Three Perfect Days: Louisville
Story by Amanda Petrusich | Photography by Sam Polcer | Hemispheres, January 2015
Louisville is best known for hosting the Kentucky Derby, famously dubbed “the most exciting two minutes in sports." When you're done with that, we've got a lot more to show you.
Hunter S. Thompson, a native of Louisville, once wrote an essay titled “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved," referring to the horse race that has been at the center of this city's social calendar for going on 140 years and is still its biggest claim to fame.
The Derby has been referred to as “the most exciting two minutes in sports," but the excitement that surrounds the event, and the city itself, is generally viewed as a fleeting, once-a-year thing. This, however, couldn't be further from the truth.
Louisville dates back to 1778, and its rich history is on prominent display year-round—in its architecture, its music, its cultural institutions. The city is home to 123 glorious parks, some designed by the great landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. In recent years, a thriving restaurant scene has emerged, combining innovation with down-home Southern cooking. The bars are hopping. The retailers do a roaring trade. And did we mention the bourbon?
Louisville also represents an unusual convergence of geography and culture. While there's no shortage of Southern charm here, there's enough Midwestern grit and East Coast ambition to keep things interesting—a city doesn't spawn people like Hunter S. Thompson by sticking exclusively to the Dixie schtick.
Even the irascible, distinctly un-sentimental Thompson, it seems, yearned for his hometown from time to time. “If I could think of a way to do it right now, I'd head back to Louisville," he once wrote, “and try to sink back as far as I could into the world that did its best to make me."
DAY ONE | In your recurring childhood fantasies about spending the night in a museum, you invariably ended up spooning a stuffed mink inside an old diorama. What you didn't envision was reclining in a Herman Miller chair wearing a fat bathrobe and smelling like a particularly fragrant grapefruit (thank you, Malin + Goetz soap). But that's what's in store for you at 21c, a contemporary art museum that doubles as a boutique hotel in downtown Louisville.
There is art everywhere here: in the rooms, in the lobby and in the airy galleries, which are free and open to the public. Many of the works are interactive, such as the projected installation “Text Rain," which allows those waiting for an elevator to kill time by grabbing at tumbling letters. Oddly, 21c is also home to a number of four-foot-tall red plastic penguins, which hover at the bar, gaze at artworks and appear unbidden in hallways.
A jockey takes a horse through its paces at Churchill Downs
You'll be spending the morning getting to know a different kind of animal: thoroughbred horses, which in this town are a subject of devotion bordering on worship. Your first stop is Wagner's, a diner-cum-pharmacy across the street from Churchill Downs. Wagner's has been catering to the racing set since 1922, and its walls are littered with dusty photos of Derby winners, their necks draped with Kentucky roses. You take a booth and, on the recommendation of your fast-talking waitress, order Pam and Jack's Omelette, an imposing concoction of eggs, green pepper, onion, tomato, ham, bacon, sausage and two kinds of cheese. “You did good!" the waitress says, eyeing your half-finished plate.
You leave Wagner's wondering how a meal like that could possibly be deemed appropriate for a jockey, then lumber across Fourth Street to the Kentucky Derby Museum. After wandering around for all of 25 minutes, you decide you know enough about the subject to mount a mechanical steed and attempt to outpace two kids in a race simulator. You lose. Badly.
Next up is the adjacent Churchill Downs, where you've booked a “Barn and Backside" tour of the facilities. In the paddock, your guide pauses to describe the pandemonium of Derby weekend, when 80,000 revelers charge the infield to “picnic," a euphemism for drinking ungodly amounts of booze and placing bad bets. Dedicated infielders, you are told, bury leftover bottles on the grounds to retrieve the following May, a method of bourbon-aging you won't find in the guidebooks.
From here, you cab it to NuLu, a former industrial district that's now a tangle of storefronts, galleries and cafés catering to the city's artsy set. You settle in at Please and Thank You, an emerald-green coffeehouse and used-record store, and watch a bearded young man thumb through crates of vintage LPs, then order a toasted mozzarella and pesto sandwich, followed by the biggest chocolate chip cookie you've ever had. That riding career is looking unlikely.
A convergence of the old and the new at the Copper & Kings distillery
Next, you stroll along Market Street, dipping in and out of shops, including Why Louisville, purveyor of more locally themed T-shirts than you could have ever imagined existed (“Gettin' Lucky in Kentucky!"). Watched by a life-size Colonel Sanders doll, you drop a couple of quarters into an old fortune-telling console, causing a mechanical gypsy to jerk around for a bit before the machine spits out a card reading, “You're Important."
It's close enough to cocktail hour, and this is Kentucky, so you head to nearby Decca, a bar and restaurant situated in a 19th-century row house. A tattooed bartender makes you an Old Fashioned, which you carry to a sunny garden. The people-watching here is supreme, but after your drink's gone (and it goes awfully fast) you follow the sound of live music coming from the Flea-Off Market, an outdoor bazaar in a nearby parking lot. You browse the tables, picking up an old Derby pennant from 1957 and a Kentucky Gentleman–branded whiskey decanter shaped like a Revolutionary War soldier. Bingo.
Dinner tonight is at Harvest, a popular restaurant that showcases the city's affinity for locally sourced food and that does much of the curing, smoking and preserving in-house. You order a couple of local specialties: burgoo (a thick stew of chicken, pork, turkey, potatoes, corn and heirloom tomatoes topped with pretzel croutons) and buttermilk fried chicken (doused with smoked peppercorn gravy and homemade hot sauce). It's not until you've finished both dishes that you realize your fruit-and-veg intake for the day has fallen somewhere between “nil" and “Was there a cherry in that Old Fashioned?" Ah well, there's always tomorrow.
A barista at "beer and breakfast" spot Gralehaus
DAY TWO | You begin your day with a brief nod to healthy living, grabbing a bowl of granola at Atlantic No. 5, an airy breakfast spot not far from your hotel. You scrape your big enamel bowl clean and, feeling revived, walk to the Muhammad Ali Center, a multimedia museum devoted to the colorful, controversial life of Louisville's most famous son. Wandering the museum's halls, you happen across Ali's two-tone 1977 Rolls-Royce, which packs nearly as much punch as its owner. Next up is a quick round of computerized boxing, in which you are once again vanquished by schoolkids.
From here, you head over to J. Graham's Café at the storied Brown Hotel, whose English Renaissance design—hand-painted reliefs on the ceiling, ornate woodwork everywhere else—provides an elegant counterpoint to the gluttony you are about to engage in. You take a seat in the café and order a Hot Brown, an open-faced roast turkey sandwich served in a skillet with bacon and tomato and doused in a Mornay sauce. The sandwich was invented here in the 1920s, and your waiter tells you they dispense nearly 300 of them a week—800 during Derby week—which, by your calculation, adds up to about 13.2 gazillion calories.
Trying to get back on the healthy track, you head to Cherokee Park, a 400-acre expanse bordering the Highlands neighborhood, east of downtown. Frederick Law Olmsted designed this space in 1891 (18 of the city's parks are his), and like his other creations (New York's Central Park among them), Cherokee reflects Olmsted's belief that a large component of human happiness is access to open spaces. You happily walk the park's 2.4-mile loop, pausing atop Baringer Hill, known locally as “Dog Hill," to watch a couple of puppies wrestling in the grass.
Next, you're off to NuLu to grab a drink at the Haymarket Whiskey Bar, a pleasantly divey Market Street spot that has more than 100 bourbons on the menu. After a brief conference with the bartender—a sharp-tongued young woman in a spectacular pair of polka-dot pants—you order a Weller 12-year on the rocks. “Attagirl," the bartender says as you empty your glass.
A gallery space at 21c, with Anne Peabody's "Wheel of Fortune" in the foreground
A short walk down the street, the small theater space Dreamland is screening rare silent films featuring vintage amateur footage of 1930s Louisville, set to a soundtrack of 78 rpm records. You arrive during a stretch of Derby coverage and, within moments, are utterly transported. The horses charge; spectators jump with joy or (silently) curse their luck. Afterward, out in the lot, a musician performs an acoustic set, plucking spare, lingering songs on his banjo while a rapt crowd gathers on the pavement.
Now it's time for culture of a different sort: dinner at MilkWood, the downtown eatery where Edward Lee—a veteran of “Top Chef" and “Iron Chef America"—serves Asian food with a Southern twist. The atmosphere is lively; the room is cozy, with exposed brick and an array of mounted antlers. You sip a Smoke and Pickle—Scotch, Pernod, pickle brine and mesquite—then order the organic pork burger, served with napa kimchi, a heap of thick cracklins, Havarti cheese and a rich remoulade. Lee stops by the table to tell you that he once ate this burger every day for three weeks. (He had to tell the kitchen to stop making it for him.) You finish the meal with sorghum and grits ice cream and, with some difficulty, make your way outside.
You get a little lost walking the three blocks back to your hotel and find yourself on the corner of Fourth and Walnut, reading a plaque commemorating an epiphany the Trappist monk and poet Thomas Merton had on this spot in 1958 (“There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun"). You wend your way back to 21c with this thought in your head, and it is still there when you collapse, perfectly exhausted, onto your bed.
An appetizer platter at Proof on Main's Sunday Supper
DAY THREE | Your, ahem, healthy day behind you, you'll be spending much of this one sampling Kentucky's finest tipples. You pause in the 21c lobby to stare at Duke Riley's “Pigeon Loft," a work that consists of a wooden cage containing a bunch of homing pigeons, then head out to find the Gralehaus, a “beer and breakfast" spot in the Highlands where you'll prepare your stomach for the boozy day ahead.
Once there, you hop onto an industrial-looking stool (nearly everything seems to be repurposed) and order a biscuit with picnic ham, mustard, cheese and scrambled eggs. While you wait, you admire the large coolers lining the wall, packed with a Smithsonian-quality collection of microbrews. The Gralehaus has been open for less than a year, but it's already wildly popular with messy-haired locals, many of whom are in attendance this morning.
Stomach suitably lined, you take a cab to Copper & Kings in Butchertown. Louisville is a bourbon-centric city, of course, but the people at this distillery—which specializes in small-batch brandy, using traditional copper-pot distillation methods—are hoping there might be room for another spirit. Co-owner Joe Heron recommends you take yours on the rocks with a rub of citrus on the rim, which you do in the upstairs tasting room, watched over by framed portraits of rock stars, including Jim James of Louisville's own My Morning Jacket.
There's more tippling in store for you on Whiskey Row, a recently restored stretch of Main Street that was once the hub of Louisville's bourbon industry. You stop for a tasting at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, which requires that you take a crash course in such matters as corn ratios and optimum proofs. As far as you can tell, there are no wrong answers in bourbon analysis, although your guide does respond with a poor-you look when you holler “Wood!"
Billy Goat Strut Revue perform at the Flea-Off Market
Lunch is at Vietnam Kitchen, a local favorite in the Iroquois neighborhood. It doesn't look like much inside—wall-mounted televisions, linoleum tiles, a few wilted plants in the window—but you have been assured (by a woman at the next table) that there isn't a single disappointing dish in the house. You order pho tai (rice noodles in a delicious broth, topped with thinly sliced beef) and an avocado milkshake. The woman at the next table proves wise.
From here you'll be heading to Woodford Reserve, about an hour east of the city, near the sleepy little town of Versailles (pronounced “ver-sales"). Once you leave the interstate, the drive is sublime. This is horse country, all rolling green hills and expansive blue skies. Woodford is the oldest working bourbon distillery in the U.S., dating back to 1797. The grounds, with their mossy stone buildings and rows of oak barrels, have a medieval feel to them. The bourbon is sweet and smooth, tasting vaguely of young oak, vanilla and honeycomb (you're learning!). “Home, James!" you say to your driver as you leave, although, looking back, you're pretty sure his name was Paul.
Dinner tonight is at Proof on Main, 21c's artsy (of course) and ambitious eatery. On Sunday nights, it serves a market-dictated prix-fixe meal; you start yours with a platter of tapas-style appetizers, including biscuits with jalapeño-peach butter and deviled eggs with chive and ash. For a main course you have filet of hot Kentucky catfish with candied onions, ratatouille and fried potatoes with pickled peppers. By the time dessert arrives—Lime Dream Pie with coconut, chantilly and saltines—you are somewhere between satisfied and liable to explode.
Leaving the restaurant, you enter into a brief internal debate about how best to conclude your stay in Louisville. A stroll across the Big Four Bridge? A cruise on the Belle of Louisville steamboat? Or, um, maybe a bit more bourbon? That settled, you walk to the Seelbach Hotel and the Old Seelbach Bar, a favored haunt of F. Scott Fitzgerald when he was stationed at nearby Camp Taylor. You plunk your elbows on the intricate mahogany bar and order an Eagle Rare, neat, feeling at home among the other solo drinkers nursing whiskeys.
As you sip your drink you think of Fitzgerald's lovelorn millionaire in The Great Gatsby, for whom Louisville “was pervaded with a melancholy beauty" and for whom the city exerted an irresistible attraction, in much the way it did for Hunter S. Thompson, in much the way it does for anyone who has been lucky enough to call this place home.
Freelance writer Amanda Petrusich forgot to mark an X where she buried her bourbon at Churchill Downs.
This article was from Rhapsody Magazine and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.
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Canada's largest city spreads out along the northwestern shore of Lake Ontario, and it's a dynamic, multicultural and inclusive experience like almost no other place on earth. Not only is Toronto a thriving living city,it's also become one of the world's truly must-visit destinations. Regularly ranked as one of the greatest places to live, Toronto is the cultural center of the country and home to the biggest events, the most pro sports and the greatest concentration of theaters and restaurants.
Recent decades have seen regular multi-million-dollar upgrades to the city's public spaces, with a slew of great museums, iconic architecture and the redevelopment of the now glittering lakefront adding to the city's appeal.
Add in an ever-growing number of world-class hotels, upbeat nightlife that runs from dusk until dawn and a vibrant and diverse culinary scene influenced by the eclectic makeup of the city's people. Bright and bustling, cosmopolitan and cultured, unpredictable and energetic, Toronto has become one of the greatest cities on earth.
What you see and where you go will depend on the length of your stay. A week is good, longer is better. But even a long weekend will give you a taste of 'The Six' — one of the city's many nicknames, reworked recently as 'The 6ix' by one of its most famous sons, Drake.
However long you stay, you can't hope to see it all. So, consider what follows a starting point for your first visit…
City Hall, Toronto
The checklist sites
No visit to The Six can be considered complete without ticking off several of Toronto's true heavyweight sights. All of the following are in or within easy reach of the city's compact, walk-able and very vibrant center.
The CN Tower is unmissable in every sense, a vast freestanding spire that looks down upon the city and takes its place as one of the 'Seven Wonders of the Modern World'. Head up for the city's best 360-degree views, or get your heart racing on the EdgeWalk — a journey around the circumference of the tower's main pod, 116 stories high and tethered by a harness.
Back on solid ground, Ripley's Aquarium is almost right next door to the CN Tower and is home to 16,000 aquatic animals and the Dangerous Lagoon. A moving sidewalk that whisks you through a long tunnel surrounded by sharks and stingrays is guaranteed to make your heart race all over again.
Also close to the CN Tower is the Rogers Center, home to Canada's only baseball team, the Toronto Blue Jays. Visit on game day for the full experience, or take the stadium tour to go behind the scenes and through closed doors.
In a city of so many museums and galleries, the Royal Ontario Museum stands out. Not just because it's home to a world-class collection of 13 million artworks, cultural objects and natural history specimens, but as much because it hosts exciting Friday night events that include dance, drink and top DJs.
Two other must ticks include the Art Gallery of Ontario, which houses 95,000 works of art and is free for visitors under 25, and the Hockey Hall of Fame, which taps into Canada's national obsession in stunning depth.
Art Gallery of Ontario
Casa Loma is a must-visit Gothic castle in the heart of the city. North America's only castle is filled with artworks and treasures from Canada and beyond, but its big pull is the network of hidden tunnels to explore as they stretch out beneath the city.
Toronto's multi-cultural makeup is visible all across the city but reflected best in its remarkable culinary scene (see Where to eat and drink). The city's 'fresh and local' mantra is perfectly showcased at St. Lawrence Market, one of the world's greatest food experiences. Pay it a visit and grab a peameal bacon sandwich — a Canadian staple invented in Toronto and now considered the city's signature dish.
St. Lawrence Market
Afterwards, walk off the calories by wandering the historic cobblestone and car-free Distillery District. Once a vast whiskey distillery and an important spot during prohibition, historians mention that even Al Capone would visit the Distillery to load alcohol destined for the States . This iconic landmark now distils creativity within the 19th century buildings now home to hip restaurants, bars, independent boutique stores, galleries and theaters. Visit in December for the Toronto Christmas Market.
Finally, don't even think about returning home without having had a picture taken with your head poking through an 'O' of the multicolored, 3D Toronto sign at City Hall — the most Insta-worthy location in a city of so many. You'll need to head there early in the morning to avoid the crowds.
If you stay long enough, take a ferry and hop across to Toronto Islands, a chain of 15 small islands in Lake Ontario just south of the mainland. They're home to beaches, a theme park and a breathtaking view of the city's skyline and will very happily fill a full day of your stay.
The bucket list
You absolutely cannot leave Toronto without having witnessed the power of the Niagara Falls and its hypnotic mist up close. Trying to visit the Falls from the States is a trip on its own, but it's almost non-optional when you're less than two hours away in Toronto. Take the trip, buy the T-shirt and tick off one of the world's must-see sights.
Explore like a local
Away from the sleek, gleaming towers of downtown lie many of Toronto's less obvious but no less essential attractions. West Queen West is Toronto's hippest neighborhood and artistic heart, a one-mile strip of very chic galleries, stores, restaurants and boutique hotels. Kensington Market is a fantastically chaotic neighborhood and perhaps the best example of the city's famous multiculturalism. It's not a market as the name implies, but a collection of independent shops, vintage boutiques, art spaces, cafés, bars and restaurants from every corner of the globe.
The Bata Shoe Museum is one of the city's quirkiest collections, an unexpectedly fascinating exhibit that retraces the 4,500-year history of footwear. And as you wander the city, you can't fail to notice that Toronto's walls are alive with graffiti. Take a free 90-minute walking tour through the back alleys of Queen Street West and down Graffiti Alley to gain a better understanding of the city's street art scene. If you visit during the sunnier months, escape the hustle by heading just east of the center to High Park, the green heart of the city where forests, walking trails, picnic spots and even a zoo await you. Ideal to unwind after a long day of urban adventures.
When to go With the sun shining, May through October is a great time to visit, but the city is alive through all four seasons. The Spring and Autumn months are ideal as the humidity and visitor numbers are lighter, while Toronto comes alive through the colder months through a wide array of winter celebrations. One of the most spectacular is the Aurora Winter Festival, a six-week celebration that sees the Ontario Place, West Island transformed into four mystical worlds. Whichever season you choose, plan to stay for at least five nights to get a true flavor of the city.
Toronto skyline view
Where to stay To be at the heart of most of the attractions you'll want to see, aim for downtown. One of the best options is the Marriott City Center, not only because it's located right next to the CN Tower but also because it's attached to the iconic Rogers Center where the Toronto Blue Jays play and countless concerts and popular events are held.
Toronto Blue Jay stadium
Opt for a Stadium room and you'll look out onto the field. If you want to experience Toronto's non-stop nightlife, the Entertainment District is the place to be. If you're looking for a luxury experience, discover Canada's first St. Regis hotel in the heart of downtown.
Where to eat and drink Nowhere is Toronto's incredible diversity more evident than in its food scene — taste Toronto and you're tasting the world. The city is brimming with restaurants and cafés serving everything from high-end fine dining to comfort food from an informal neighborhood joint — plus every option imaginable in between.
For fine dining, consider Alo, Canis and Edulis. Book a table at Canoe, Lavelle, The One Eighty or 360 at the CN Tower and you're guaranteeing a view as spectacular as the food. Or experience the city's remarkable fusion food at DaiLo (French-Cantonese), El Catrin (Mexican-French) and the unexpected mashup of Rasta Pasta (Jamaican-Italian).
The above suggestions don't even scratch the surface of a food scene to rival any city on earth, with options to suit every taste and any budget.
How to get around Toronto is perfect to explore on foot or via a growing network of cycle routes. For a quicker journey, buy a Presto card to use the TTC, Toronto's subway, streetcar and bus system.
How to get there Fly into Toronto Pearson International Airport (YYZ) with United and you're around 15 miles west of the city center. The most comfortable route in is via the Union Pearson Express, which runs every 15 minutes and gets you downtown in 25 minutes ($13).The TTC is a cheaper option at under $5, but it can take an hour and a half and involves a number of transfers, while a taxi will take around 30 minutes and cost $45.
United flies to Toronto from numerous U.S. cities including our Hub city locations. Book your trip via united.com or by downloading the United app.
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Following the devastating wildfires in Australia and powerful earthquakes that shook Puerto Rico last week, we're taking action to make a global impact through our international partnerships as well as nonprofit organizations Afya Foundation and ADRA (Adventist Development and Relief Agency).
Helping Puerto Rico recover from earthquakes
Last week, Puerto Rico was hit with a 5.2 magnitude earthquake, following a 6.4 magnitude earthquake it experienced just days before. The island has been experiencing hundreds of smaller quakes during the past few weeks.
These earthquakes destroyed crucial infrastructure and left 4,000 people sleeping outside or in shelters after losing their homes. We've donated $50,000 to our partner charity organization Airlink and through them, we've helped transport disaster relief experts and medical supplies for residents, as well as tents and blankets for those who have lost their homes. Funding will go towards organizations within Airlink's partner network, which includes Habitat for Humanity, Mercy Corps and Americares, to help with relief efforts and long-term recovery.
Australian wildfire relief efforts
Our efforts to help Australia have inspired others to make their own positive impact. In addition to teaming up with Ellen DeGeneres to donate $250,000 and launching a fundraising campaign with GlobalGiving to benefit those impacted by the devastating wildfires in the country known for its open spaces and wildlife, our cargo team is helping to send more than 600 pounds of medical supplies to treat injured animals in the region.
Helping us send these supplies is the Afya Foundation, a New York-based nonprofit that seeks to improve global health by collecting surplus medical supplies and delivering them to parts of the world where they are most needed. Through Airlink, the Afya Foundation will send more than $18,000 worth of materials that will be used to treat animals injured in the Australian fires.
These medical supplies will fly to Melbourne (MEL) and delivered to The Rescue Collective. This Australian organization is currently focused on treating the massive population of wildlife, such as koalas, kangaroos, and birds, that have had their habitats destroyed by the recent wildfires. The supplies being sent include wound dressings, gloves, catheters, syringes and other items that are unused but would otherwise be disposed of.
By working together, we can continue to make a global impact and help those affected by natural disasters to rebuild and restore their lives
Australia needs our help as wildfires continue to devastate the continent that's beloved by locals and travelers alike. In times like these, the world gets a little smaller and we all have a responsibility to do what we can.
On Monday, The Ellen DeGeneres Show announced a campaign to raise $5 million to aid in relief efforts. When we heard about Ellen's effort, we immediately reached out to see how we could help.
Today, we're committing $250,000 toward Ellen's campaign so we can offer support now and help with rebuilding. For more on The Ellen DeGeneres Show efforts and to donate yourself, you can visit www.gofundme.com/f/ellenaustraliafund
We're also matching donations made to the Australian Wildfire Relief Fund, created by GlobalGiving's Disaster Recovery Network. This fund will support immediate relief efforts for people impacted by the fires in the form of emergency supplies like food, water and medicine. Funds will also go toward long-term recovery assistance, helping residents recover and rebuild. United will match up to $50,000 USD in donations, and MileagePlus® members who donate $50 or more will receive up to 1,000 award miles from United. Donate to GlobalGiving.
Please note: Donations made toward GlobalGiving's fund are only eligible for the MileagePlus miles match.
In addition to helping with fundraising, we're staying in touch with our employees and customers in Australia. Together, we'll help keep Australia a beautiful place to live and visit in the years to come.