I was sitting in a bar in Louisville with my sister a couple weeks ago, sipping on bourbon-spiked iced tea, when we overheard the girls next to us chatting with the bartender. As we listened, it became apparent that they were tourists, asking him for tips on where to go out that night. And as he waxed poetic about the joys of late hours (last call at most local bars is 4 a.m. — we do not mess around, y’all) and ranked the local whiskey bars, we turned to each other with a single question: Why were they here?
We spend a lot of time on this blog expounding the many wonders of my and Scout’s hometown, and, when we do, I always feel like I’m letting folks in on a secret. I’m fond of saying that one of my life’s missions is to spread the word of Louisville’s awesomeness to the uneducated masses, who do not appreciate the many pleasures of this city on the banks of the Ohio. But these girls, with their to-do lists and sensible walking shoes, belied my sense of hipster know-how. Clearly, the word had spread.
I suppose the signs had been coming for a while. Just that night, my sister and I had tried to go to our favorite raw bar+barbecue joint for dinner, only to encounter a 45 minute wait. We decided to pass the time at a cool new bar we’d heard about — a speakeasy opened by two of our high schoolmates — only to be turned away because they were completely booked up for the entire night. As we wandered back to the restaurant in search of other libations, we were passed by one of those bike-and-drink trams that have come to mark tourist destinations the world over, their bells and cheers sloshing beer signaling the arrival of America’s next hot spot. And when we finally secured a table (and a feast of oysters and ribs fit for a king), we found ourselves surrounded by what appeared to be not one, not two, but at least three bachelor parties.
Now logically, as an ambassador of my beloved home, the world’s awakening to Louisville’s charms should make me happy. All my hard work and blog posts and bar conversations have paid off! Welcome, one and all, to the Ville! Pour yourself a glass of Kentucky’s finest and stay a while! But instead, I found myself on guard. It’s like when the masses start catching on to that indie band you’ve loved since before they dropped their first EP (ahem). You’re glad they’ve finally wised up, and happy that it means deserved success for this thing you love, but you’re also a little worried that this might just ruin it all a little bit.
Among the many things I love about Louisville are the ease of getting around, the availability of parking, the short waits (usually) for a table, the abundance of reasonably priced food and drink options, the lack of crowds (Forecastle, Derby, and Derby-adjacent events aside), and the camaraderie of this friendly city. And there’s a part of me that is protective of these things, worried that an influx of too many strangers might jolt the ecosystem off balance.
As we sat among the bros, eating our ribs, my sister and I started talking about why Louisville would make a good destination for a get-together — bachelor, bachelorette, birthday, or otherwise. And the more we thought about it, the more we had to admit it made a lot of sense. It’s just like I’m always telling people: Louisville is a perfect balance of north and south, full of great food and drinks and art and music and theatre and culture, with a mix of Southern hospitality and liberal values that means everyone is welcome. Plus the hotels are pretty cheap, as are the amenities, and it’s easily accessed from most of the United States (West Coast aside).
I thought back to when we went to Savannah a couple months ago, for a sister trip. We were in an Uber riding back to our Airbnb talking to the driver, who asked us why we were in town. Just for a mini-vacation, we replied. And he then asked us the same question we silently posed to our bar neighbors: Why?
The list of reasons we rattled off could apply almost word for word to Louisville. So why is it that we find it so hard to believe that other people would, unmotivated by any personal connection, want to come explore the places we call home? Perhaps it’s overprotectiveness; maybe it’s hipster pride. It seems that opening up our doors, while appealing in theory, can sometimes be a little sticky in practice.
But if Louisville really is a place where all are welcome, that includes the tourists, too. I’ll just think of them as new members of my diplomatic corps. Welcome, y’all. Enjoy our fair city. We hope you stay a while. And then go forth and spread the good word.
What to Do If You’re in Louisville for the Weekend (A Very, Very Incomplete List)
Good Eats: Doc Crow’s (for the aforementioned oysters and BBQ), Garage Bar (for hipster pizza and killer cocktails), The Silver Dollar (for brunch), Wild Eggs (also for brunch, and for everything muffins in particular), Please and Thank You (for chocolate chip cookies)
Good Drinks: Hell or High Water (or so we hear — reservations apparently required), Holy Grale (for beer), Taj (for cocktails), Rye (also cocktails), Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen (did I mention cocktails?)
Good Times: Speed Art Museum, 21c Museum Hotel, Muhammad Ali Center, Kentucky Bourbon Trail (I suggest the Evan Williams Experience if you don’t have a car, or the Maker’s Mark Distillery if you do and are willing to venture farther afield)