145th Kentucky Derby: The Perfect Day in Louisville — LEO’s must-dos

“Just a perfect day
Drink Sangria in the park
And then later
When it gets dark, we go home
Just a perfect day
Feed animals in the zoo
Then later
A movie, too, and then home
Oh, it’s such a perfect day
I’m glad I spent it with you
Oh, such a perfect day
You just keep me hanging on
You just keep me hanging on”

The inimitable Lou Reed captured The Perfect Day in words and music, well, perfectly. What is your Perfect Day… or Night in Louisville? If you are in town ahead of the Derby, take time to explore and enjoy. Maybe hit some of the obvious places that draw tourists, but also here is a list of how a few locals spend their perfect days. Regardless of whether you are a nerd, art lover, dive hunter or just plain want a taste of Real Louisville, we have you covered. And, if you are looking to take home a piece of Louisville, see our list  on page 15 — “Take It Home!” — for souvenirs and gifts. Finally, if you are a cranky local who wants to be as far away from Derby as possible, see our story “Get Out!” on page 14, which provides some of our favorite out-of-town distractions.

A perfect shape up, crab cakes, stiff drinks

By JaWon Dunn

Years ago, my brother and I flew out to visit our cousin in Las Vegas. We had never been to Las Vegas, and like anyone else in the world who had seen the MGM Grand only on TV, we wanted to go to the Strip immediately. My cousin rolled his eyes and said impatiently “Fine, we will go to the Strip one night. After that, I’m going to show you the real Las Vegas”

After the first night of losing money on slots, overpriced drinks and strippers, he pulled the plug.

The rest of the week was decidedly more laid back, but more memorable. We explored back alley bars, went to barbecues at his friends’ houses and, my personal favorite — we visited the coin-op museum. Video games as far as the eye could see.

I instantly understood his perspective years later. A friend from Ohio visited Louisville for Forecastle and asked me to take him to one place; Fourth Street Live! I cringed. I protested. “Please for the love of God, don’t make me go there. That place is horrible, the food stinks, the drinks are watery, and the security has a horrible history with people of color. [Ed. note: Some would disagree, especially those who crave celebrated Louisville Chef Ed Lee’s Whiskey Dry “Big Ed” burger or even the copious food and Donkey Sauce from Guy Fieri’s Smokehouse.]

If I had my choice, the first stop would be favorite place in the world, my home away from home, the barbershop RazorFresh Fades on Bardstown Road. My boy badly needed a shape-up, if I remember correctly. And, who else better to hook him up than the men I trust with my own beard.

Next stop is food, of course, and if there is anything that makes living in Louisville special, it is that deciding where to eat is the hardest decision you will make all day. The Seafood Lady is the Top of the Pops as far as I’m concerned. Crab cakes, corn on the cob, king crab legs, po’ boys… butter on everything. I haven’t had better New Orleans seafood outside of New Orleans.

After we wake from a well-deserved food coma, a new outfit would be in order. Oneness Boutique is an “urban” clothing store on Bardstown Road with all the newest designer clothes and accessories, they also release Jordans before anyone else.

For drinks I prefer Highlands Tap Room Bar & Grill or Mag Bar. The drinks at both are extremely stiff and rather cheap, and the live music is right up my alley. The entertainment ranges from local hip-hop and regional rock and metal.

In the event we are still standing at the end of the night, Spinelli’s Pizzeria or La Bamba for Mexican (“burritos as big as your head”)would be the choice I would make. Nothing is better than a Philly steak sandwich or steak tacos to wash down all the debauchery of the night.

My good friend from Ohio did not choose to experience any of these delights however, and instead chose to fall for the tourist trap. Needless to say, we aren’t as close as we used to be.

A perfect day in 5

By Mariah Kline

My Perfect Day from start to finish:

1. Coffee outside at the Quill’s-Steel City Pops hybrid. This is the best place to people-watch in the morning, and the salted bourbon caramel latte is delicious.

2. Lunch and margaritas on the patio at Taco Luchador in St. Matthews. What better place to begin day drinking? Two baja fish tacos and one Tecate, please. And maybe an elote callejero (its take on Mexican street corn) to go.

3. Walk in Cherokee Park. Burn some calories and avoid needing an afternoon nap with a jaunt through Cherokee. Get ambitious and hike the trails or stick with the Scenic Loop. Or, bring a blanket and take that afternoon nap under a massive tree.

4. Dinner at Hammerheads. Truly, everything at Hammerheads is phenomenal. My perfect meal begins with the crispy mac and cheese balls with hollandaise, followed by the elk burger on a pretzel bun with truffle fries or the chicken and waffle (ideally, I would convince my dinner companion to order whichever one I didn’t.) Of course, get there before they open at 5 p.m. so you don’t have to wait two hours to be seated.

5. Drinks at The Pearl of Germantown. Sitting among the super-hip Goss Avenue strip of bars and restaurants is the dive bar of your dreams. While its neighbors are great, The Pearl is superior because the bartenders are friendly, and you don’t have to be a craft beer snob to feel welcome there.

6. Dancing at Zanzabar with DJ GlitterTitz. The GlitterTitz experience is unparalleled. I know people who don’t enjoy clubs but absolutely rave about dancing with the duo of DJs. I don’t know how they do it, but their mix of beats, smoke and lasers create an indescribable atmosphere you’ll want to revisit as often as possible.

The perfect choose-your-own adventure bar hopping guide

By Scott Recker

Whether I’m at home in Louisville or in another city, I like to make plans based on clusters of bars, restaurants and other businesses, so I can start at a central location with a generalized plan and then wander around on foot and keep my options open.

It’s a great way to dive into different neighborhoods. Which brings us to the Derby: You’re in town, looking for something to do before and/or after you chug a bunch of overpriced mint juleps and lose handfuls of money on horses that you picked based on their names.

So, here’s some choose-your-own-adventure advice based on three neighborhoods. You can easily spend an entire night in any of these places, or hit them all in one night. Depends on how ambitious you are.

Starting point: I’m assuming that you’re staying downtown. Sidestep Fourth Street Live! and hit Third Street Dive a block away. You’ll find cheap drinks, pool, darts and a dingy, comfortable atmosphere. It’s a great place to disappear from the pretension of the weekend.

If you don’t want to go far, go to NuLu. Start out at Garage Bar, housed in a former auto garage, and grab a wood-fired pizza, a couple of oysters and something from its solid selection of beer and liquor. Then, start walking down Market Street away from the skyline. There’s plenty of places to hit, but I suggest grabbing a margarita at Galaxie, a pint at Akasha Brewing Co., and visit the many art galleries. If you’re there earlier in the day, stop by the Louisville Beer Store for its unique and rare beers.

If you don’t have a good sense of direction and want to walk in a straight line while bar-hopping, go to The Highlands, a neighborhood known for it’s bar density. If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind beer selection and a nice patio, go to Holy Grale, located in an old church. If you’re looking for a dive bar where you can play the new Super Smash Bros. and ping-pong, go to The Hideaway Saloon. If you want a dive with extra-strength, basic cocktails, hit The Back Door. For a great brewery, go to Gravely Brewing Co. Non-drinking things to do during the day? Take a walk in Cherokee Park or stop by Funhouse Records or the vintage clothing store Acorn Apparel.

If you’re willing to walk a little bit and use Google Maps, go to Germantown. Start at The Post for a slice of pizza and a pint. From there, wander to Nachbar, a laid-back neighborhood bar with reasonable prices. Next, Kaiju, a small indie and punk venue that has pool and video games. And, if you stop by Kaiju during the day, check out Fat Rabbit Thrift &Vintage next door, which has clothes, records, books and more.

If you are a nerd like me… Perfect

By Alex Roma

Start with Bardstown Road in The Highlands. It’s the real beating heart of Louisville, full of colorful, independent businesses, sidewalks buzzing with activity and something new at every block. It can be notoriously hard to park here, so look for a place to park on a side street, but Bardstown Road is best explored on foot anyway. It can be a great place to get a sense of the city’s personality, as well as a great place to people-watch.

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You might come across friends chatting on their way back from Steel City Pops, or someone on their way to get their first tattoo or even someone walking a snake.

If you’re a nerd like me, you’ll want to grab breakfast or lunch at SuperChefs. This local superhero-themed restaurant has a history as a pop-up, but now it’s has a permanent place on Bardstown Road where you can get all day breakfast or a hearty Southern lunch. Whether you’re a DC or Marvel fan, there will be something in the imagery at SuperChefs that grabs your attention.

And just a few blocks away from there is The Great Escape, perhaps Louisville’s oldest comic book shop still in operation. The store is packed with comics new and old, and if it doesn’t have what you want, the good staff there will order it for you by next Wednesday.

There are coffee shops with all different brews and atmospheres along Bardstown Road. Once you’ve had breakfast, stocked up on the latest issues of your favorite comics and have explored a little bit farther, you may stop in for a caffeine break at an artsy, open place such as Safai Coffee Shop or a more laid-back spot such as Day’s Espresso. Perhaps the most exciting new cafe, however, is Purrfect Day Cat Cafe, where you can not only find your favorite espresso drink but can visit adorable kittens and equally cute older cats— all adoptable, of course.

Keep your eye out, too, when checking out the coffee shops of Louisville for any bulletins about open mic poetry or story events. The creative and literary scene in Louisville is a passionate one and may inspire you to start sharing your own stories.

Perfect day: where art thou?

By Jo Anne Triplett

When I’m a Louisville tour guide for a day, it’s all about art and food.

We start the day off right with biscuits and gravy at Highland Morning in St. Matthews. After driving through the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed Cherokee Park to see the abundance of spring trees and flowers, we end up in The Highlands at the Daniel Boone statue by Enid Yandell, Louisville’s famous historical female sculptor.

We’ll spend the rest of the morning at the Speed Art Museum, making sure to visit “The American Library” by Yinka Shonibare CBE, with a short side drive to UofL to see The Thinker by Yandell’s teacher Auguste Rodin. Lunch is at The Café in Paristown Pointe, with sandwiches named after art movements (“The Victorian” pimento cheese, “The Art Deco” BLT, “The Queen Anne” Benedictine).

After that, we head over to Glassworks (Flame Run and Payton Glass Center) for some blow-your-own action or visit NuLu’s art galleries, such as Swanson Contemporary, garner narrative contemporary fine art and Revelry Boutique Gallery.

A visit to Old Louisville, with its 45 blocks of Victorian mansions, is a must (if pressed for time, a drive through St. James Court will do).

Another must-do is a walk on West Main Street to see the second-largest concentration of cast-iron facades in the U.S. (New York City’s SoHo is No. 1).

This area also has The Belvedere overlooking the Ohio River, with a statue of York, the slave of William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) by Louisville’s internationally known, contemporary sculptor Ed Hamilton (or a quick drive to see his Abraham Lincoln Memorial at Waterfront Park, part of the national bicentennial celebration of Lincoln’s birth).

To end the day, we’ll go to see contemporary art at 21c Museum Hotel, especially the “Labor&Materials” exhibition, then eat a bison burger at its restaurant Proof On Main — an excellent combination of art and food.

A perfect day starts with doughnuts, ends with Eminem karaoke

By Eric Clark

My perfect day in Louisville would start by going to Sugar & Spice Donut Shop. You have to get there early to get the good stuff. I would get a half dozen, doing three Caramel Fudge Bars and three Peanut Butter Fudge Bars.

After cramming my face full of doughnuts, I would go to the Louisville Zoo to walk off breakfast. I love wandering around the Zoo because I feel like I am always finding a new animal. On my last visit, I discovered the Zoo has an armadillo!

After walking the Zoo, I roll over to my favorite spot for burgers and sandwiches, W.W. Cousins. I would get a wild salmon sandwich. It is mouthwatering, with the right spice, plus you can load it up with any kind of topping or sauce! After my sandwich I have to grab a Smiley Face Iced Sugar Cookie from its bakery to complete my meal.

Next, I would go walk Brown Park around the corner. I love the trails, and I like spooky stuff, too, so I always visit the cemetery that is in the back of the park. After my walk, I would drive over to Bambi Bar for cold beers (also known for its Bambi Burger). My Highlands adventure wouldn’t be complete, though, if I didn’t grab a Kizito Cookies cookie from the Cookie Lady’s spot on Bardstown Road, because cookies are kind of my thing.

My perfect day would have to have a movie, so I’d stop in the Mid City Mall for Baxter Avenue Theatres. By that time I know I would be hungry again and, with it being so close, I would have to go get saucy honey wings from Mark’s Feed Store.

Then, to finish up my perfect day, I would attend Akiko’s Karaoke Club to rap old Eminem songs on karaoke.

A perfect day, no sweating allowed

By Deena Lilygren

This is the perfect day for “indoor” folks.

There’s plenty to do in Louisville if you’re active or outdoorsy, but if you, like me, want to avoid such annoyances as heat, humidity (yes, it’s started already), and excessive walking, here’s the perfect day: start with brunch at Toast on Market (I recommend the Monte Cristo French Toast and, if you’re a tourist or too cool for a mimosa, the bourbon-based “Kentucky Mimosa”).

From there, you’re just a few blocks from Crazy Daisy, a two-level antique mall with the usual vintage fare and some truly weird items like scrapbooks full of articles on gruesome car accidents from the 1950s or an anatomically correct “Archie Bunker’s Grandson” doll from the ‘70s. It has good deals, too. I once scored a like-new, vintage record player stand for $30.

There’s no better evening than seeing a movie at the Baxter Avenue Theatres. Not only does it now have the same ultra-comfy recliners like the bigger theaters, but it runs indie films that aren’t showing anymore, as well as a selection of mainstream films. The best part about Baxter Theater, perhaps, is that it’s adjacent to The Back Door, where locals know the drinks are strong and cheap. It also has the best bar food — cheap and greasy. Its matchbooks boast the slogan “bikers to brain surgeons,” and it’s true — no matter your age, race or gender. Pro tip for women and femmes standing in the bathroom line: There’s another bathroom for us in the far back, and it’s almost always available.

Perfect day of history, wings and a tiki bar

By Michael L. Jones

My perfect day in Louisville happened one Saturday in March. My friends Marjorie Marshall and Keith Clements were giving a lecture that day at The Little Loomhouse, three historical cabins that sit on a tree-draped property near my South Louisville home. The Loomhouse’s mission is to preserve weaving history, but the nonprofit often hosts presentations on other topics. Marjorie and Keith were talking about the blues singer Mary Ann Fisher, who was a featured singer with Ray Charles.

Because Melissa, my wife, is the Loomhouse president, I often get volunteered for jobs. This time, I didn’t mind because I was only required to pick up Marjorie. I showed up at Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church on 28th Street just as Marjorie was finishing choir practice. I was enthralled for about 20 minutes, listening as the singers worked out the nuances of their last tune. Marjorie is a great singer. She sang back up for Fisher after the older woman returned to playing local clubs. At the presentation, Marjorie performed scenes from her musical, “Songbird of The South: The Mary Ann Fisher Story,” and sang some of Fischer’s song. Keith, a longtime blues columnist with the Louisville Music News, followed it up with an excerpt from his upcoming biography of Fisher. The reading described Fisher’s first meeting with Charles at Fort Knox. Keith also had two poster boards filled with photos that he’d taken of Fisher over the years.

After the talk, Marjorie accompanied me, my wife and her sister Michelle to Rubbies South Side Grill and Bar for lunch. This South End staple has a full bar on one side and a family-friendly restaurant on the other. We sat on the restaurant side. Rubbies excels at comfort food. Marjorie was introduced to Rubbies signature smoked wings that day.

Later that night, my wife and I met Michelle and her husband Loren at The Limbo, a tiki bar near the intersection of Fourth and Chestnut streets. We enjoyed the fruity drinks and live music provided by a surf band, but since we are too old to throw down like we use to, everyone was home by 11. I ended the evening in my pajamas, watching “Star Trek.”

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