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Off the Beaten Bourbon Path

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Off the Beaten Bourbon Path
FROM LEFT Interior of Air Devil's Inn / Bourbon Cocktail from Old Seelback Bar / Street view of the Silver Dollar. Photos by Sarah Jane Sanders

Sipping Kentucky’s Golden Elixir

My passport to bourbon country has lots of stamps in it. Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail is a bourbon sipper’s road-tripping heaven known and easier to navigate (you can even do it by bicycle) is Louisville’s Urban Bourbon Trail. I’m a big fan of the concept. Participating establishments must have a minimum of fifty different bourbons, so it’s a big deal to make the list. Places like Asiatique, Doc Crow’s, and Proof on Main are musts.

Still, I do like to get off the beaten path every now and then when it comes to drinking bourbon in the city that is—without doubt—the urban Mecca of the beloved brown stuff. So does my drinking buddy Edward Lee, chef of 610 Magnolia and MilkWood fame, who has been known to go way, way off the beaten path for good food—and would likely go even further astray for good bourbon.

When I asked Lee recently about some of his preferred out-of-the-limelight spots, he threw out only one Urban Bourbon Trail site: the Seelbach Hotel, which he says has “a classic bar that will feel like you walked through a time machine. It’s old, it’s ornate, and it’s usually never crowded, so it’s perfect for a quiet bourbon.”

I do love the Seelbach’s bar as well (it’s officially called The Old Seelbach Bar, by the way), but the discussion quickly turned to some lesser-known places where we’ve both been known to down a bourbon—or three.

Lee’s faves? “For grungier watering holes where no one’s gonna ask how many ice cubes you want in your glass, I love going to Seidenfaden’s, Mag Bar, or Air Devil’s Inn.” Trust me here…replace Lee’s surprisingly conservative “or” with “and,” and you have a nice afternoon of bourbon, Louisville-style. For those not in the know (yet), “Mag Bar” is local slang for Magnolia Bar.

Talk then turned—or maybe digressed—to The Silver Dollar. Anywhere that has “WHISKEY BY THE DRINK” on its neon sign is okay by me, by Lee, and all those who pass through The Silver Dollar’s door with bourbon on the brain. Their relatively short, but oh-so-sweet, list of bourbons includes more than a dozen from the Buffalo Trace folks (including four Van Winkles when I last checked) and a Parker’s Heritage they say has a cognac finish—though I may have to try it again to confirm this claim.

Of course Lee couldn’t resist mentioning Uncle Slayton’s—a classic place for sipping cheap bourbon from the small list and listening to jazz. And he humbly (for him) mentioned his place, MilkWood, as a spot offering rare and hard-to-find bourbons, teasing me by saying, “Even some really impossible-to-find bourbons, but those will not be on the menu. Only for those in the know.” Now you know.

Let’s just say I concur with Edward Lee on all things bourbon. However, I can’t help but name a few more options to getting a bit—or a lot—off the beaten path for bourbon in Louisville.

Though certainly not grungy or hard to find in the booming NuLu section of the city, Taste Fine Wines and Bourbon is another perfect place to head to taste bourbon, and, best of all, all bourbon tastings (they have twenty and counting) are just five bucks. ’Nuf said.

There’s also Haymarket Whiskey Bar between NuLu and downtown, with fifty-plus well-priced whiskeys. And one place I haven’t tried yet is the Distilled Spirits Epicenter, which includes the perfectly named Moonshine University. Perhaps I’ll meet Edward Lee there for some more bourbon schoolin’ with the master—not a class I’m tempted to skip.