You're probably not going to find this all that shocking, but Louisville's a mighty fine place to shop for bourbon whiskey. It's also a great place to drink it.
Which is kind of like saying that Detroit is a great place to shop for a car. Or drive one. (You know that Eminem soundtrack kicks in just as soon as you turn that ignition key.)
Anyway, this is a town that prides itself as a "gateway city," as the starting point for Kentucky's rather extensive Bourbon Trail.
fig. a: gateway city
This is also a town that's also cultivated its very own rather extensive Urban Bourbon Trail.
But if you've never been, I want to give you a sense of just how fine the bourbon shopping is.
1. There's no shortage of liquor stores.
2. The liquor stores tend to open for business early, and they hold long hours.
3. Even the most generic-looking places can be a wonderland for the bourbon enthusiast, in terms of selection, quality, and connoisseurship.
Take the Liquor Barn chain. As the name suggests, these are spacious stores. It would be nice if they were housed inside of reconditioned timber barns, but this is the 21st century, so they're generally just refashioned supermarkets/superstores, with all the charm of a Safeway, a Staples, or a Toys "R" Us, depending on the location.
But the one I visited had a selection of bourbon that was impressive, to say the least, in addition to a selection of spirits, wine, and beer that was positively ridiculous. Just how much bourbon are we talking about? Well, they'd taken an entire supermarket aisle (a large one) and they'd renamed it Bourbon Street. And with good reason. The entire length of the aisle was fully stocked with bourbon--on both sides, top to bottom. Bourbon whiskeys of all kinds and all makes. Some common, many rare. Some pricey, many very reasonably priced. Most of the staff members I encountered seemed indifferent ("Bourbon? Yeah, just over here..."), but the store manager was as savvy as they come, and not a snob by any means. And Bourbon Country being what it is, this manager was on very good terms with many of the nearby distilleries, like other Liquor Barn locations, he frequently hosted distillers at his store, and he regularly visited the distillers to make his very own barrel selections. More importantly, he was happy to dispense some advice.
And I was happy to take some advice. I walked out with a few of his barrel selections, none of which set me back more than $30-35 (and all of which were phenomenal, as it turned out), and I couldn't have been happier, especially considering it was still 9:15 a.m.
fig. b: the remains of the Four Roses
If you're just blowing through town on a road trip, like I was,* and you're a bourbon fan, like I am, the Liquor Barn makes for an awfully handy pit stop.
If you watch a lot of television, especially of the talk show/food variety, you might have encountered Lynn Winter, of Lynn's Paradise fame. She's got a big personality and she's something of a local/Kentucky legend (among other feats, she was the one who introduced the very first espresso machine to the Bluegrass State in the 1990s [!]), so she gets her fair share of air time. In fact, I saw her on some morning show whipping up her delirious take on Louisville's famous Hot Brown sandwich not too long ago. Anyway, her restaurant is one of those places that's big on personality, too.
fig. c: Lynn's mascot
You know the kind. The ones with the arty/retro/über-kitschy ambiance. The ones where one of your servers might just happen to be dressed like a pirate for no apparent reason.** Well, Lynn's Paradise is one of those restaurants. But somehow, quite miraculously, its oversized personality doesn't detract from the experience. Their staff may dress funny, but they're friendly, they've got a sense of humour, and they're attentive without being clingy. But, even more importantly, Lynn's happens to be one of those places that hasn't lost sight of the food.
fig. d: Lynn's bacon & eggs breakfast
Sure, your breakfast setting might come complete with a wacky "old salt" mug staring right back at you, but they know how to put together a thick-sliced country bacon & eggs breakfast with cheese grits and biscuits. In fact, they know how to do it well. And from what I could tell, Lynn knows her way around a Hot Brown, too.
Unfortunately, I was only passing through Louisville, but what I saw, I liked, and Lynn's definitely makes for a tasty, if somewhat kooky, stop.
Liquor Barn, multiple locations across Kentucky, including several in Louisville
Lynn's Paradise Café, 984 Barret Ave., Louisville, KY, (502) 583-3447
* ...which explains the car metaphor up top...
** Hell, what do I know? He might actually be a pirate.