This year’s Kentucky Derby is over, so now is the time to visit Derby City. At the beginning of May, there’s maddening traffic between overbooked hotels and the TwinSpires. And, by the end of the weekend, the city runs out of fresh mint and Southern hospitality is in short supply. Given a month to recover from the craziness though, Louisville has swept off the welcoming mat. Cocktails will be ready upon your arrival.
Surrounded by pastures filled with bluegrass and the Ohio River, Kentucky’s largest city is known for its elegant Victorian buildings. But you aren’t staying in one. You’re staying with the Red Penguins in the hip boutique 21c Museum Hotel. Actually, it’s more than just a hotel. Old tobacco and bourbon warehouses have been converted into a hotel, a contemporary art museum, and a restaurant right in the middle of Museum Row. Stay in a normal room–with original brick walls, pewter mint julep cups, and rubber ducks–or perhaps in an installation. A little too much? The museum is always open and always free, for everyone. Check out the light box installation, the 21c Pip Mobile, and life-sized seagulls. Those penguins are everywhere.
Just a short walk from the hotel, see how baseball bats are made at the Louisville Slugger Museum. Watch iconic boxing matches at the Muhammad Ali Center. Stroll along the Riverwalk–Indiana is across the water. Or go out on the water, on the Belle of Louisville, the oldest operating Mississippi River steamboat. A little farther away, visit Churchill Downs and bet on less important races. Or spend the afternoon touring and tasting at bourbon distilleries. See how barrels are made at Jim Beam and how they’re stored for aging at Heaven Hill. Enjoy the red roses at Four Roses and the rolling hills at Maker’s Mark. Just don’t miss Woodford Reserve, the oldest and the smallest distillery.
If you aren’t sick of bourbon by the time you return to 21c, sample a 12-year-old flight at Proof on Main or coat your stomach with bourbon-spiked food. Unless it’s time to switch it up. There may even be mint now to make you one of those famous juleps.