want a nice stroll around relatively flat paved concrete, or venture off into the woods for some hilly trails? Cherokee Park can provide it all. Around the perimeter of the park you will see some of the nicest homes in the city. There will be plenty of entertainment as well: from Dog Hill crawling with dogs having the best day of their lives to Frisbee games, golfers and even the occasional larping battle.

If you have the extra time and means to travel, even more spectacular outdoor experiences can be found out at The Parklands of Floyds Fork, just outside of the Gene Snyder Expressway, essentially signaling the boundary between Louisville and Kentucky… probably 15 to 20 minutes from downtown. The Parklands comprises a string of five connected parks covering around 4,000 acres. —Aaron Yarmuth

Three others:
Waterfront Park and Big Four Bridge
Cox Park/Thurman Hutchins Park
Jefferson Memorial Forest