The Evan Williams Experience in Louisville is Like a Theme-Park Ride with Booze

Besides being the home to the premiere horse racing event, baseball bats, Mohammad Ali and Jennifer Lawrence, Kentucky is the bourbon capital of the world. Eighty percent of the world’s golden booze is produced in the state.

Thus, you need to do something bourbon-oriented in the state even if you are passing through like I did. The Kentucky Bourbon Trail is the most likely activity, where you go town to town looking for distilleries like Maker’s Mark, Jim Beam and Knob Creek. It’s pretty spectacular the quality of fine spirits within the state.

In downtown Louisville, the big names have restaurants and tasting rooms where you can eat bourbon-infused dishes and sample their wares without venturing through the state. I did the Evan Williams Experience, which is basically a theme-park ride, history tour and sampling of the good stuff.

While you’re not strapped down to a cable car, you are led from theme room to theme room by a guide where you are shown the process and, my favorite in a “so bad, it’s good way”, video walls of actors in period costume.

There was a comedian who did a bit about one man shows where the actor plays a famous historical figure like Mark Twain, Lincoln or George Washing Carver. It always starts with an actor sitting down turning to the audience, acts startled and says, “Oh, hello. I didn’t see you there.”

As with the actor in the video wall, not a joke, starts with, “Oh, hello. I didn’t see you there. My name is Evan Williams. And I’m looking to make the finest bourbon in the land.” I was very amused by this.

While they technically don’t make whisky in the building for the masses, they make it for show and to serve in the tasting room. After going through the usually tour steps, you end up in a recreation of Louisville through the last century and finally, a bar circa Mad Men 1960s. Another design aesthetic I loved.

You get three tastes from the Evan Williams line. Obviously, when you’re done, you exit through the gift shop. Most of the stuff you can get online or in stores, but I opted for the bourbon barrel coffee beans.

As for advice, I was able to get the next available tour when I arrived, but you can book advance just to make sure.

 

Sergio’s World Beers is a Bizarre Beer Bar in Louisville

One of the unknown gems of Louisville is a beer bar that’s tailor made for beer geeks and lovers of weird dive bars. Sergio’s World Beers is, like it’s name, a world of beer — meaning beers from international areas like Germany, Italy, Japan and Florida.

I’m not going to do the place justice, but imagine a bar inside the cooler section of your local beer store. Unlike a liquor store with selves upon shelves of craft beer, you walk around tight corridors of glass refrigerators. All the beers are individually priced so you can enjoy there or make a six pack. For the most part, the beer is organized by country and in the United States, it’s by region.

I love variety in beer, but damn I didn’t know what to do with myself with all the unique selections. I could easily threw down $300 for beers to go.

Instead, I went to the bar and got a few drafts. Sergio did come over to me to talk beer, and then explain that it’s best to start a tab and pay at the end in cash. No credit cards in this joint.

In the back, there are old school diner booths and a menu of eats. No artisanal foods or meat and cheese plats, just fried food, sandwiches, pizzas, Mexican and sausages.

Walking around the place, and it is compact space, I was overwhelmed by variety. It’s like going to an antique books store where you want to pick up all the books and read them there. Here, you want to try everything.

Alas, I didn’t. Here’s what I had:

  • Lurcher Stout by Green Jack Brewing Company
  • Cocoa Loco by Arcadia Brewing Company
  • Peanut Butter Milk Stout by TailGate Brewery

Churchill Downs Without Crowds or Horses is Interesting, Creepy and a Little Sad

The Kentucky Derby is one of the premiere events in all sports. The yearly horse race is just as iconic as World Cup, Indianapolis 500, Super Bowl, Wimbledon, the Olympics and The Masters.

May 5th will be the next running of the Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky. It’s a chance for rich people to wear fancy dresses and outlandish hats and place $1,000 bets on the ponies.

The other 51 Saturdays at Churchill Downs does have races without the pageantry. The other weekdays, the place becomes a ghost town which you can walk through without any barriers. There is OTB operating in the concourse, but it’s best just ignore that lot.

As you can see, if you’re the only soul around like I was, you’ll get a sense of what it’s like to be the last person of earth. Gone are the horses, the crowd and the energy. Without all the mass of humanity, you see that Churchill Downs is a far less glamorous than you see of TV.

I’ve been to Happy Valley Race Course during the races and it’s a over-whelming experience. Being at Churchill abandoned, feels like being left out of the party.

Nevertheless, if you’re curious about what it’s like, feel free to park and walk around for 5-10 minutes. You can pretend that The Rapture happened and they left you out.

 

A Coffee Shop, A Beer Bar and A Liquor Store to Visit in Nashville

Let’s round out my Nashville visit with some odds and ends. All three of these places I’ve deemed worth of a visit.

While Barista Parlor will be your go-to breakfast and late-afternoon pick-me-up destination for coffee and a pastry, an alternate shop to consider based on your location is Steadfast Coffee. The clientele is distinctively Nashville (or any upscale gentrified shop frequented by people in fun hats), the aesthetic is different.

Borrowing from minimalist Danish design, the second floor shop in the Germantown section makes its bones (or brews in the case) with a variety of coffee drinks. With my welcoming smile, I told my barista how much I enjoyed single origin coffees. As a result, she offered me a free serving of their single-origin coffee soda. Not what I’m into at 8am, but I went for it.

The place does off a full breakfast, but I went for a pastry. I spent my time there staring at the lightbulbs and overhead lighting.

It’s highly recommended that you take some beans home.

For the beer travelers who are out late after the local breweries are closed, head over to just westside of downtown to Hops & Crafts. Located in an unassuming blocks of businesses (think of an upscale strip mall), the bare bones bar has a who’s who of Tennessee craft beer. You have Honky Tonk, Bearded Iris, Smith & Lentz and Czann represented.

No food in the place, so you can just focus on the well-balance selection of styles — not all IPAs or pale ales. Afterwards, you can catch a gig at the legendary Station Inn across the street.

Say who want to load up your road-trippin car with some local brews that you can’t get back home. I headed over to CorkDorks. Yup, I love the name, too. You can grab your six-packs, but cruise the single bottle section to make your own six-packs. That’s the way to go so you can try every one of Tennessee’s craft breweries.

 

Tourist Hell: Nashville’s Lower Broadway

You don’t need to spend much time in Nashville to realize that the city is much more than country music, barbecue, hot chicken and western chic.

That’s the way the city’s main drag, Lower Broadway, is avoided by locals as much as humanly possible. It’s some garish theme park of lameness that attracts loud tourists, dopey families on vacation, hucksters and bachelorette parties. Because of it’s concentration of bars that sell booze in mass quantity on the cheap, it’s like Bourbon Street without the charm.

After my visit to the nearby Country Music Hall of Fame and Hatch Show Print, I figured a quick walk up and down and pop into the famous honky tonk Robert’s Western World would get the touristy aspect on the visit out of my way.

It checks off all the aspects of what makes a tourist hell — souvenir shops selling crap (include one that sells confederate flags), chain restaurants, slow walking families, people dressed in costume asking for money, big lights, attractions whose soul purpose is to extract money from you, over-the-top candy shops and the fact that you would never want to drive through because of the foot traffic.

The myriad of bars with cover bands and singers playing cover song makes the street loud no matter what time of day. I headed toward Robert’s Western World because it’s the one I knew of from the band BR5-49, who use to be the house and went onto some notoriety. It’s also known for their fried bologna sandwiches, cheap beer and wall of boots.

When I got there at 2pm, there was old man playing, a few people at tables and a bored, indifferent bartender. I got the  fried bologna sandwich (meh), opted for a local craft beer and a sticker and matches. At least the bathroom was clean and there’s plenty of photos on the wall to look at.

I don’t know what I was expecting, but it’s a mix of sad, kitsch and local flavor … if that flavor was 1950s, 60s and 70s.

If you find yourself in this area, and you want to do buy something fun, try the Goo Goo Cluster store, which is next to the Johnny Cash Museum (where you I got a sticker that says, “Johnny Cash Was a Friend of Mine”). Yes, you can get Goo Goo Clusters anywhere in Nashville, but the store sells a specialty one made with candied bacon!

At Third Man Records, You Can Purchase Actual Physical Music

I ended my Nashville trip on an appropriate note with a visit to a record store. Not just any record store — THE record store tailor made for audiophiles of any genre of music.

Jack White’s Third Man Records store in the SoBro neighborhood was founded to cater to vinyl hunters who care sound quality and obscure music. Since it’s founding in 2009, it’s transformed the former warehouse district (that was rampant with abandoned buildings) into vibrant arts, entertainment and restaurant area. I could tell because it took me three laps to find parking.

While it’s not a huge warehouse of music, movies and merchandise like Amoeba Music or Rough Trade, it’s a carefully curated space that sells vinyl LPs, EPs and singles recorded and pressed next door at the concert venue. You won’t find the latest releases, just the Third Man Records releases and a few hidden gems from White and his tastemakers.

It took some restraint not to get everything of interest, so I limited myself to $100 of vinyl and some Third Man merch. For the vinyl, I picked up live recordings from Beck, Parquet Courts, First Aid Kit, Conan O’Brien, Black Belles, Smoke Ferries and Man or Astroman. In the merch category, I highly recommend a few badges, buttons, a record bag and a turntable slipmat.

For White Stripes fans, there’s a small shrine to the duo, where you can see their Grammys and Legos from the “Fell in Love With a Girl” girl.

It’s a neat space for browsing leisurely, trying out the jukebox and checking out the memorabilia and record art on the walls. You might even find that under-appreciated old time artists that you can impress your fellow music fans.

 

The Hatch Show Print is a Must-Tour for Design Fans

If you like looking at vintage advertisements or just appreciate a well-put together poster, then Hatch Show Print should be in your itinerary for Nashville. It’s current location in the Country Music Hall of Fame building gives the 100+ year old print show a higher profile and easy add-on to your CMHF ticket.

Even if you never heard of Hatch Show Print you recognize the style — block letters, simple bold colors and a portrait image or graphic. Every country music star has commissioned a poster from the shop. More important, they do any genre of music, but they are not beholden to music. They do events, conventions, business ads and television adverts.

Here is where you should pre-book online if you 100% want to visit — and you should. The tour groups are small (around 20 per tour) and are run three times a day. The CMHF site will off combo tickets so you visit the hall and time it so you can mosey on over to the hall. The shop, the hall, the gift shop, clothing store and restaurants are connected in the building via a central hall.

What makes the print shop unique is they still use the same techniques as when they were founded. While they use computers to plan out the design and show clients, the printing is done the old fashion ways. During the tour, you’ll see the turn of the century machinery used to hand crank each poster and the wood blocks and metals used to make the type.

After you see the process, you’ll go in the backroom to get a bit of history, see some of their archives and roll out a print yourself. Me being a geek, I asked two questions — what paper stock is available and if  a client screwed up and misspelled their show — yup, so ask and they’ll point it out on the wall.

While the shop has printed 100,000 events, they don’t reprint or reuse designs. Keep that in mind at the gift shop where do sell excess concert prints. If you do buy that unique concert poster, frame it because they are not many like it. They do have generic posters that they mass produce or place on t-shirts that say “Nashville Rocks” or “Drink More Coffee”. Yup, I bought the “Drink More Coffee” poster. Anything you can put a design on they have —  stickers, stationary, postcards.