Six of the best bars in Louisville
Spirits run deep in the Kentucky city, with no shortage of places to wet your whistle. From old-school speakeasies to slick rooftop bars, here are six of the best venues to scout out.
Louisville is the city that gave the world the Kentucky Derby and Muhammad Ali. Over the last few decades, steamy Derby pies and cheesy Weisenberger grits have ensured its status as one of the most celebrated foodie havens in the South. But until now, Louisville’s unique, bourbon-infused bar scene has flown under the radar, waiting to be discovered.
1. Barn8 at Hermitage Farm
Bourbon and horses are among Kentucky’s biggest draws, and you’ll find them both under one A-frame roof at this picturesque farm, 20 minutes by car from downtown Louisville. Visitors to the former racehorse stable can sip one of the farm-to-glass cocktails with ingredients such as hickory syrup foraged from the grounds. Round off the evening with a sunset tractor-drawn carriage ride through rolling pastures lined with white picket fences.
2. Hell Or High Water
Those in the know book ahead for a table at this underground speakeasy. Recreating all the drama of the prohibition era, the bar only reveals clandestine details about how to gain entry once you’ve booked. Having snuck through the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it doorway, you’ll find chandeliers, bookcases and red-velvet booths with secret hatches, through which drinks miraculously appear. The hot-ticket table here is accessed by climbing through a wardrobe, Narnia-style, into a hidden drinking den with its own service bell to buzz for highball refills.
3. Watch Hill Proper
Boasting the largest collection of American whiskey in the world (a staggering library of well over a thousand bottles), Watch Hill Proper has put the Norton Commons neighbourhood on the map. Half the fun is watching the bar staff, known as ‘whiskey hustlers’, shimmying up the ladders to collect requested bottles. With a collection of rare decanters from the 1920s and overstuffed leather chesterfield sofas dotted throughout, this cosy hangout brings a charming, scholarly vibe to Louisville’s bar scene.
4. Bar Expo
It may take a couple of attempts to find Louisville’s finest downtown dive bar, as it’s cunningly disguised to look like a hole in the wall. But it’s well worth the effort, as behind the unassuming door is a grungy, neon-lit neighbourhood hangout, fizzing with character. There’s also a big focus on the environment here, from the upcycled furnishings to the ‘super juice’ used in cocktails — a low-waste alternative to freshly squeezed citrus.
5. North Of Bourbon
It doesn’t get more Louisville than sipping a cocktail made with Old Forester while sat inside a giant whiskey barrel. You can do just this at North Of Bourbon, a hip, family-run hangout in Germantown where creole food features heavily on the menu and the backlit bar runs the gamut of Kentucky’s finest bourbons. Pull up a pew in one of the booths, made entirely from vintage barrel staves. The tables are also created with reclaimed flooring from neighbouring distilleries.
6. Copper & Kings
As one of the few rooftop bars in Louisville, this laid-back brunch spot offers ringside seats for the city’s industrial skyline, which is punctuated with church spires. Situated in the meatpacking district of Butchertown, all the spirits served here are created downstairs at the Copper & Kings distillery. It’s worth taking the factory tour just to witness the quirky ‘sonic ageing’ method, where loud music is blasted into the barrels to agitate the liquid. Punk is particularly effective, apparently.
Published in the US Cities 2023 guide, distributed with the March 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)
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