Out of Town - Louisville and Lexington
Every year in May, all eyes fall upon Kentucky’s pastoral Bluegrass region. During the first week of the month, the city of Louisville holds the Kentucky Derby, the most celebrated Thoroughbred racing event in the country. But from spring clear through late autumn, it’s a fine time for touring the hilly, verdant swatch of northern Kentucky that includes the state’s two largest cities, Louisville and Lexington. Despite the region’s generally conservative demeanor, Louisville has a growing core of hip neighborhoods, an increasingly locavore-driven restaurant scene, first-rate arts and culture, and one of the world’s largest gay nightclubs. And collegiate Lexington — just 75 miles away — makes a charming base for exploring nearby horse farms and acclaimed small-batch bourbon distilleries.
A large, modern metropolis (city-county population 721,000) on Kentucky’s Ohio River border with Indiana, Louisville (pronounced loo-uh-vull) grew from its 1778 founding into a prominent transportation hub, first for riverboats, then for the railroad, and more recently as the worldwide air cargo hub for UPS. As with other cities along Midwestern waterways, the population boomed throughout the 19th century with Germans, Irish, and other European immigrants as well as a sizable African-American community. Today the city is a center of education and medical research at the University of Louisville, and a production center of everything from trucks to Kentucky bourbon.
Downtown near the Ohio River, along West Main Street and nearby streets, you’ll find an impressive stock of grand, Victorian cast-iron buildings that date to the city’s shipping days — this is also where a few of the city’s gay nightspots are. A paved RiverWalk affords great views of the city skyline and many bridges connecting with Indiana. Synonymous with the city is the Louisville Slugger Museum, where the famous wooden bats used by Major League Baseball are manufactured (actually in the adjacent Hillerich & Bradsby factory) - it’s part of the riverfront Cultural District that includes the excellent Frazier International History Museum, Louisville Science Center, and Muhammad Ali Center.
Louisville excels when it comes to the arts, with respected opera and ballet companies, the highly regarded Louisville Orchestra, and the Actors Theatre of Louisville, which hosts the acclaimed Humana Festival of New American Plays every spring. Many major musical and dramatic events are staged at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts.
You’ll find a number of gracious residential districts both downtown and south of it, and a particular lively and gay-popular stretch of businesses and restaurants along Bardstown Road in southeastern Louisville’s Highlands and Cherokee Triangle neighborhoods. Anchoring this part of town are leafy and beautifully kept Cherokee Park and historic Cave Hill National Cemetery.
Due south of downtown, Old Louisville is an impressive neighborhood of Victorian mansions bordered by the sprawling campus of the University of Louisville, which enrolls around 20,000 students. The school’s Speed Art Museum has fine collections of American antiques and art by both European and American masters. Not far from here you’ll also find the world-famous Churchill Downs, site of the Kentucky Derby — a museum here traces the history of this renowned event.
Many of the city’s most gay-popular eateries are on Bardstown Road, including the community’s favorite java joint, Days Espresso (dayscoffee.com), a two-room space with local art and great coffee. Also along this stretch is Lilly’s (www.lillyslapeche.com), where you can sample such contemporary regional American specialties as catfish spring rolls with Asian dipping sauce, and locally farmed pork confit and braised shoulder.
One of Louisville’s most distinctive emerging neighborhoods for shopping and eating is the East Market District, a relatively compact stretch of cafes, galleries, and funky shops that’s just a short drive east of downtown. Here be sure to check out Bodega at Felice (www.thebodegaatfelice.com) — a trendy market, deli, and coffee bar all in one - and Toast on Market (www.toastonmarket.com), which serves tantalizingly tasty breakfast and lunch fare, including a memorable Monte Cristo.
Other dining standouts include downtown’s modern take on down-home cooking, Hillbilly Tea (www.hillbillytea.com) - try the “road kill stew” of venison, chicken, and mountain vegetables with braised greens and corn pone), and a handful of spots along lively Frankfort Avenue, including including Heine Brothers Coffee (heinebroscoffee.com) and Blue Dog Bakery (www.bluedogbakeryandcafe.com), which serves tapas on weekend evenings.
Louisville’s gay bars are spread around the city, with a few standouts downtown, including the legendary Connection Louisville (www.theconnection.net), an immense nightclub with several distinct spaces, from a drag show bar to leather lounge (Boots, with its own entrance) to an area with male erotic dancers — there’s something for all tastes here. Around the corner, Tryangles is locals-oriented cruise bar with male strippers on weekends.
At the other end of downtown, in the Cultural District, Starbase Q (www.starbaseq.com) is a popular, handsomely decorated bar with a welcoming staff, fun theme nights (country-western line dancing, cabaret, karaoke), and a great mix of guys — all ages and styles. Gay neighborhood spots south of downtown include Teddy Bears, Marty’s Tavern, and the mostly lesbian bar Tink’s Pub. Also of note is the famed Magnolia Bar &