Let's face it: I'm already inclined to like Louisville. For one, it's the subject of a bad geography riddle ("Do you pronounce the name of Kentucky's capital 'Lou-ee-ville' or 'Lou-is-ville'?" The correct answer, of course, is Frankfort.) Secondly, it's like a Trojan horse, a kind of Southern town encroaching on Midwestern territory. (I say "kind of" Southern because, while there are ample grits (and even cheese grits) on menus around town, sweet tea is hard to come by. (That's one sure-fire indicator; the other is the presence of macaroni and cheese on the vegetable-sides list.) But after I had the opportunity to spend a quick 48 hours there in January, I loved it for reasons far more real.
And many of those reasons can be found along Louisville's main drag, Bardstown Road, a Miracle Many-Miles that stretches the length of town and is reminiscent of The Loop on steroids. (Try not to imagine a gleeful Jose Canseco injecting the pert buttocks of all those Wash U students.)
Ostensibly, my friend Jen and I were there to visit our dear college friend Christy, but since her job finds her working weekends, we knew we'd have to pack our visiting into the late evenings and early mornings before work. In between, we morphed into the most shameless of tourists, proclaiming ourselves visitors in every storefront we entered, asking advice/recommendations/directions with abandon, and even falling for the old "25-cent trolley to nowhere" that runs up and down Bardstown Road. Well, except that it really doesn't move at a noticeable pace. (We sat stock-still for 15 minutes before clambering off the next time the doors opened.)
But oh, what joy was ours when we started our Bardstown Road ramble! From Clodhoppers (teeny women's of-the-moment fashion) to Cherry Bomb (vintage-y western wear and my favorite find of the trip, a "Bush Be Hatin'" t-shirt), from Electric Ladyland (head shop with full-color mural on the outdoor brick wall) to the Knit Nook, we managed to pass an entire day just shopping and snacking our way from storefront to storefront. In fact, at the Knit Nook, co-owner Dennis seemed amazed that we'd come to Louisville at all. He's lived there all his life, and just couldn't quite fathom it as a destination town; he perused our little visitor guidebook for quite a while, still struggling, it seemed, to see what we found so fascinating. But what's not to love about a place that has an African bakery/handicrafts store? We were plumb tuckered out by the time we stopped to rest our dogs at Sweet Surrender, and refuel with two enormous slices of cake while we pondered the evening's entertainment.
There were charms off Bardstown Road, too: breakfast two mornings in a row came from the surreal Lynn's Paradise Café, sort of what you'd imagine if Bob Cassilly decided to go into the restaurant biz. And on the riverfront's large office buildings, enormous banners celebrate the town's favored sons, from Muhammad Ali to Colonel Sanders.
In short, though it's approximately half the size of St. Louis, Derby City's got a lot to be proud of. We contemplated it all at dinner one night, at the delightfully bustling Ramsi's Café on the World, where we were in good company as we enjoyed a full meal (and dessert! We'll never make it to Clodhoppers size that way) at 1:30 a.m. It struck us that St. Louis could use a little bit of that cosmopolitanism.