The 2015 Kentucky Derby week is almost here, and if you’re making your maiden voyage to Louisville, Ky., you should go ahead and get some post-race watering holes lined up to soak in the celebratory spirits of the Derby City.
Through my experience, there are really four major areas that Derby goers should be aware of when considering a destination for a bourbon, beer, or glass of wine:
- The Highlands
- St. Matthew’s
With those areas considered, I’ll give you one spot to start in each:
8UP Elevated Drinkery & Kitchen (Downtown)
Photo courtesy of 8UP Elevated Drinkery & Kitchen
I have yet to try 8UP because it’s fairly new, but I’ve heard only good things and, I mean, look at that outdoor rooftop view. The indoor space apparently is pretty sweet, too, because it’s all glass. Even the kitchen is open, perfect for your upscale “Progressive American” drinking-and-dining experience. They also boast a pretty impressive bourbon selection, carrying more than 80 different products, including brands like Pappy Van Winkle, Elijah Craig, Blanton’s and Basil Hayden’s.
Also try in Downtown: Down One Bourbon Bar
Garage Bar (NuLu)
Photo courtesy of Garage Bar
The best way to describe NuLu would be as an older, historical area of the city that lost its flare somewhere along the way as newer retail and industrial communities began sprouting up in more suburban areas of town. Then, recently, city officials and community activists decided to revive and reinvent this historic district into a hipster-friendly, locally proud, sustainable culture filled with trendy retail stores, eccentric restaurants and places that sell craft beer.
Garage Bar is a perfect example of this. It used to be an auto service garage on the outskirts of downtown. Garage Bar features a solid selection of about 30 bourbons, some interesting seasonal cocktails (like the High Heat), affordable wines and, of course, plenty of craft beers. It also has a pretty cool patio (picture above), complete with ping pong tables and oddly shaped block-built seating, covered in Astroturf.
Also try in NuLu: Louisville Beer Store
El Camino (Highlands)
Photo courtesy of El Camino
Two years ago, El Camino was included on Thrillist’s 33 Best New Bars in America, where they described it as “a monument to SoCal right in Kentucky.” Known for its “artisanal tiki drinks,” El Camino is a perfect spot when the weather is nice and you’re trying as hard as you can to pretend like you’re at the beach. Don’t believe me? Type in the hashtag: “#elfreakincamino” on instagram and see for yourself. They have an incredible patio and an atmosphere that inspires fun, no matter what kind of crowd you’re with. I won’t even try to describe their crazy cocktail selection, but you can check it out for yourself:
Photo courtesy of El Camino
Also try near the Highlands: The Monkey Wrench
Gerstle’s Place (St. Matthew’s)
Photo courtesy of Gerstle’s Place
Gerstle’s Place, or “Club G” as referred to by locals, is more of a late-night destination in St. Matthew’s. Known for it’s live music and cheap beer ($2 PBR’s all day, every day), they have a different musical act lined up every night from now until the Derby, including local favorite 64 West taking the stage Derby Eve. While not necessarily known for its elaborate drink selection, the open patio area and good tunes make for an ideal meeting spot for you and your friends toward the end of your evening.
Also try in St. Matthew’s: The Tin Roof
Captain’s Quarters Riverside Grille
Photo courtesy of Captain’s Quarters Riverside Grille
Although not located in one of the four aforementioned “drinking areas,” Captain’s Quarters is the perfect spot to grab a margarita and watch the sun set over the Ohio River. The view is definitely the coolest part, but they have a great, wooded patio and tiki bar area, too, where you’ll find live music Wednesday through Sunday. If you don’t feel like driving, you can also travel by boat, as Captain’s Quarters makes dock space available for patrons. In addition to a refreshing beer and cocktail selection, it also serves pizza and excellent seafood entrees, like their Rajun Cajun Shrimp Pasta.