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Spring 2006 | Kentucky Derby Days

Spring 2006 | Kentucky Derby Days

With a lively arts scene and seven queer bars, “Lou-a-vull,” as the locals call Louisville, Ky., has plenty to offer the out traveler year-round, but during Derby Days (April 15–May 6) gays and lesbians from across the country descend upon this unassuming city. Here’s everything y’all need to stay on the right track for a perfect three-day weekend.

DAY 1

A day at the races: If you like horse racing but aren't interested in negotiating the crowds on Derby Day, consider attending the Kentucky Oaks, held the Friday before (May 5) the Kentucky Derby at the same track, Churchill Downs (700 Central Ave., 502-636-4400). This race is less raucous than the Kentucky Derby, even in the notorious infield, but every bit as fun. Attire at the Downs ranges from T-shirts to neckties, but for the true experience, don a chapeau—the more outrageous the better—and join the parade of hats. Treat yourself to at least one mint julep. The official libation of the Derby—a mixture of sugar, water, crushed ice, bourbon, and mint—will take your mind off how much you're losing at the betting windows.

Saunter: After the race head downtown for the Gallery Hop (815 W. Market St., 502-992-3056). On the first Friday of every month, the many art galleries and home decor boutiques along Main and Market streets are open late for your viewing, shopping, and wine-sipping pleasure. There's plenty to see as you stroll, or take a shuttle if you're not up for hoofing it. Either way, don't miss Artemisia (620 E. Market St., 502-583-4177), where you can listen to live jazz as you dine alfresco on rack of baby New Zealand lamb or pan-seared salmon with lobster.

DAY 2

And they're off: If you do decide on seeing the Derby at the Downs (May 6), be prepared for a daylong affair, but you may opt instead to watch the race at one of gay Louisville's many Derby parties. Ask anyone on your gaydar for directions to fabulous fetes around town. Be forewarned that many restaurants will have long waits on Derby night; make reservations well in advance.

Recharge: After the race you'll need nutrition for the long night of barhopping ahead, so take a meal break. Jack Fry's (1007 Bardstown Rd., 502-452-9244) may appear to be a cozy, smoke-free speakeasy, but its four-star menu includes a shrimp and grits appetizer and entrées such as grilled lamb chops served with a gratin of potato and shiitake mushrooms.

Ride that pony: Louisville's gay nightlife scene gets a jolt as hordes of attractive tourists pack the bars during Derby weekend. Many spots have extended hours (or don't close at all). Favorites are Connection (120 S. Floyd St., 502-585-5752), a dance bar with a drag theater, and Tryangle's (209 S. Preston St., 502-583-6395), a cruisy neighborhood bar.

DAY 3

Eat and amble: Start your day at Lynn's Paradise Café (984 Barrett Ave., 502-583-3447), with its über-kitschy decor, bohemian staff, and giant portions of brunch favorites. Then take a leisurely walk through Old Louisville, America's largest Victorian neighborhood, just south of downtown. Take note of the architectural gems surrounding St. James Court and Central Park. Afterward, enjoy people-watching at one of the gay-friendly neighborhood cafés.

Park and dine: The queer crowd loves the Highlands neighborhood for its many antiques shops, galleries, and cafés.

Finally: If you have an extra day—and need a little detour—head to Camp Buckwood (8670 N. Spearsville Rd., Morgantown, Ind., 812-597-2450), a clothing-optional gay campground near Brown County, Ind.

STAYING THERE

The city's newest hotel is the Marriott Downtown Louisville (280 W. Jefferson St., 502-627-5045), a few blocks south of Waterfront Park. Those seeking an Old World feel should try the Seelbach Hilton Louisville (500 Fourth Ave., 502-585-3200). Nearby, the Brown (335 W. Broadway, 502-583-1234), a Camberley hotel, boasts a suite decorated with memorabilia signed by native son Muhammad Ali. The gay-owned Columbine Bed and Breakfast (1707 S. Third St., 502-635-5000), housed in a Greek Revival mansion in Old Louisville, has six guest rooms decorated with antiques and reproductions.

GETTING THERE

Louisville International Airport (I-65 at I-264, 502-367-4636), located just minutes from downtown and Churchill Downs, has direct-flight service from most major airlines. Keep in mind that Louisville is within a day's drive of many U.S. metropolitan areas.

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