Time was, the streets of Louisville’s Butchertown neighborhood teemed with livestock headed to slaughterhouses. The cacophony and stench made it a less-than-inviting place. That all changed about twenty years ago when the Bourbon Stockyards—the longest continuously operating stockyard in the US—closed, rendering it little more than a ghost town. In recent years, cheap rents have lured food-centric visionaries to this gritty, industrial district to pursue their culinary dreams, breathing new life into the area. Today, those same blocks buzz with some of the city’s trendiest restaurants and food artisans, and the predominant aromas are of wood-fired pizza, freshly-baked bread, and roasting coffee beans.
At Naive, you’ll happily eat—or drink—your vegetables. Tubers, legumes, and leafy greens from local farms have pride of place on the menu, including the cocktail list, which features fresh-pressed juices (beet margarita anyone?). General tso’s cauliflower fried in a gluten-free tempura batter is a customer favorite.
Carnivores will love Butchertown Pizza Hall, an old-school throwback with massive slices and plenty of arcade games. Chef-owner Allan Rosenberg is a meat maverick of sorts, so you can get your New York-style pie piled high with house-made fennel sausage, meatballs, and chorizo.
At Pho Ba Luu, chef-proprietor Jessica Mach turns out many of the Vietnamese classics we’ve come to love, like pho and noodle bowls, but her banh mi takes the cake. The secret is the super-creamy house-made chicken pate, a recipe she inherited from her mother. The original was made with a splash of Cognac; naturally Mach uses bourbon instead.
Follow it up with a bracing cup of joe and something sweet from Red Hot Roasters Retro Bakery, just a couple of doors down. The brother-and-sister team that own the organic coffee roasting company buy their beans from Central and South America because they’re partial to the chocolaty, creamy notes. Retro furniture and a collection of lunchboxes featuring ’80s icons like E.T. and Strawberry Shortcake give the place a kitschy charm. Try the triple-layer apple cake topped with a cloud of vanilla frosting and a drizzle of bourbon sauce.
Sensing a theme here? Bourbon makes this town tick, so a multi-course family-style tasting menu with bourbon pairings at Butchertown Grocery is a fitting finish line. The highlight is a dry-aged prime rib drizzled with a black truffle béarnaise sauce with Four Roses single barrel. Notes of fruit and chocolate balance the smoky steak and the earthiness of the mushrooms.
Believe it or not, there’s more to the city than bourbon. Take a tour of craft brandy distiller Copper and Kings and find out why a playlist of bass-heavy rock and rap blasts around the clock in the barrel room. Go ahead and bust a move, but the party is for the brandy. It’s part of the sonic aging process during which pulsing sound waves allegedly enhance the brandy’s maturation as it bides its time in—what else—bourbon barrels.
At the Champagnery, touted as “Louisville’s first bar for bubbles,” elegant imbibers seated on gold sofas sip an array of effervescent elixirs as they take in the art. The seventy-two buck Champagne Prestige flight, a triumvirate of some of the finest fizz, features Dom Perignon 2009, Krug Grande Cuvee, and Ruinart Rosé. Prefer your bubbles in a beer mug? Belly up to the bar at Sergio’s World Beers and choose from a dizzying selection of brews on tap, including several elusive Belgians.
It wouldn’t be right to come to Louisville and not indulge in a bourbon ball or two. Find handcrafted ones at Cellar Door Chocolates in the sprawling Butchertown Market retail space. The artisanal chocolatier jazzes up the classic confection, offering them in an array of flavors like baked apple and cherry cordial. While you’re there, check out Bourbon Barrel Foods’ sauces—we’re big fans of the Hot & Spicy Kentuckyaki, a riff on teriyaki made with Kentucky-grown sorghum, and the micro-brewed Bluegrass Soy Sauce, aged in bourbon barrels. Find them for sale at the furnishing store Work the Metal or at the company’s warehouse on site.
Slated to open this month after more than a decade in the works by a local gardening group, the Waterfront Botanical Gardens offers a respite from city life and a lesson in environmental science. The multi-phase project, built on a former landfill, kicks off with the debut of its education center. Soon to follow: An edible garden, native garden, and pollinator garden.
The nearby Heigold House Façade, at the entrance of the historic Frankfort Avenue, is another worthy stop. It’s all that remains of the 1857 home of German immigrant and stonecutter Christian Heigold. He built the house during a period of unrest and attacks on Irish and German immigrants, and aimed to prove his patriotism by carving ornate inscriptions and busts of notable Americans into its exterior. Originally built in Louisville’s the Point neighborhood, it’s one of the few structures that survived the 1937 flood. The façade was later saved from demolition and moved to its current location in 2007.