As any Louisvillean will tell you, geography is destiny: happy to be pulled by every point on the compass, this crossroads city has one foot in the East and one in the West, its head in the North but its heart in the South. The result is a frontier salad of big-town sophistication and small-town charm. Louisville is celebrated for its state-of-the-art theater, some of the best antiques shopping this side of the Ohio River, an extraordinary diversity of architecture (from winsome Victorian to world-class postmodern; call the Main Street Association, 502/568-2220, for tours, or the Old Louisville Neighborhood Council, 502/635-5244, for a free walking guide) and, of course, the Kentucky Derby. And did we mention a percolating youth scene?
Repeat after me: "It's 'Loo-uh-vul,' never 'Loo-ee-vil.'"
—Thomas Meeker, CEO of Churchill Downs
out and about
Whitehall 3110 Lexington Rd.; 502/897-2944. An 1855 Italianate farmhouse that was converted in the early 20th century into a larger mansion with two magnificent acres of terraced Florentine gardens.
Water Tower 3005 River Rd.; 502/896-2146. You haven't been to Louisville if you haven't visited this National Historic Landmark, a Classical Revival pumping station built in the form of a Greek temple. The famously elegant example of industrial architecture dates to 1860.
Louisville Slugger Museum 800 W. Main St.; 502/588-7228. Another can't-miss, this time because of the 120-foot bat that projects surreally over the five-story building's roofline. The museum exhibits historic Sluggers swung by Henry Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Roger Maris; a tour of the adjoining factory shows how the Slugger is crafted from the wood of 50-year-old ash trees.
Actors Theatre of Louisville 316 W. Main St.; 502/584-1265. The theater's Humana Festival of New American Plays, February 24 to March 28 this year, is one of the most important events on the American theatrical calendar. Agnes of God, Extremities, and Crimes of the Heart all premiered here. Two- and three-day Tourist Ticket Packages offer seats to multiple productions at discount prices (502/585-1210).
The Connection 120 S. Floyd St.; 502/585-5752. At more than 20,000 square feet, this gay but straight-friendly dance club-cum-entertainment complex seems large enough to serve the entire mid-South. Is there a bigger drag theater in America than the Connection's?I don't think so. (No, that wasn't Diana Ross.) Plus go-go boys right off the pages of an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue.
Sparks 104 Main St.; 502/587-8566. A straight but gay-friendly warehouse-style haunt that continually makes Details magazine's list of the country's top nightspots. Rave, house, techno-industrial, and jungle.
take home fabulous treats!
A bag of stone-ground Weisenberger grits. "They have more texture and flavor — earthy flavor — than people are used to."
Woodford Reserve, a small-batch bourbon from Labrot & Graham. "Drink it as you would a great cognac, not a cocktail."
—Kathy Cary, chef at Lilly's
Jack Fry's 1007 Bardstown Rd.; 502/452-9244; dinner for two $50-$60. This is where Louisville's professional class takes out-of-towners to impress them. Salmon with wasabi vinaigrette and pickled ginger, and veal with Swiss chard strudel are served in snuggly booths under a pressed-tin ceiling.
Le Relais Bowman Field, 2815 Taylorsville Rd.; 502/451-9020; dinner for two $60-$75. French fare in a working Art Deco air terminal. The restaurant offers a 25-minute pre-meal flight over Louisville in a Cessna 172 for $50.
Kurtz's 418 E. Stephen Foster Ave.; 502/348-8964; dinner for two $20. Since 1937, serving fried chicken so crisp it crackles, cooked in cast-iron skillets.
Lilly's 1147 Bardstown Rd.; 502/451-0447; dinner for two $65. Pan-cultural cooking using lamb from Jamison farms and local organic vegetables. Kathy Cary has been a guest chef three times at New York's prestigious James Beard House.
Lynn's Paradise Café 984 Barret Ave.; 502/583-3447; breakfast for two $15. Cloudlike buttermilk biscuits and bourbon-soaked French toast are served until 3 p.m. by a pierced Gen-X staff at this funky mainstay. Decorations might include milk-carton cats and dogs made by grade-schoolers.
Louisville Antique Mall 900 Goss Ave.; 502/635-2852. Some 200 dealers are spread over 75,000 square feet in this late-19th-century brick cotton mill. Look for the highly collectible mint-julep glasses commemorating past derbies.
Shelly Zegart Quilts 12Z River Hill Rd.; 502/897-7566. Even Japanese collectors are onto Zegart, a kinetic woman who sells museum-quality quilts, some dangling six-figure tags, out of her home. By appointment.
Ear-X-Tacy 1534 Bardstown Rd.; 502/452-1799. "Any recording brought in by a Louisville artist, we'll carry," vows the manager of this alternative record store.
Objects of Desire 3704 Lexington Rd.; 502/896-2398. Romanian-born Julia Comer should get a prize for creating a market for avant-garde contemporary furniture — much of it limited-edition or one-of-a-kind — in Louisville.
Hadley Pottery Co. 1570 Story Ave.; 502/584-2171. Naïve and rustic blue-and-white ceramics, made here since 1940.
Discoveries 1315 Bardstown Rd.; 502/451-5034. A daring, delicious, vigorously stirred melting pot of Third World fashion (Nepal, Tibet, India), including such off-the-wall exotica as late-19th-century Congolese currency.
"Who would have thought that Louisville has sunsets to rival New Mexico's?Watch them from the Falls of the Ohio State Park, with its incredible fossil beds." (201 W. Riverside Dr., Clarksville; 812/280-9970)
—Jon Jory, producing director, Actors Theatre of Louisville