Bistro 301, opened by a former University of Louisville basketball player, is eclectically quaint in a nice downtown location within walking distance to many of the cities main attractions. Upon requesting a local brew, Jeff the barkeep, pours a crisp amber beer for me and I am introduced to Falls City beer. Opened to Louisville shortly after the turn of the 20th century, Falls City Brewery served the community with fine beers until the late 70s when it was shut down. The namesake coming from the Ohio River Falls near Louisville, Falls City Beer has made a recent resurgence after being purchase, reopened in 2010, and introduced into the local market with an offering of a refreshing English Style Ale.
(Enjoying my first Falls City after bellying up)
I quickly work through my second beer while taking advantage of the unique lighting and snapping some pictures. Once satisfied, I briefly scan the menu and instantly the fresh local mussels in a blue-cheese reduction sauce topped with bacon and homemade frites catches my eye. Through more pictures and talking with the staff, busy preparing for the incoming evening weekend crowd, I order the mussels. Jeff the barkeep provides insight to the bricks laced with names in white, once privy only to former teammates and coaches of the owner but quickly spreading to local regulars and other U of L basketball players leaving their namesake upon the open brick. The concept was nothing unheard of before, but unique at the time and very fitting to the comfortably sincere feel of the establishment.
Dinner comes and it is delicious. The mussels are steamed to the perfect tenderness and though the frites are a bit salty, another Falls City beer washes them down quite nicely. Bistro 301 proves itself to be the type of place I love with the style of people I enjoy most; original, passionate, and always with a smile and friendly story to tell. These places are not hard to find, if you’re only willing to get out and look for something different.
(Dinner at Bistro 301)
Leaving Bistro 301, I head back into the virgin night towards my hotel on the corner of Jefferson and 4th St. I had promised my father earlier, a die hard Denver Broncos fan, that I would catch the playoff game. With the nearby 4th Street Live being the closest place to find a Sports Bar, I make my way. My hotel is situated immediately on the busy block or so of 4th Street Live and though that that may be a draw for some, I find it less than ideal.
If Bistro 301 is everything I love, the area known as 4th Street Live in downtown Louisville is everything I despise about the American mass dining and bar scene. Roughly a two block section of downtown, filled with neon signs and flashing lights showcasing cookie cutter, trendy, and ‘authentically any-town USA’ restaurants. God save me. An overhanging canopy, glowing softly red in cheap resonance to the ridiculously tacky neon signs, shields the falling snow while people gather around propane heat lamps in the street; smoking, drinking, and thoroughly enforcing my distaste for the majority of society. I head inside the Sports & Social Club, a mega sports bar with what has to be undergoing a current attempt at breaking the Guinness world record for the most big screen TV coverage in a single business. I am lucky or perhaps not so lucky, to find myself a seat at the bar amidst the stereotypically rude and obnoxious Hollister faithful ordering drinks, while their Abercrombie girlfriends in the background feign to be less shallow than what multiple layers of plastered on makeup can hide.
(I deleted all but one picture of 4th Street Suck!)
I always ask what’s on draught. It’s my preference for drinking a beer and it quickly allows me to sum up a place and a bit of what’s to come in the barkeep’s service. I’m not going to waste much more of your time in describing this childishly tacky, obnoxiously loud, and generally cheap plastic feel of this place. But the following conversation is my reason for putting my jacket back on and leaving before I even allow my butt to make the sticky vinyl bar-seat warm.
“What’s on draught!?” I yell to the bartender 3 feet away, already I hate this.
She replies with an acute smugness; “Bud, Bud Light, Bud Select, Bud Lime.”
“Anything else or something local?” Though, I unfortunately already know the answer.
“No, we have a contract with Budweiser to only sell their products. What’ll it be?”
“Nothing, thanks.” I get up and leave.
Telling me that the only beers you are authorized to sell are Budweiser products, is the equivalent of me sitting down at a nice restaurant, opening the menu, and only being able to choose from a few different variations of a McDonald’s happy meal. Wait a moment; I must apologize as I might have insinuated in that previous sentence that the Sports & Social Club was a ‘nice’ place. It is not. Likewise, I am well aware that there are plenty of people out there that for some reason or other, only drink Budweiser products, and that’s fine. For me I do not, nor do I want to stay here any longer. Though I’m sure the many who only drink Bud products would absolutely love it here and therefore; I give it my highest recommendation for you. Then again, for you Bud drinkers, TGI Friday’s probably came to mind when I mentioned dining at a nice restaurant. Hey, you’re in luck there’s one right next door!
Honestly, I’ve only myself to blame for this experience and I quickly leave while in the back of my mind, negatively thinking to myself ‘what did I expect?’ It’s getting later and I’m wondering where to catch the rest of the game. The focus of my mind turns to a needing to leave the plastic Americana behind. My hands find their place back in coat pockets after throwing a grey scarf over my shoulder. I watch my breath wrap around my shoulders and dissipate quickly, mimicking the sights and sounds of 4th Street Live as I briskly walk away and back towards the Bluegrass Brewing Company.
Walking in the door, I am once again greeted by the long wooden bar top, chalk board, and hand-carved shotgun handles of the tap. Something else greets me as well; a flash of smile and a ‘welcome back’ from Saran as she watches me approach. Feeling instantly comfortable again, we talk as I describe to her my recent experience, the subsequent fall from mainstream’s grace, and my return to the welcoming comfort of this place. She is happy and I am happy. I have a cup of the house chili to complete my warming and gladly pay an extra buck for a handcrafted beer, in a relaxing setting and served by someone who generally cares about my current state of contentment. And yes, I am very content here.
The night is finished at the Bluegrass Brewing Company as the game quickly turns poor for my Dad and his Broncos. I make my way back to the hotel in the stillness of night and find myself once again, walking the streets solitarily. The buzz and warmth in my belly heightens my senses and I relax my walk from the more tensely, shrugged shoulders and brisk pace. After a short while, I unwrap my scarf and lift my head. Briefly looking up into a yellow street light as I make my way back, I allow the cold air to greet my face in quick aggression and penetrate down my neck. A deep, frozen breath awakens my senses. The late night air is purely crisp.
The following morning I check out of my hotel and contemplate on what to do next. I faintly remember some more suggestions while trying to rattle the mild hangover from its grip. My stomach is churning for a filling and my senses are deeply in need of some coffee. Following 3rd Street south and away from downtown, I quickly find myself on the campus of the University of Louisville. Searching for a unique late-breakfast hideout I drive around with no luck, continually becoming frustrated by each place being closed this Sunday morning. I hate the feeling of making a decision, only to be rejected by a closed sign upon pulling into the parking lot. Despite my failures, my mind recalls a Kentucky staple and its origins being nearby. Though one of my stops for the day will bring me back to the U of L campus, I am incredibly hungry from skipping breakfast and upon that sparked memory, make my way back to Louisville.
(The Brown Hotel)
On the corner of 3rd and Broadway in Louisville, stands The Brown Hotel. Erected shortly after the turn of the 20th century, it is home to the original Hot Brown sand-which. After moving to Kentucky a few years ago it was quickly introduced to my palate and consumed occasionally at restaurants throughout the commonwealth. All of the various attempts to emulate the original were good in their own right but until now, the dish has never been experienced fully. The Hot Brown is one of those meals that completely define the term ‘comfort food.’ The ingredients are familiar, preparation is simple, and flavors are down-home goodness.
(Inside the Brown)
The Brown has been serving the original recipe dating back to 1926, created by a chef desiring to replace the usual late night suppers of local drinkers with a hearty and filling meal. Two large slices of bread, topped with sliced roast turkey, ham, and tomatoes are covered in Mornay sauce, then baked or broiled until the sauce begins to brown. Two slices of bacon, a sprinkling of parmesan cheese, and parsley complete the garnish and create a colorful, mouthwatering, sex-appeal of a dish so enticingly comfortable while maintaining a slightly exotic feel. The taste is rich and full of comfortable goodness and just in itself would be worth the trip to Louisville.
(The Hot Brown going inside me)
A now full stomach soaks up any last remnants of alcohol and with an absolute feeling of promised return, I walk the shining streets back to my truck. The sun directs itself to my eyes off of my Tissot, prompting a quick check of the time and a reminder that my next venue opens in a few minutes. Leaving downtown Louisville, I head south again on 3rd Street back onto the university’s campus, eventually pulling into the JB Speed Art Museum. To be honest, I drove around the block quite a few times fighting the urge to simply continue on home to Lexington. It’s a feeling I sometimes get when treading new ground. For some reason set off by any resistance to a fluid plan, run over many times in my mind, but dashed upon arrival.
Overcoming the brief lapse, I walk into the JB Speed Art Museum, nod cordially to the receptionist and continue into the main foyer. Just inside and after waiting in the main room long enough to draw some sort of attention, I am approached by a little old lady announcing that I must be her 12 o’clock tour. Though I am not, I act quickly and play the part. Mary Ann takes me on a guided tour of the museum providing insight and answering questions to any and all of the pieces on display. She is a walking history book, able to bring up bits of knowledge instantly spurred on by my simple questions. Everything from meanings of why a piece is labeled accordingly, to input on specific styles and manufacturing methods used to accentuate an artist’s interpretation are revealed by her expertise. Someone somewhere is wondering where their tour-guide is and missing all of this. I am mischievously more than pleased to have stolen her knowledge. After the tour, I thank Mary Ann for her input and head back through the museum, stopping at the pieces catching my eye earlier.
(Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii
, Rogers. 1854)
I am not a connoisseur of art. I will not be able to tell you the difference between an impressionist and a surrealist; a Rembrandt or a Matisse; but I more than appreciate it. In the sense that I appreciate and respect the vision, dedication, and commitment to creating an idea inside ones own mind, then having the fortitude to produce it in physical form. The same way I travel, the same way I seek out the details of life passed over so frequently by many in such a hurry to chase after fleeting fulfillment. Whether in grand display or in the finest stroke of color, I look for passion in life and easily find it in art. It’s hard not to.
(Woman in the Studio
, Picasso. 1956)
Brush strokes in fury and chaos or in the uniformity of carefully thought out emphasis, bring my imagination to life. The creative soul, constant in yearning to break from the cages of tradition, releases its own imagination vaguely interpretive to anyone lacking the passion of creativity, but easily recognizable to others seeking the soul’s expression. The artist sculpting and working their hands to form a physical masterpiece, one that was a mere thought or vision of the mind moments before. I would rather spend an entire day alone; wandering rooms challenging the imagination of my mind into contemplative thought and interpretation, then a single hour with a society perfectly content in the ability to view a Matisse from their iPhone. In a world of instant fleeting gratification, this is a perfect time to feel the cold, smooth texture of marble sculptures from ancient Greece, faintly hear echoes from a medieval monastery while viewing a Book of Hours, and faintly smell history upon drawing within breathes distance of a bronze statue.
(Books of Hours ~1450)
What I find to be most moving in traveling is the ability to stumble across enlightenment in the simplest moments. Those friendly faces quick to smile, admiration of a craft known but unseen just days before, and taking the time in allowing your mind to lose itself in quiet wandering through imagination. I often choose to walk alone, I see more of the world with less worries. I leave the art museum completely satisfied with the weekend’s trip and my brief time in Louisville. Despite wanting to continue the experience, I make my way through the bleak winter countryside wrought with bare trees and a dusting of snow surrounding the unsaturated grey slab of interstate back to Lexington. Already I look forward to the next experience. Already my mind is turning. These moments experiencing new sights and sounds are what drive me. Though perhaps my feelings are mistakenly, yet subtly despondent; I long for the next moment to hear the words ‘would you like to sit at the bar?’
You can view the full album here: MLK - LKY 2012 pictures by avalancher34 - Photobucket