Urban Bourbon Trail

Note:  This blog describes an older experience with the Urban Bourbon Trail.  You can check out the Urban Bourbon Trail website for the latest information.

Several years ago, I took my husband to Louisville for a long weekend.  We discover the Urban Bourbon Trail during our stay.  This program offered a straightforward way to experience bourbon in different settings and using unusual ways to present the spirit.  The bourbon drinks of each location provided history as well as a localized flavor for the experience.  This was more than just drinking around town.

Using the Urban Bourbon Trail book that we picked up at the Visitor’s Center, we could choose a location, such as a bar or restaurant, based on the specialty they offered.  When you ordered a drink, you could get a stamp in the book.  By collecting stamps, we could redeem these for an Urban Bourbon Trail t-shirt.

We decided to start at the farthest point out and work our way back to the Galt House Hotel, where we were staying for the weekend.  The Brown Hotel is an older establishment that sits on Broadway and Fourth Street.  The hotel reminds me of the 1890s and the heyday of horse racing in town.  The bar is a console arranged in one corner of the lobby area.  It is all dark wood and fancy carvings.

Sitting at the center of the bar, we took out the Trail book to find out the special drink for this location.  We ordered our drinks with the female bartender.  She was glad we were there.  Our drinks were delivered quickly, and they were delicious.  The Trail was off to a blazing start and the evening ahead looked bright.

After finishing our drinks, the bartender stamped our books and asked if we would like another round of something to drink.  I shook my head and let her know we were done.  She glanced down the bar to a group of guys who were already drunk.  I assumed she was having a challenging time with them and did not want to be left alone.  I felt sorry for the situation, but we really had plans to move on.

The next stop on the Trail was the Old Seelbach Bar located in the Seelbach Hotel.  This hotel has been a staple of the area for as long as I can remember.  The Rathskeller in the basement has been the site of proms, weddings, and other events.  The ceiling is a bricked dome with lots of colors and very dark.

The bar is updated from the early 1900s of the original hotel.  The difference here is the bartenders take very care of you as you explore.  Our favorite has been Cindy, who has also been credited with many of the drinks on the menu.  The staff is truly knowledgeable and willing to share that knowledge.  We always enjoy sitting at the bar itself and talking to the staff.  Hopefully, it is a slow night, and they have the time to talk.  This place does tend to be busy.  Rich’s favorite drink at the Old Seelbach is the Horse’s Neck.  I just like to try whatever is different from my last visit.

One of my visits to the Seelbach included older kids from the family.  My son, Rick, was celebrating his birthday a few year ago and we had Rich’s niece, Erica, and her fiancée, Haran, with us.  Cindy had concocted a chocolate mint bourbon drink that went down way too smooth.  Erica and I enjoyed a couple of those.  Thanks, Cindy!

As you make your way north on Fourth Street, you enter Fourth Street Live.  This is the central entertainment area with bar, gaming, and even music on the street stage during the summer months.  Our current favorite bar here is Bourbon Raw.  This replaced the Maker’s Mark Bar from a few years ago. 

One trip with my husband and son found us here when we need food to support our bar wandering.  We did the small plates and found a wonderful variety of tastes.  We stayed for a while and enjoyed a few drinks with our meals.  The staff was helpful with information and history.  We always make this a stop when we tour the trail in Louisville.

Proof on Main has also become a staple with us for any tour.  This bar is so nicely decorated and seems so cozy.  We prefer the couches at the back of the bar where we sip our drinks and talk.  The menu has a nice assortment of drinks and just straight up shots.  The staff is helpful and take care of their customers.  This is my son’s favorite spot in town.  It is on the lower floor of the 21C Museum Hotel.  We remember to take a tour of the latest art exhibit in the basement before we leave.

I am a planner.  For everything I do, I make up a plan on what I want to cover and how to go about getting it done.  Vacations are a natural project for planning.

For good eats, my guys prefer the Muscle and Burger Bar down on Sixth St.  My trips schedule time for them to take in food at some point here.  I like the mussels, but I am not necessarily a red meat type of girl.  Their drinks as varied and interesting.  The place is usually packed from the time they open until closing.  They do not take reservations, but I always offer to stand in line while the guys tour a local distillery experience.

Marriott used to have a small bar on the downstairs floor called Tru.  It was relaxed and the bartenders showed a lot of care while you sat the bar with your drink.  However, the bar disappeared over time and no replacement was added.  It is greatly missed.

We like to stay at the Galt House Hotel at the end of Fourth Street and on the river front.  The twin towers provide a beautiful view from most of the rooms.  It is a busy complex with lots of ballrooms and convention rooms that are usually busy. 

The Jockey Silks Bar is on the third floor of the west tower.  In the early days, the bar was red leather and dark wood.  Recently, it was updated with lighter wood, simple barstools, and mirrors.  The orientation was turned so the bar runs the length of the room instead of a small area at the back.  The jukebox is the same.  The drinks here are memorable and time honored.  It is always our last stop of the night.

When celebrating Rick’s birthday, we hung out in Jockey Silks for most of our evening.  The kids were competing for control of the jukebox.  I think Haran won with the country tunes. The bartender managed to entertain us with his knowledge of alcohol and earn his tip at the end of the night.

Louisville has become ground zero for many of the distilleries around the Louisville area.  The Experience concept has given the distillery business a focus on drawing in the customers and showing the behind the scenes as well as tasting the finished product.  I hope that everyone who attends a tour at a facility learns more about what they are drinking and what they link.  Since no two distilleries are alike, you should tour every one of the Experiences to learn the differences.  My choice is the Evan Williams Experience that opened on Main Street.  This distillery has had a presence in Louisville since the 1790s and has a marker for the original warehouses down by the river.

Though the Urban Bourbon Train concept has changed to include other locations around the entire state, the local version in Louisville continues to be an adventure that I would recommend to anyone looking for more experience and knowledge about distilled spirits.