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TRAVEL Louisville: Putting a twist on Southern hospitality
by Andrew Davis, Windy City Times.
2019-11-27

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The South is renowned for many things—including food and its vaunted hospitality. However, it also has been maligned for, among other things, what non-Southerners might call "backward thinking."

Well, take a look at Louisville, which one might call a beacon of progress ( although, judging by Democrat Andy Beshear's recent gubernatorial win, Louisville isn't the ONLY progressive city in Kentucky ). Louisville's Board of Alderman passed its pro-LGBT Fairness Ordinance in 1999, making it the first such measure to pass in the state.

However, Louisville has its attractions as well, covering everything from arts to sports. A recent trip to the city was illuminating and entertaining on many fronts.

Artfully done

I stayed in the fascinating 21c Museum Hotels ( 700 W. Main St.; 21cMuseumHotels.com ). Having already stayed in one in Cincinnati ( with body parts coming out of tiles in the bathroom ), I knew what to expect: a combination hotel, contemporary art museum and restaurant. ( There are others in Bentonville, Arkansas; and Nashville—with one slated to open in Chicago this winter. )

The restaurant in Louisville's 21c hotel is Proof on Main—a justifiably praised spot with offerings such as the Proof bison burger ( incredibly delicious ), chicken-fried pork cheeks, carrot top cavatelli and chicken liver mousse ( the latter with buttermilk biscuits, of course ).

And 21c, of course, has its own "quirks," if you will. Instead of anthropomorphic tiles, the bathroom had a black-light feature that can make showering quite a trippy experience. ( My room also had a large red penguin watching me sleep, as penguins are the official mascot of this chain. ) Also, the first-floor men's restroom reportedly allows people to look out while using the urinals ( and, no, people can't view the patron from the outside ); unfortunately, the room was being repaired while I was there so I couldn't personally confirm this.

In addition, the gallery features lots of provocative photos and exhibits—some featuring hard-hitting subjects. There's even art in the elevators, courtesy of Ivan Navarro's ceiling installation that makes it look like lights go on forever.

However, there are certainly many hotels in Louisville. The Moxy Louisville Downtown ( 100 W. Washington St.; moxy-hotels.marriott.com/en/hotels/louisville-downtown ) offers ultra-contemporary style ), and The Brown Hotel ( 335 W. Broadway; BrownHotel.com ) and The Seelbach Hilton ( 500 S. 4th St.; SeelbachHilton.com ) are both on the list of Historic Hotels of America.

And then there's the Hotel Distil spot Repeal ( 101 W. Main St.; RepealLouisville.com )—references, of course, to the ubiquitous bourbon that flows throughout Kentucky. Start with the blueberry sage Old Fashioned and proceed with the truffled spaghetti.

However, sticking with the subhead's theme of art, a must-do is the Speed Art Museum ( 2035 S. 3rd St.; SpeedMuseum.org )—the oldest and largest museum in the state, and which is next to the University of Louisville. One of the must-sees in this spot is the exhibition "Ebony G. Patterson...while the dew is still on the roses…" This exhibition is the single largest solo exhibition in museum's history and the most significant presentation of Chicago visual artist Ebony G. Patterson's work to date.

LGBTQ notes

As previously mentioned, Louisville is a progressive spot. One of the foremost authorities on the city's LGBTQ-related growth is activist Lisa Gunterman, who is also director of the University of Louisville's LGBT Center. Restrooms in the center are LGBTQ-inclusive, and the LGBT Center and campus housing even offer students interested in LGBTQ issues and social justice the opportunity to live in a community named for the late gay civil-rights activist Bayard Rustin. In addition, the university marked UofL Pride Sept. 30-Oct. 31, with activities ranging from "LGBTQ Pride Around the World" to the HSC Pride Banned Blood Drive ( which aimed to raise awareness around the FDA's policy on blood donations from men who engage in same-sex relations ). As an aside, the campus is lovely ( even on the blustery day I got a tour of the Belknap campus with plucky guide Reagan and communications specialist Niki ), with Cardinal Stadium, the Covi Gallery of the Hite Art Institute and the Brandeis School of Law among its sights.

However, on the flip side, I decided to take in the LGBT nightspot Play ( 1101 E. Washington St.; "Play Louisville" on Facebook )—probably best known these days as the home Jade Jolie, the drag queen who John Travolta mistook for Taylor Swift at this year's MTV Video Music Awards. Barring an overly friendly patron, it was a pretty cool Halloween experience that encompasses watching a kick-ass production of The Rocky Horror Show ( that Acting Against Cancer hosted ) to—what else?—a drag queen show some incredible costumed attendees.

Miscellaneous

Of course, the Kentucky Derby is a centerpiece of Louisville. Actually just a short distance from the University of Louisville, people are already preparing for the next race, which will take place May 2, 2020. The Kentucky Derby Museum ( 704 Central Ave.; DerbyMuseum.org ) has everything related to the annual race that one can imagine, and there are also special events like the upcoming "Cakes with Kris Kringle" ( on Dec. 14 ).

One of the advantages to visiting Louisville around Halloween is viewing the magnificent Jack O'Lantern Spectacular ( jack-o-lanternlouisville.com ), which took place Oct. 8-Nov. 3 this year. Thousands of lighted carved pumpkins are on display, and this year's theme was "Seasons of the Year," as gourds featured holidays and individuals associated with various times of the year. ( There was even an "In Memoriam" section that showed people who'd passed away this year, such as actor Luke Perry. )

A big part of the Louisville experience almost HAS to involve bourbon, so check out one of the important distilleries out there and try the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience ( 528 W. Main St.; EvanWilliams.com ). Guests can experience a guided tour, a gift shop and, of course, bourbon tastings. Bottoms up!

One of the ( unexpected ) pleasures I took in was the Kentucky Science Center ( 727 W. Main St.; KYScienceCenter.org ). Geared primarily toward kids, there were many items that interested this science geek—and will undoubtedly be a cool spot for parents and their children.

And located across the street from that spot is the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory ( 800 W. Main St.; SluggerMuseum.com ), which I found quite enjoyable. Not only did I get to hold Chicago Cubs player Kyle Schwarber's bat, but I got to see various items like Babe Ruth's notched bat and Lego renditions of Comiskey Park and MLB hats.

One place I wish I had visited ( but didn't have the time ) was the Muhammad Ali Center ( 144 N. 6th St.; AliCenter.org )—a shrine to the late pugilist/activist who was born and raised in Louisville. Former President Jimmy Carter has called Muhammad "Mr. International Friendship" and, in 2005, Ali was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

My last Louisville reference is a culinary one: the new Logan Street Market ( 1001 Logan St.; LoganStMarket.com ). This charming urban market consists of more than two dozen chefs, artisans and vendors, and there's a farmers market every Sunday.

So, as one can see, Louisville has plenty to offer for everyone. And with the city being only about 300 miles from Chicago, a road trip during an extended weekend is certainly within the realm of possibility.

Louisville Tourism deserves many thanks for arranging this trip.


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