The Gateway to the South

The Gateway to the South

Take a tour round the epicentre of the American whiskey world

Places | 26 Apr 2013 | Issue 111 | By Fred Minnick

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The epicentre for the American whiskey world, Louisville, was once a cocktail nightmare. Just 10 years ago, spirits executives would entertain guests and find many bartenders could not make an Old Fashioned or Mint Julep, two cocktails with historic ties to the city. The dilapidated buildings along Main Street, a section formerly known as ‘Whiskey Row’, served as a subtle reminder that whiskey may have helped build this city, but interests changed. Thankfully, the pendulum swung back in favour of Bourbon; and in the past five years, Louisville reached deep into the whiskey barrel and resurrected its somewhat forgotten whiskey heritage. Today, thanks to Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail, commitment from investors and stellar bartending talent, this city has become one of world’s greatest whiskey destinations.

Bourbons Bistro

2255 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, KY 40206

In their spare time, the Bourbons Bistro owners travel the state, looking for unwanted stashes of whiskey. Instead of tossing them in their private cellar, they let us normal folks have a dram. At any given moment, the Bourbons Bistro will be packing Bourbons distilled 50 to 100 years ago, but they’re not on the menu. Just wink and ask for the good stuff. Even still, Bourbons Bistro stocks 130 to 145 modern Bourbons at any given moment and showcases a food menu dripping with Bourbon influence. Our pick is the bone-in pork chop, which is pan seared and wrapped in prosciutto, topped with caramelised apples, country ham and Bourbon glaze. Feel free to sit at the bar made out of used Bourbon barrels.

Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse & Raw Bar

127 W Main St, Louisville, KY 40202

Did you know Louisville is UPS’ largest North American hub? For that reason, the city’s seafood is as fresh, maybe even fresher, than many coastal cities. Before many over-the-pond UPS planes stop at their final destination, they stop in Louisville. If that plane is packing oysters, there’s a good chance they’ll be on ice at Doc Crow’s Smokehouse & Raw Bar within an hour and fresher than the oysters in New York. Smack in the middle of Whiskey Row, Doc Crow’s is one of the city’s most beautiful interiors. But as a whiskey drinker, you may not be able to get your eyes off the constantly updated chalkboard filled with whiskeys. Just do yourself a favour, walk around the place, feel those old brick walls and touch a little piece of whiskey history, Doc Crow’s occupies the former Bonnie Bros. Distillery.

Down One Bourbon Bar

321 W Main St, Louisville, KY 40202

The new kid on the block, Down One Bourbon Bar is just a couple months old, but offers some of the greatest values in town. A former parking garage, the Down One Bourbon Bar sits below Main Street across from the Yum! Center. The splendid wood bar looks 200 years old with equally impressive black iron chandeliers and elegant stained glass windows giving the bar a Prohibition speakeasy vibe. A phone book takes you into a private room, where vintage whiskey jugs and old distillery photos offer a touch of history. But, somebody forgot to tell the Down One Bourbon Bar that it might go broke offering $5 2-ounce Jim Beam pours and 12 Years Old and older whiskeys for $10. It’s whiskey list strays away from the Louisville usual, too, boasting George Dickel Rye for cocktails and offering St. George Single Malt and Balcones Single Malt.

Jack’s Lounge

122 Sears Ave, Louisville, KY 40207

Within walking distance of a popular high school football stadium, Jack’s Lounge is where the locals go. Since the late 1970s, the city’s first professional bartender showed patrons what a cocktail could be. Known as the “Bad Girl of Bourbon,” Joy Perrine authored The Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book and was one of the first to infuse fruits with Bourbon. Semi-retired, Perrine still works Thursday through Saturday. In the kitchen, a young-and-upcoming chef Tavis Rockwell and legendary chef Dean Corbett take bar food to a new level with Reuben Tacos and the best damn pot roast you’ll ever eat. Be warned, however: You might fall asleep in the comfy leather chairs after drinking a legend’s cocktail and stuffing your face with another legend’s fare.


900 E Market St, Louisville, KY 40206

Not to be confused with the similarly named restaurants in New York or San Francisco, this Rye is Louisville owned and operated. With 25 Bourbons and 20 rye whiskeys, Rye carries interesting craft distiller whiskeys like Virginia’s Catoctin Creek Rye Whiskey and New York’s Hudson Manhattan Rye along with a slew of the Lawrenceburg, Indiana, distillery whiskeys that are sold under several different brands. The Southern food style with influences from Asian and Southwest cooking offers delightful pairing options for an ever-changing cocktail menu. The ‘Old Pal’ cocktail, rye, vermouth and Campari, brings a spicy sweet bite and pairs nicely with the Pork Terrine, a Bourbon and bacon wrap. Who doesn’t like Bourbon and bacon?

Silver Dollar

1761 Frankfort Ave, Louisville, KY 40206

Benjamin Franklin once said the only things certain in life are death and taxes. Unfortunately, Mr. Franklin did not live to taste Silver Dollar’s fried oysters, chorizo corndog, Mac & Cheese or Apple Pie. This former fire station is a Southern food paradise, never straying from its high-quality food and always shelving 80 to 100 Bourbons with 30 rye and unaged whiskeys. Vintage country music always spinning on the vinyl record player and mainstay Christmas lights flickering, Silver Dollar keeps it real, only selling Kentucky-made whiskeys and offering one vodka, one gin and a couple dozen tequilas. If you plan to call foul for Silver Dollar’s tequila affection, remember tequila is often aged in used Bourbon barrels.

St. Charles Exchange

113 S 7th St, Louisville, KY 40202

Walking into the St. Charles Exchange is like travelling back in time. The ornate back bar glistens with 1920s pristine and the bearded bartender makes the best classic cocktails in town. If not for the yuppie talking on his phone a few chairs down and the television running Sports Center, you might actually forget we’re in the 21st Century. Alas, there’s no time travel booth here, just root beer-and-buttermilk soaked chicken wings and a lamb burger on an English muffin. The classic cocktails are actually the classics, and not a new spin on the unbroken. For whiskey cocktails, you may find the ‘Uncle Tupelo’ punch refreshing and different. The Old Granddad Bonded Bourbon is mixed with peach liqueur, lemon juice, Cointreau, Demerara and bitters. If that doesn’t sound up your alley, just ask the bearded guy to make you something.

The Brown Hotel Lobby Bar

335 W Broadway, Louisville, KY 40202

There are not enough pages in this magazine to describe the Brown Hotel’s importance to Louisville and the international culinary scene. The famous dish the “Hot Brown” was invented here in 1926, and Brown bartenders have introduced countless celebrities and dignitaries to Bourbon for the first time. In modern day, the hotel’s Lobby Bar gets lost in the two-storey lobby’s beauty, featuring Bottoncino marble flooring, mahogany furniture and Palladian-style windows. But, make no mistake about it, the Lobby Bar is all about making better whiskey cocktails, celebrating its 90th anniversary with ‘The Evolution of the Classic Cocktail’ theme. Due to state laws, however, you can’t smoke a nice cigar here even though the lobby screams whiskey and cigar time. Oh, well. At least there is good whiskey.
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