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Couple's Retreat to Louisville, KY

Still close enough that the drive isn’t imposing, Derby City is chock-full of fine hotels, decadent dinner spots, and dark spaces to sip bourbon.

Written By:  Chris Chamberlain

Photographers:  Supplied


Couple’s Retreat: Louisville

For a destination that’s just far enough away to be exotic but still close enough that the drive isn’t imposing, seek out our neighbor to the north, Louisville. Less than 180 miles up I-65, Derby City is chock-full of fine hotels, decadent dinner spots, and dark spaces where you and your significant other can sip on bourbon.


Until the new 21c Museum Hotel opens in downtown Nashville, the Louisville location of the small boutique chain is definitely worth a visit. Located right on Louisville’s Main Street, this chic spot is surrounded by great restaurants, bars, and museums. But the real bonus is that 21c houses all three of those things under their own roof. Proof on Main is a farm-to-table treat with a menu of creative and whimsical dishes, while the bar at Proof is one of the finest bourbon bars in the country. In addition to 90 artfully designed guest rooms and fun little surprises, like a parade of red penguin statues that show up in various locations around the hotel, 21c maintains an impressive array of modern art on display around the property.

For a more staid experience, there’s the Marriott Downtown, adjacent to the Kentucky International Convention Center and a quick walk to plenty of fun destinations. There’s a hopping sports bar right off the lobby, and the weekend brunch at their fine dining restaurant, Blu, is among the best deals in town.

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The Kentucky Bourbon Trail hits nine distilleries throughout the middle of the state, making it worthy of its very own trip. For now, visit the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience downtown for a crash course in the history of the sweet brown spirit. A slick video presentation of the history of the distillery shares a lot about how Louisville emerged as a whiskey powerhouse, plus you can see an actual still in operation and taste through several Evan Williams products at the end of the tour.

For rare whiskeys, bourbon lovers need to stop inside The Silver Dollar, a new-school saloon located in a refurbished fire station that oozes cool and overflows with excellent brown liquor. The soundtrack features Bakersfield Sound country music, and the menu is heavy with exotic expressions of bourbon that are rarely spotted in the wild. A more modern vibe is found at Galaxie, a new cocktail emporium with affordable drinks made with fresh-squeezed juices and quality ingredients—their out-of-this-world margarita is a bargain. While the eating and drinking space at Galaxie is small, consider it cozy and comfy.


Louisville rivals Nashville as a dining destination, and culinary choices are multiplying at a similar rate in both cities. For a hot new spot with a local touch, visit Butchertown Grocery, where chef Bobby Benjamin, who has done stints at Flyte and Union Common, is making waves. In addition to an upstairs bar with live music and creative cocktails, the intimate main dining room features a chef’s bar where Benjamin presents diners with his American interpretations of French and Italian cuisine.

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For a taste of something you won’t find in Nashville, head to the NuLu neighborhood’s Mayan Cafe, where chef Bruce Ucán tickles the palate with specialties from his native Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. Sample authentic Mayan cuisine such as tikin-xic, a fish dish with an earthy achiote-lime sauce, or the addictive sikil pak, a pumpkin seed dip with roasted tomatoes and cilantro. Mayan Cafe is open for lunch during the week, but book a reservation if you’re on the hunt for a Saturday dinner date.

Craving plates to share? Try the Spanish offerings at Artesano Tapas Vinos y Mas, which recently opened a second outpost near Warehouse Row on 7th Street. The dishes are listed in Spanish, meaning you can either show off your high-school-level fluency—or simply point to a few choices and be prepared to have fun.

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