You hear a lot about up and coming cities these days—Portland, Seattle, Austin, Denver, even Detroit—but of all the major American hotspots I've visited over the last few years, Louisville truly feels hot. There's construction everywhere, great bars and restaurants are popping up overnight, and tourism has increased immensely. With the Kentucky Bourbon trail becoming a serious travel destination, a number of the major players have decided to set up shop downtown. Both Copper & Kings and Angel's Envy have their main distilleries right along the Butchertown strip, whereas Old Forester, Michter's, and Heaven Hill have satellite facilities going or in the works. One of the production managers told me there were more than twenty new hotels being built right now, while real estate prices—still low by Bay Area standards—are rising around the revitalized urban center. I stopped in for a fried chicken sandwich at Royals Hot Chicken and was taken aback by the bustling food hub. It was packed with a youthful working lunch crowd, a new generation of Kentuckians who are interested and invested in Louisville's renaissance.
I've been in town this week to meet with a number of producers and do some barrel selections for K&L, which requires me to drive an hour or so outside of Louisville, south towards Bardstown or east towards Lexington. Whereas in the past I would stay in a number of different places depending on where business needed to be done, today I always use Louisville as my main base. The food scene here is astonishing and every time I return there's another new restaurant someone tells me I have to try. Last night I dined with the Michter's team at Butchertown Grocery, an upscale and well-executed rejuvenation of one of the neighborhood's old 19th century brick buildings, formerly home to a local grocery store named Gunkel's that operated during the first half of the 20th century. The place was jam-packed for a Tuesday night with a full bar that never seemed to have a free stool for the entire time we ate.
While the charcuterie, pasta, and steak frites at Butchertown Grocery were all superb and I would send anyone visiting in that direction, my new favorite local dish is the fried chicken sandwich at Royals. It seems so simple, but I've never had anything this good in the Bay Area. There's a reason Kentucky is famous for its fried chicken.