I have to admit, when my friend Christa called me and asked, “Hey, wanna come to Louisville?” I answered, “Not particularly.” Naturally, I associate anything Kentucky with such conservative crazies as soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senator Rand Paul. Not to mention the classic, pre-conceived stereotypes of KFC, bourbon and, of course, The Kentucky Derby. Louisville was always a place I expected to see when I was driving through. But upon landing, it quickly became clear that “The Gateway To The South” might, in fact, be a destination filled with sophisticated surprises. Here's 10 reasons for pulling over and checking out Kentucky's largest city.
1) It’s Shockingly Gay Louisville is a brilliant little pocket of pink within a scorching desert of red (neck). Believe it or not, Louisville houses one of the biggest gay nightclubs in the South: The Connection (this is where Lady GaGa apparently showed up after a concert and everyone thought she was a drag queen). Also, the city is soon to house one of the largest gay hotels in the world. Less of a gateway and more of a hub, Louisville is a gathering place where gays travel from the seven bordering states.
2) Louisville Has a High Line, Over a River Actually, Louisville has the largest amount of public parks than any other American city, some of them designed by the famous Frederick Olmstead, who created Central Park in New York. Most notably is Louisville's Big Four Bridge, an old railroad track over the Ohio River that's been renovated for pedestrian and cycling enjoyment. With genius views of downtown, The High Bridge is a good ol’ fashioned stroll. Or you can rent bikes at for a sunset peddle.
3) Louisville Has the Longest Underground Zipline What was once one of the largest underground limestone quarries has been hollowed out to create the largest underground Zipline. Although it has the corniest name, The Mega Cavern is really fun. It’s the perfect jumping off point for those who want to further explore all the underground caverns Appalachia has to offer and/or get their feet wet in the sport of spelunking/canyoneering.
4) The Culinary Scene Goes WAY Beyond KFC Like light years beyond. Colonel Sanders would roll over in his grave if he knew that Louisville has actually evolved beyond fast food fried chicken and his billions have trickled down to local hipster foodies taking over. In fact, Louisville comes in second as a U.S. city to have the most locally-owned restaurants. They’ve even adopted name truncations for sections of town like “NuLu,” where the best new restaurants are popping up like tattoos on Bobby Benjamin’s gorgeous arms. Stopping by La Coop to sit at the bar and watch him whip stuff up is highly recommended.
5) It has a Modern Art Hotel Who knew this was a thing? “Born out of the desire to integrate art in to every day life," the 21 C Modern Art is a boutique hotel often that shows politically charged work and challenges social norms. Oh, and the burgers in its restaurant, Proof on Main, will definitely charge your salivary glands.
6) You Don’t Need to Go to The Derby to See the Horse Races The Kentucky Derby is the one part of the year when Louisville goes completely nuts. Everything is packed, and trying to see the races is reminiscent of getting trampled at a rock concert. Luckily, there’s a better option. Grab a beer and seats during the off-season. The night races at Churchill Downs are a much chiller experience.
7) There’s This Thing called The Humana Festival of New American Plays People descend on Louisville from around the world to see good theater, of all things. Every year from March to April, The Actors Theatre of Louisville picks the best new plays from the best new playwrights and showcases them. A bunch of these plays have gone on to win Pulitzers, and some of them star some big name actors. It’s an exciting time to play dress-up and grab dinner at Milkwood for some pre- or post-show discussions.
8) Mitch McConnell Totally Has Gay Neighbors George Stinson, owner of The Connection club, is as a major downtown urban developer and general gay Southern pioneer — and he lives right down the street from Mitch McConnell. Stinson's schmancy neighborhood is known as The Highlands, and it's one of the most liberal enclaves in the state, so liberal some call it a “Gayborhood.” Stinson and his long time partner raised their son just blocks away from McConnell.
9) There Are a Remarkable Amount of Reality Stars from Louisville
And they are weirdly accessible. I was having coffee at Please and Thank You Café on Market Street, and sure enough, there was Gunnar Deatherage from my fave season of Project Runway. He was sitting at a table with some a female friend talkin’ about dresses. There are also Big Brother, Survivor, and Amazing Race stars here.
10) The Drive from Lexington is Kind of Genius
If you have an extra hour and want to experience more Kentucky, fly in to Lexington. The drive is full of dreamy horse farms. It’s as if you are driving through a movie set, especially when the fall leaves are in full drag. Oh, and tickets to Lexington are usually cheaper, anyways.