I have a thing for Kentucky. I don’t know it well, but what I know I like. A lot. On my first visit to the state–to some, Midwestern, to others, Southern–I met a man with a chubby red face, bow tie and seersucker suit at a hotel bar. He told me that Kentucky is about four things: bourbon, beautiful women, tobacco, and horses. As far as I can tell, he was not mistaken.
We have done Bourbon Country, seen breathtaking horse plantations, had juleps at dusk on the porch of an old white manor house. Once I traveled down increasingly narrower roads deep into the heart of the state in search of hand-forged garden tools. Another time we had a wine named Chardonelle at one of the country’s oldest wineries (and then we said that Kentucky should really stick to bourbon). Most often, though, we do Louisville. (And by that I mean Luh-a-vul (this one deep and throaty), Loo-a-vill, Luh-a-vill, but definitely not Loo-ee-vill, unless you want to sound decidedly foreign, even if you are.) We go when we need a hit of different.
Early on, we found our places and haven’t really deviated. Why? Because we usually go for 24 hours. And we want what we want: that is, farm-to-table food (yes, I’m that predictable), trusty cocktails, coffee from locally roasted beans, and a hotel with a bit of wit. It’s a hit of the old country–San Francisco and Portland–not far across the (Ohio) river, with a twist of Southern.
After we brought our goat circus to a close, we decided on an impromptu Louisville trip to blow off some steam. With only a couple hours’ notice, we put together an overnight bag and piled into the car, not forgetting, of course, the cold, hard-earned cash from the goat sale. (For the next 24 hours, we would quantify everything in goat units, for example, hotel: three goats, dinner: one-and-one-half goats, tickets to the Louisville Bats game: half a goat.)
With both kids and Grandma in tow, we managed to streamline our standard one-day itinerary even more. It went like this:
- 21C Museum Hotel. Très chic, très avant-garde hotel and modern-art museum in a series of former bourbon and tobacco warehouses. Elinor fawned over the large, brightly colored plastic penguins, meerkats and turtles that loiter around the hotel (think standing at the entrance entrance, the empty seat to your right at the dinner table). Dave tried to finagle a ride in the circa 1994 limo encrusted with red glass discs (no luck). Henry was most taken with the gargantuan David (as in Michelangelo, not my husband) spray-painted gold.
- Harvest. Restaurant. For dinner. Eighty percent of the ingredients come from within 100 miles. (Coastal readers, this is decidedly difficult to accomplish in the middle of the country. Be impressed.) Hog-jowl bacon jam on the burger. Sweet potato biscuits with sorghum butter to amuse the bouche. Sold.
- Proof on Main. Hotel restaurant that doesn’t suck. Post-dinner drinks (so many thanks, Mom!), breakfast, Mother’s Day brunch. Bourbon cocktails and a bourbon list to make the heart pitter-patter, fried chicken and biscuit sammies, quail, shortcake with strawberries and rhubarb, and a glass of bubbly for this mama. Satisfaction achieved. (On the corner of the bar kneels a bronze sculpture of the devil, part man, part goat. The biblical imagery of lamb versus goat never made more sense.)
- Louisville Bats. The Cincinnati Reds’ triple-A team. Elinor’s first sports event. She stayed in her seat for two pitches before spotting the carousel, which she rode well into the sixth inning. Meanwhile, my mom and I checkout Louisville’s most recommended organic grocery (weird, I know, but I’m compelled to do it everywhere we visit) and an antique mall; surprisingly, Henry napped through it all.
Driving home on billboard-free freeways we passed undulating blue-green hills. Once we crossed the river, those hills eventually turned into flat fields of corn sprouts or brown swaths of soil awaiting their little genetically improved soybeans. We pulled in a dusk tired but full, full of good food and drink, of spirit, of different. And we were short on any evidence of goat mischief at the homestead. In other words, we were in the money, goat money.