How to Spend an Extra Day in Louisville
The Gateway to the South offers a unique blend of hospitality and history
by Sahar Khan
March 28, 2023
Kentucky’s largest city, Louisville is associated with many legends.
Al Capone used the old-world Seelbach hotel as a hideout. F. Scott Fitzgerald escaped his military training camp to drink at the city’s glamorous bars. The Greatest, Muhammad Ali, was born and raised here, and it inspired his original boxing nickname: the Louisville Lip. Commercially, Louisville is home to Fortune 500 insurance giant Humana and Yum! Brands, which owns KFC, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut. Culturally, it is equally as rich: Several Pulitzer Prize-winning plays and world premieres have originated at the Actors Theatre; the home of onetime resident Thomas Edison is now dedicated to his life and inventions; and the Locust Grove mansion is the only remaining structure west of the Appalachian Mountains known as a stopping point for Lewis and Clark. Louisville is often called the Gateway to the South, and an extra day allows visitors to discover a unique blend of hospitality and history.
Muhammad Ali Center
Louisville pays tribute to its hometown hero with a cultural center that covers boxing legend Muhammad Ali’s life and career. Videos of his most famous fights and catchy verses inspire and entertain, but the exhibits that pack the biggest punch highlight Ali’s Civil Rights activism, including a gallery dedicated to the Vietnam conflict and his refusal to be drafted.
Tucked in a charming two-story clapboard building in Old Louisville, 610 Magnolia is celebrity chef Edward Lee’s homage to the Southern table and his Korean heritage. Cases in point: The James Beard-nominated chef’s seared scallops are topped with miso hollandaise and seaweed, and the duck breast, drenched in plum hoisin sauce, pairs succulently with charred okra and Cajun-style dirty rice.
Hell or High Water
Located on Whiskey Row, a collection of 19th-century buildings once home to Louisville’s bourbon industry, the aptly named Hell or High Water has survived both a fire and a flood. Red booths, leather-bound books and decorative rugs create a sensual backdrop for libations such as the Calling Card, whose hint of orange liqueur and sweet vermouth highlight notes of brandy and cognac and deepen the bourbon’s pleasant sting.
Brown-Forman heiress Laura Lee Brown melded her love of art with hospitality to create 21c, a museum-cum-hotel concept. The fanciful 21c is housed in a series of 19th-century warehouses and features a rotating exhibit of artworks in a gallery space and the guest rooms. Southern fare with international influences, such as country-fried rabbit with Parmesan dumplings, delights at the restaurant Proof on Main.
The racetrack was built in 1875 for the Kentucky Derby, the longest continuously running sporting event in the U.S. Every first weekend in May, the horse race attracts royals, movie stars and tech billionaires who congregate under Churchill Downs’ iconic twin spires to wager on the “the most exciting two minutes in sports.” Enjoy mint juleps and elaborate hats in the grandstand—and if you find yourself in Louisville outside of May, there are other races to see. churchilldowns.com