Heading to Louisville to be a part of the “greatest two minutes in sports”? Well lucky for you, the brevity of The Big Race leaves you with plenty of extra time to get to know the Derby City — including its world-renowned cuisine, high-octane spirits, and one-of-a-kind sites.
With the help of the Louisville experts — our Yelp Louisville Elite Squad! — we’ve handpicked our sure bets for an amazing Louisville experience — whether you’re visiting during the Kentucky Derby or after.
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1. Harvest Restaurant
From its Louismill Grits-N-Goo (grits with burgoo) for brunch to its buttermilk fried chicken for dinner, Harvest celebrates local delicacies as well as local food. “Everything is locally sourced within 100 miles of the restaurant. It’s standard farm-to-table but cosmopolitan at the same time.” — Christopher S. (Bonus: You can book a reservation straight from the Yelp app!)
2. Jack Fry’s
This spot in the Highlands neighborhood is steeped in history. Jack Fry’s dates back to 1933, and its namesake was known for his love of amateur boxing and the ponies — as well as bookmaking and bootlegging from “the back room.” The ambiance is one of a kind, as is the food. “If you haven’t hit up Jack Fry’s, you are missing something special. The food, decor, and service are all top notch. It’s a dining experience I’ll never forget.” — Andy M.
3. Royals Hot Chicken
Nashville may have started the hot chicken craze, but we think you’ll agree that Kentucky has a thing or two to say about fried chicken. Plus you can get awesome extras like pimento cheese grits, a fried apple pie shake, and a bourbon slushy. “Five word summary: phenomenal chicken, blazing heat, yum.” — Bryan A.
4. Wagner’s Pharmacy
Don’t let the name fool you. Wagner’s is a general store, turf goods shop, and restaurant in one. A Louisville tradition since 1922, Wagner’s is near Churchill Downs and is where people who work at the track can often be found chatting over a cup of coffee or eating a comfort food filled breakfast or lunch. “Old-school style with delicious country cooking… Lots of history on these walls. A tradition not to be missed!” — Janet V.
Lola is a bit hidden — it’s the top floor of Butchertown Grocery — but once you find it, you’ll be glad you did. It’s intimate with artful cocktails and regular live music. “The atmosphere is very cool — like a dark speakeasy kind of vibe… The cocktails are delicious!” — Kelly P.
2. Bourbons Bistro
Bourbons Bistro is an expert on Kentucky’s native spirit with 130+ bourbons, including a barrel selection program. “Being named after a drink, this place had better have a good selection, right? And it delivers! Great selection of cocktails, bourbon-based and otherwise, as well as a variety of bourbons that are sure to please.” — Kyle S.
3. Holy Grale
Housed in what once was a small Unitarian Church, Holy Grale boasts beers from all over the world. Holy Grale also has a “gralegarten” that it shares with its sister restaurant, Gralehaus, a brunch hotspot and “bed and beverage.” “Incredible beer menu, with detailed tasting notes. Many of the beers here I’ve never seen anywhere else.” — Gary P.
If wine is your drink of choice, Louvino should be a must-drink while in the ‘Ville. “There were so many good-looking wines to choose from that I decided to go with the Jennifer Lawrence flight. I thought it was cute how the flights were named after Louisville celebrities… and the types of wines reflected their personalities.” — Shelby Z. (You can reserve a spot at Louvino via the Yelp app!)
Not only can you drink great spirits but you can see where they’re made. Want to learn about bourbon? Check out Angel’s Envy, The Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience, Kentucky Peerless Distilling or perhaps the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience. Interested in something a bit different? Try Copper & Kings, a brandy distillery. “If you like to visit unique places with a great atmosphere, add Copper & Kings to your list. There is also an event space with rooftop access that will blow your mind!” — Andrea E.
2. The River View
Looking for shots to round out your Instagram feed? One idea: Take an Ohio River cruise on the Belle of Louisville, the oldest steamboat still in operation. Another thought: Walk over the river from Kentucky to Indiana via the Big Four Bridge. “The scenery is absolutely breathtaking especially around dusk… Every evening the bridge is lit up in gorgeous color combinations.” — Dennis R.
When you see the 30-foot-tall golden David statue at Main and Seventh streets, you know you’re at the right place. Head inside 21c Museum Hotel, and check out its modern art. In the mood for more beauty? Go to KMAC Museum or peruse the NuLu neighborhood galleries. You could also make your way to the Speed Art Museum, Kentucky’s oldest and largest art museum. “I was not prepared for just how amazing it would be. Beautiful artwork, furniture and interactive art area, mummy tombs — the list goes on.” — Samantha F.
What’s a trip if you don’t bring something home with you to show off? Walk along the Highlands, Crescent Hill/Clifton, NuLu, or South Fourth Street areas to find plenty of shopportunities. Butchertown Market is a fun diversion too. “A fanciful conglomeration of local shops, featuring handmade goods. This is always my go-to gift locale because the selection is both vast and quirky.” — Sarah M.
And coming down the stretch…
Yelp is bringing back Yelp’s Countdown to Derby for a third year, featuring six events over the six days leading up to The Big Race.
This year’s Countdown includes events not found elsewhere in the city, ranging from free to cheap, for children and adults. Whether you’re in search of bourbon, great eats, a food truck competition, chatting with a reality food TV personality, puppy kisses, yoga, an art-filled get down, or ax throwing, we’ve got Louisville covered. Learn more and RSVP here.