It is a place beneath the wind and sun. In the very heart of America. If these United States can be called a body, Kentucky can be called its heart. ~ Unknown
Chris and I love to travel but let's face it, our paid vacation time is a hot commodity, so we live for quick weekend escapes. We spent two years living in Kentucky for my residency, and although St. Louis is a better fit for us day-to-day, it doesn't mean we don't love to go back to visit our friends and the state itself. When one of my good girlfriends recently threw out the idea of a quick couples trip, I was immediately on board. Kentucky was the perfect fit, as it was a quick 45 minute Southwest flight for them and a quick drive for us.
Kentucky offers a multitude of choices for a long weekend - with the obvious for out-of-towners being one of the state's two largest cities: Louisville or Lexington. Louisville, about an hour west of Lexington, has (to me) more of a "Midwest" vibe to it. It definitely resonates a gritter, more "urban" feel, then it's counterpart Lexington. Louisville is sometimes compared to Austin, Texas or Portland, Oregon given it's slogan, "Keep Louisville weird." Lexington, at half the size of Louisville, I hesitate to call a city, definitely has more of a small town vibe. It's a bit of an enigma, and doesn't really fit into a "Midwestern", "Southern", or "Eastern" box. It is a beautiful and unique city with it's own special vibe. With only 48 hours, we decided to combine the best of both worlds and spend time in both cities!
We pulled in to Louisville Friday evening and were lucky enough to score rooms downtown at the Hyatt Regency Louisville, next to Fourth Street Live. We were treated to a room on the 18th floor, with a river view, and several amenities. What a way to kick off our weekend! Thank you, Hyatt!
Louisville has the strongest restaurant game in the state, and we couldn't wait to try out some of the new openings since we were last there. We're big fans of the "OLE" restaurant group and decided to try out Artesano Tapas Friday night. After living in Chicago, I'd say the bar for Tapas has been set pretty high. Artesano, for the most part, delivered. The sangria was delicious and most of what we ordered was a hit. I'd recommend checking it out if you're ever in Louisville. Be aware though, it is located about 10-15 minutes outside of the downtown area. The cheese and charcuterie board was worth the drive alone. The octopus, "Pulpo A La Gallega," was one of our favorite dishes and cooked perfectly.
The next morning we woke up to the disappointing news that our friend's flight was delayed by about 3 hours. With our initial brunch plans scratched, we leisurely left our hotel in search for breakfast. Louisville has some really quaint but also fun, trendy, hipster neighborhoods that are worth exploring. My favorite areas include: NuLu, Highlands, Bardstown Road, and Frankfort Ave. Without much research, unusual for us, we headed down Baxter to the Highlands neighborhood to try Gralehaus. All I have to say is GO if in Louisville; especially if you're a beer lover. It's adorable and the food and drinks were on point. The restaurant is on the first floor of an old Victorian home and there are actually a few "bed and breakfast" rooms upstairs where you can stay. Out back is a picturesque biergarten. I'm not a beer drinker, which left no other selections for an adult brunch beverage for me, however I had the most delicious coffee drink called, "The honey bee" - double espresso, local honey, bee pollen, and local steamed milk. Although, if our friends who ended up having to eat their brunch at the Midway Airport ask, it was horrible. ;)
Once our friends arrived, we headed out and hit the bourbon trail. We managed to hit 3 distilleries over the weekend: Stitzel-Weller, Jim Beam, and Buffalo Trace. I'll be sharing our experiences at these 3 distilleries along with my advice for Kentucky's bourbon trail in a separate post. My husband is essentially a bourbon expert and is often asked for his advice on the bourbon trail, where to visit, and how to structure the trip. Be looking for a special guest post featuring all of his not-to-miss advice!
We ended our Saturday with the Oklahoma State football game and naps in the hotel followed by a night out in downtown Louisville. We took our friends to Mussel and Burger Bar, one of our favorite restaurants and another member of the "Ole" restaurant group. We were super jazzed to check out MBB's newer second location in downtown Louisville which was withing walking distance of our hotel. Such a treat to tourists as their original location would require a drive out into the suburbs! We ended the evening with nightcaps at Garage Bar. For those familiar with Chicago, Garage Bar offers a "Big Star"-like vibe but with pizza and beer instead of tacos. We found a spot outside underneath the lights and next to the fire pit. It was perfection.
Sunday morning we got an early start and drove the hour east over to Lexington to spend the day at Keeneland. Keeneland is a special place and I dare you to visit and not fall in love with it's beauty and charm. It's been meticulously maintained, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and is considered a historic landmark. As such, several movies have been filmed there including Secretariat and Seabiscuit. One of my favorite things to do when we lived in Lexington and is my go-to recommendation for visitors (in addition to Old Friends Farm which I wrote about here), is to visit Keeneland for the early morning track workouts. Horses work out from 6am-10am all year long. For those not familiar with Keeneland, the "meets" when the horse races occur, are only twice a year: April and October. Keeneland becomes packed later in the day when the races start, so coming early is a great way to enjoy the beauty of the track without the crowds. It's a very relaxed atmosphere and sometimes the exercise riders will joke around with you a bit. You can also always grab breakfast while you're there at the Track Kitchen and may end up eating next to some of the famous horse trainers, owners, etc. (The Track Kitchen is casual and appropriate for children). During the racing season Keeneland also hosts special events in the morning which can be found on their website.
We met up with a local friend of mine and spent some time watching the horses. We were blessed this weekend with gorgeous weather. In addition to watching the horses warm up, I like to walk through the stable areas. Special tip for those who plan to visit, before actually entering Keeneland, walk down past the club house, on the east side of the grandstand, and down to the rails. We will often bring lawn chairs and watch the horses ride from here. We always have the area to ourselves and it's a great vantage point to see the horses come around the bend. Great photo op! Some pictures below are from this past weekend and a few others are from our last spring spent in Kentucky.
After catching some of the morning workouts, we headed out for breakfast at my favorite stop in Lexington: Great Bagel! The line was almost out the door but 100% worth it for the made in house bagels and Intelligentsia coffee. Fellow bagel snobs, I mean lovers, you will appreciate the properly made bagels. With a little time to spare before the races started at 1pm, we drove out to Buffalo Trace for our last distillery tour of the weekend. We spent the rest of the afternoon soaking up the atmosphere of Keeneland, hanging out with friends, betting unsuccessfully, and indulging in multiple Keeneland Breezes; the only way I can take my bourbon (bourbon + orange curacao + ginger ale).
After a truly wonderful afternoon, we dropped our friends back off at the Louisville airport, and started on our 4 hour drive back to St. Louis. We arrived back home exhausted in the best possible way after a classic Kentucky weekend with good friends. Weekends like this one are truly good for the soul.