Eat, Drink, and Play Ball in Louisville, Kentucky

Aubrey Everett
The delicious and filling Cobb salad with fried chicken at Sway.

It is a huge year for Kentucky in the volleyball world. Three local teams made it to the NCAA tournament, Louisville played host to the NCAA semis and finals, and the Kentucky Expo Center is set to host the 2013 USA Volleyball Open National Championship in May. If you’re planning on going to nationals, or are just curious about this Southern city, tag along with the VBM staff on their Louisville adventures while covering the championship.

>> Where to stay

The quality of a hotel often determines the extent to which you enjoy a trip. We stayed at the Galt House Hotel on the banks of the Ohio River and had few complaints. Especially festive during Christmas time, the hotel consists of two towers connected by an atrium. Al J’s bar sits along the back wall of the glass walkway, complete with a fish tank bartop and a large bird cage with adorable quail, canaries, and finches. A circular fitness center sits on top of the hotel’s main tower and offers 360-degree views of the city, providing a little extra motivation to exercise while traveling. Although it does cost $5 a day, or $10 per visit, the views are worth it.

Another great Louisville lodging option is the Seelbach Hilton Hotel. Built in 1905 and listed in the National Register of Historic Places, history and mystery fill the halls of the Seelbach. A popular spot in prohibition era, the hotel hosted many gangsters in its famous Oakroom. Though now a fine dining destination, the former card hall saw the likes of Al Capone and George Remus, a whiskey runner who became F. Scott Fitzgerald’s inspiration for Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby. Secret passageways once coursed through the hotel, allowing Capone and other visitors to make quick escapes. The passageways have since been filled, but you can still visit the Rathskeller, once a basement nightclub and prohibition speakeasy, now a space for corporate parties and weddings.

>> Where to eat

Southern hospitality would be nothing without great eats, and you’ll have no trouble finding delicious places to fill your belly in Louisville. For local cuisine, try Sway, located at one end of the Fourth Street Live entertainment district. This Southern cooking restaurant uses ingredients from local dairies, butchers, and farms. Instead of the traditional bread basket before your meal, they serve a plate of mini corn muffins and buttermilk biscuits with honey butter. And if choosing an entrée proves challenging, take our word for it that anything with fried chicken is a solid choice.

Your trip to the largest city in Kentucky would be incomplete without eating breakfast at Lynn’s Paradise Café. Reviewers often describe the restaurant as kitsch, but it’s more complicated than that. The décor is busy, happy, and whimsical, complete with a giant fake tree in the middle of the dining room, disco balls and plastic fish hanging from the ceiling, and plaster legs in colorful bellbottoms emerging from the front wall. The food is delightful and the staff genuinely friendly. We recommend the espresso drinks, particularly the nut tree latte for almond and walnut lovers, and the huge fluffy biscuits that come with almost any breakfast entrée. After you eat or while you’re waiting for a table you can visit the retail shop, The World of Swirl, in the front of the building. It sells clothing designed by Lynn herself among many other gifty items and souvenirs.

You probably don’t think sushi and Kentucky in the same sentence, but Sapporo Japanese Grill and Sushi proved to be a great lunch find for our crew. Also in the Fourth Street Live area, Sapporo had good prices and great service. We ordered sushi (chili tai roll with a drizzle of sweet chili sauce was the crowd favorite) and bento boxes, neither of which disappointed. Give the hot tea a try, too. We were chilled from our walk over and the slightly nutty taste and warmth were a great combo, but the gorgeous (and heavy!) stone teapot our waiter served the tea in impressed us the most.

If you’re looking more for liquid nourishment, you have a plethora of options. The Bluegrass Brewing Company (slogan: “Beer is food”) has three locations throughout the city and offers a great selection of hand-crafted brews. VBM staff picks include the Raspberry Meade, traditionally a brew to celebrate marriage, and the Altbier (“old-style beer”), a classic German ale.

You should absolutely not leave Louisville without sampling some of their famous bourbon and Maker’s Mark Bourbon House & Lounge is a great place to do so. Whether you prefer to order straight off the bourbon list or mix it up with one of their creative cocktails, the drinks are good and the atmosphere a perfect balance of swanky and understated. If you go for Sunday brunch, you can even get $10 bottomless Bloody Marys or Mimosas.

>> Where to enjoy

Forget a recognizable skyline, Louisville’s icon is the twin spires of Churchill Downs. On the first Saturday in May, the jockeys and their horses run the Kentucky Derby, but the rest of the year the racetrack is open to visitors to tour and explore through the separately-operating Kentucky Derby Museum. With everything from derby fashion to horse breeding, to interactive games, costumes, and trivia, the museum is a great way to experience the world of thoroughbred racing even if you aren’t visiting on an event day.

While we had a blast touring Louisville, the volleyball matches in the KFC Yum! Center were definitely the highlight of our trip, and not only because they were exciting games. The center itself is shiny and new. Since opening in 2010, it has brought many high-profile performers and events to the Louisville area. Capable of seating 22,090 people, you can also book the arena or one of the other event spaces in the building for private events, such as weddings or conventions.

There’s certainly no doubt that Louisville has a ton to offer, and the AVCA, NCAA volleyball, and USAV all made a great choice by electing it to host their biggest annual events. So whether you come down for the Derby, for nationals, or just for fun, you’ll certainly have a memorable trip!

**Fun Facts**
It’s common knowledge that Louisville hosts the Kentucky Derby, but did you know these other fun facts?

- Louisville is within a day’s drive of more than half of the nation’s population.

- It’s the eighth safest large city in the nation.

- Louisville is the seventh largest inland port in the nation.

- It’s home to 120 parks.

- The largest Beatles festival in the world is in Louisville every Memorial Day weekend.

- The city manufactures one third of the world’s bourbon.

- It also makes 90 percent of all disco balls made in the U.S.

***Louisville was named the number one U.S. travel destination for 2013 by Lonely Planet ***

Originally published in February 2013

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