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Insider’s Guide to Derby City

Louisville opens its arms to throngs of horse racing fans every spring. Derby City is the place to be: the bourbon’s flowing, the eating is good, and living is easy the first Saturday in May. If you’re headed to Louisville for the Kentucky Derby and want to see what else you might get up to besides those legendary two minutes at Churchill Downs, you’ve come to the right place. Our contributor Dana McMahan is on the ground in Derby town and will steer you to the latest and greatest.


Louisville is brimming over with new eateries that join an already stellar line-up.

Atlantic No. 5 – Brought to you by the tastemakers behind RYE (remember? We steered you there last Derby; you’re welcome) this food/coffee/sundries shop downtown turns up the volume on sandwiches and salads, serving up seriously good lunch fare in a spare, urban setting.

El Camino – Tiki is the first thing to come to mind when you think Kentucky, right? No? That’s ok, El Camino – opened last fall – will show you the way with their classic tiki cocktails, vintage surf music on vinyl, and authentic Mexican street fare.

El Taco Luchador – Yep, more south of the border here, with this colorful new taqueria (just down the street from El Camino actually) that packs the house with fans of their cheap-and-delicious tacos. Don’t miss the chicken mole, and definitely grab those sweet potato fries with smoked pineapple sauce.

Wiltshire Bakery and Cafe – Francophiles get their fix at this corner bakery, and if Paleo types don’t abandon all principles when they catch a whiff of the croissants, surely they’ll cave when they spot the sandwich board. To pack a Derby box lunch in style, get your order in by April 28 (our pick: the meat and cheese fantasy in the #1 Italian box).


Meta/House of the Public – Two in one! This upscale cocktail lounge (housed in a former strip bar) is playing host to House of the Public Derby weekend. Three days of pop-up club, totally new every day, for the “culturally discerning” will showcase local makers and promises some mean mixology – with no cover charge.

Gralehaus – If you made a pilgrimage to the Holy Grale last year, you’re going to want to head to their new shop tucked behind the beer garden. Gralehaus defies easy categorization, but one thing’s for sure: you’ve got plenty of options in their wall of beer – plus some high end snacks and square meals to round out your liquid nourishment.

See and do

The revival of Whiskey Row downtown has launched in earnest with the opening of the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. If museums had been this cool (and well-funded) when we were kids we might’ve been better students (the bourbon tasting doesn’t hurt either). This official first stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail gives you an up-close look at the magic and alchemy that is bourbon-making – with a bonus helping of local history and lore. A handful more distilleries are in various stages of progress, so keep your eye on this swathe of downtown.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Louisville legend Cassius Clay’s (aka Muhammad Ali) bout with Sonny Liston; it’s also 45 years since John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s “bed-in.” What do these things have in common? They add up to a very good reason to drop in on the excellent Ali Center. Besides learning all about the life and times of the Champ, you’ll want to check out the new retrospective bed-in exhibit Give Peace a Chance.

Get out of town: head west (or east or south) on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail Craft Tour® and scope out what’s happening in the – micro-distilling – world of whiskey. Sample some moonshine and watch from grain to glass at one of eight small distilleries scattered across the commonwealth.

Dana McMahan
Former Digital Trends Contributor
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