Our resident coach Chris Mayhew also happens to be a Louisville native. With Louisville Nats less than a month away, Mayhew put together this comprehensive guide to where to stay, eat, drink and hang out while you are in Derby City.
Cyclocross Nationals in Louisville, Kentucky are coming up soon. I imagine a lot of you have been to Louisville over the years for the U.S. Grand Prix of Cyclocross, World Championships in 2013 or the Derby City Cup. But I’m hoping a lot of you haven’t.
In any case, like any Southerner (don’t @ me about Kentucky not being the South) I take hospitality very seriously.
Hopefully I can give you some pointers to have a good time around town. If you need any help with planning (or what bourbon to try) please feel free to drop me a line. I’d love to help.
First, let’s get you oriented around town with some basic facts. Louisville is laid out like a spoked wheel, with the hub being downtown. The main roads radiate out from there as spokes. The rim is I-264 (aka The Watterson). Joe Creason Park is right off of one of the main spokes at about 5 o’clock I-264.
Louisville is a town that prides itself on independent businesses. You could stay the entire week and not hit a national chain other than a grocery store. And that’s what you should do. And here’s where Louisville revokes my citizenship; most of the hotels are around 4th St. Live. It’s largely a tourist trap full of chains and you should stay away from it.
So where should you stay? Downtown is fine. There’s still a lot you can walk to (or Uber, or electric scooter to).
I’ve always had fantastic experiences with Airbnb in town. Parkside Bikes has several above their stores. They are hard to come by but great places to stay. You can stay just outside I-264 around the airport or in St. Matthews (along I-64) as well, but it means more driving to do things.
That said, anything in Louisville is about 20 minutes from anything else, which is really nice. Staying across the river in Indiana is cheaper but really removed from most things, and if you’re crossing I-65 will incur a large toll. It’s worth staying in Louisville proper. By that I mean east of I-65 and inside of I-264.
Speaking of bike shops, your best bets are Parkside Bikes (either location) and On Your Left Cycles. Both are top-notch pro bike shops. Across the river is Clarksville Schwinn. They are legendary in the area and people drive from a 100-mile radius to go there. If you need immediate service or a part for the next day, that’s the place to be.
Coffee fuels the cycling world and Louisville has a lot of it. Sunergo’s and Quill’s are top notch. Heine Bro’s has the most locations and will work in a pinch. I’m personally really fond of Day’s Coffee, having once worked there. There’s a Sunergo’s about a mile from the Nationals venue and also a Heine Bro’s not much farther.
Where to eat? Louisville has an amazing variety of places to eat. It would be impossible to list even some of them. I’ll hit the highlights, but don’t be afraid to head out on the town.
There are two main places to look. The first is NuLu, the hip part of town roughly centered on Royal’s Hot Chicken, which should be your #1 priority in town. From there Lueberry, Toast, and Feast are all great. If you want a giant plate of meat Doc Crow’s is amazing. Please & Thank You has the best chocolate chip cookies you will ever have (also available at Quill’s). Against the Grain is a long time cycling sponsor with fantastic food and beer.
The other area to look around in is what is called The Highlands (even though it’s made up of more neighborhoods than that). Bounded roughly by Baxter Ave to the North and Taylorsville Road to the South, it consists of 180+ independent businesses, largely restaurants and coffee shops. Get out and walk, you’re sure to find something you like.
One of my all time favorite places is Ramsi’s. It’s great for big groups in that it has a wide variety of food, beer, and bourbon.
Pizza on Bardstown Road: Spinelli, Wicks, Bearno and my personal favorite Impellizeri’s. Taco Luchador is great but it’s the size of a phone booth. At the southern end of that area, near the venue, are Dundee Tavern, Migo, Havana Rumba (another personal favorite) and Oskars Slider restaurant.
If you have dietary needs Louisville is a great place to be. Almost everywhere offers vegan or vegetarian options. Vgrits and Morels are your best options. Heart and Soy and Ramsi’s are good for a mixed group. If you have a big group the pizza joints are good for that. Mark’s Feed Store is a local staple that does big groups as well. Molly Malone’s and Mellow Mushroom are also good.
For dessert you can hit Liege and Dairy (who sponsor one of the local junior teams!), Graeters, Steel City Pops, or Pie and Ice Cream Kitchen. Kitzito Cookies are another local standard, available at any Heine Bros coffee, among other places.
If you’re looking to drink bourbon, the world is your oyster. Silver Dollar is my favorite place. It’s beautiful, has good food, and the bourbon menu is second to none (and well organized). For a more upscale experience, you can go to 21c/Proof, Rye or Decca. Jocky Silks in the Galt House is not much to look at but if there’s an obscure bourbon you must have, it’s there.
Tourism! Kentucky is the home of bourbon, and billions of dollars are spent in the state fueled by corn liquor. In town you can take some tours that are really fantastic. Usually you can just show up and buy a ticket. Tours last about an hour.
Due to state law, they can only pour enough at the tastings to get your tongue wet. You will not even get buzzed. That said, every tasting is very well done and it’s a true bit of Kentucky.
Within an hour you can really tour rural Kentucky and get an authentic bourbon trail experience. The easiest thing would be to head south to Bardstown and hit one of the many distilleries down there such as Jim Beam, Barton’s/1792, Willet (my personal favorite bourbon) and Heaven Hill. Each tour is equally good with its own flavor. Maker’s Mark is just a bit farther south but probably my favorite tour that way. Make sure to dip your own bottle while you’re there.
If you need recommendations on what bourbons to try these tours are a great start. Or feel free to contact me. My favorite texts are pictures of bourbon menus with “what should I get?”
If you get a little time the Muhammad Ali museum is really great. Churchill Downs is another obvious choice. Mega Caverns would be great too and is very near the venue. If you get a day to kill, the largest cave in the world is about an hour south of Louisville (Mammoth Cave) and has tours for all ages and abilities.
On the drive down, throw on Louisville Cycling Podcast (any episode) or Bourbon Pursuit (especially the early episodes). My Morning Jacket (despite the bassist stealing my college girlfriend) is a great musical choice. Metroschifter and Slint are local but questionable recommendations (Louisville has a deep and rich punk scene).
Talk Like a Native
Finally, how do I say the name of the town? The pronunciation is a bit of a running joke in the area. This is on the front of the Louisville Visitors Center.
So yes, there are multiple ways, all correct.
Some are more local than others. LOUEYville and LEWISville are definitely the out-of-town ways to say it. Here, about 5:10 and then again at 5:22 in, Maggie Kimbrel gives the most local pronunciation. Basically, swallow the syllables as you say it. However you say it, people are just going to be glad you’re there.
Hit Up Your Tour Guide
Nationals are in my hometown this year. I want you to have a good time. Hopefully the above helps you a bit.
If it doesn’t, feel free to drop me a line (Twitter @csmayhew) and I’ll do my best to point you in the right direction on what you need. Have fun while you’re there. There’s a lot to do in a city that’s very easy to get around in. And I think we’re going to see some outstanding races on an excellent course.
Featured image: Flickr user Cameron Aubernon