CENTRAL • WEST • EAST
• We allowed only an hour for our visit to the Kentucky Derby Museum. Big mistake. Allow at least half a day. The exhibits are interesting, and the 360° high-resolution film titled “The Greatest Race” is excellent. www.derbymuseum.org
• If you opt for the one-hour Barn and Backside Tour of the Churchill Downs Racetrack, sign up for an early morning time slot. That’s when you’re most likely to see the track filled with trainers and jockeys. Offered through the Derby Museum for an additional charge. www.derbymuseum.org
• Wandering through Old Louisville is like time-traveling back to the 19th century, when streets were lined with grand Victorian mansions. The neighborhood is the third largest historic preservation area in the United States and the largest purely Victorian neighborhood. Stop by the Old Louisville Visitors Center in Central Park for information on walking tours. www.oldlouisville.org
— Where to Stay —
• The Bourbon Manor, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has morphed from a successful plantation in the nineteenth century to a stylish bed and breakfast in the twenty-first. Rooms are a blend of antique charm and uncluttered openness, breakfast is a white-tablecloth affair complete with flowers and bourbon-infused food, and a graciously curved staircase provides a picture-perfect setting. In short, bring your camera as well as your appetite. www.BourbonManor.com
• Bardstown is in the midst of building new tourist accommodations, but meanwhile it’s wise to book reservations in advance, especially in the summer.
— Where to Eat —
What do you expect from a town that declares itself “The Bourbon Capital of the World”? After all, great drinks have to be accompanied by great eats. Here are some restaurants that are definitely worth a try.
• Get introduced to Kentucky by dining at The Rickhouse Restaurant and Lounge, where you’ll have your choice of more than 100 bourbons. We salivated over the menu choices, ultimately choosing a bourbon-blueberry salmon and a bourbon-mushroom petite filet. You get the idea. www.therickhouse-bardstown.com
• The atmosphere alone makes the Old Talbott Tavern a must-see place. Built in 1779, it has thick stone walls and deep-set window casings on the outside, heavy ceiling timbers and sturdy cupboards on the inside. It’s been visited by kings, generals, outlaws and songwriters and now, by folks who want a darn good meal at a reasonable price. www.talbotts.com
• Kurtz Restaurant bills itself as an “old-fashioned eatery serving homestyle Southern meals.” We soon learned that in Bardstown homestyle Southern meals inevitably include bourbon. Therefore, after our fried-chicken-and-fries main course, we followed our server’s advice and split an order of biscuit pudding topped with a special bourbon-raisin sauce. No website, old-fashioned or otherwise, but they can be contacted at (502) 348-5983.
•The menu at the small, intimate Harrison Smith House changes daily according to whim and weather, but if you have the chance, definitely try “Josh’s grilled flatbread, a concoction of corn, goat cheese, smoked mushrooms, pickled onion and arugula. We were so taken by it, we listed the ingredients and tried to replicate it at home. It didn’t work. www.harrisonsmithhouse.com
— What to Do —
• Many distilleries close down for a week or two between mid-July and mid-August in order to do maintenance. They may still be open for tours of the grounds and warehouses, but you won’t be able to see the full operation. Schedules vary — and in our experience, aren’t always posted — so it’s wise to call in advance.
• If you plan on taking spirits back home, remember you’ll have to pack the bottles in your checked luggage. In addition, certain bourbons can only be sold in Kentucky. This means you can purchase them on site and ship them back yourself, but the distillery isn’t allowed to mail them for you.
• Possibly one of Kentucky’s largest selfie-stops, Lebanon’s 135-foot water tower has been painted to look like the neck of a gigantic Marker’s Mark bottle, complete with a stream of red wax and bourbon spilling down the center. Located off Hwy. 55 behind Lebanon’s Masonic Temple.
• Lebanon’s County Seat Kitchen and Bar is perfectly named — an unpretentious, friendly, reasonably priced place to grab a quick meal. Their signature salad features healthy helpings of quinoa, sunflower seeds and garbanzos along with the more standard salad fare such as cucumber, tomatoes, and carrots. www.countyseatky.com
• For a taste — both literal and metaphorical — of the Old South, stop by Harrodsburg’s Beaumont Inn, the oldest family-operated bed and breakfast in Kentucky. Built in 1845, the historic building was originally a “school for young ladies,” and it remains a reminder of the prim and proper past. A note on the Inn’s website tells people that “shorts are now allowed in the dining room, but proper dress is still recommended.” Note: the food is good enough, and the surroundings interesting enough, to warrant a few hours in a pair of slacks. www.beaumontinn.com
• Spend an hour or so strolling down Harrodsburg’s Main Street, home to some delightful locally-owned shops. Of special note: the original soda fountain at the Kentucky Fudge Company and the local art work at the Arts Council Studio and Gallery. If you’re looking for a Kentucky memento that doesn’t include bourbon, check out the watercolors by Charlene Wilder and the jewelry by Rita Bentley. Of course, if you want to stay with the bourbon theme, the gallery also sells repurposed bourbon barrels.
• Harned’s Drive-in boasts that they have the “South’s Best Bar-B-Q” and in a random sample of folks we met while wandering through the Arts District, most locals agree. We debated between the pulled pork sandwich and the Paducah Dog topped with chili. Finally, as we usually do, we ordered (and split) both. Our vote: go for the dogs. 4421 Clarks River Rd.