VIENNA, VA,May 1, 2013 — OK, all you folks who wing down or drive to Louisville, KY for the Derby, plan to come a few days early and check out things to do before you head to Churchill Downs.
Louisville is a beautiful city on the Ohio River, with an honest to goodness skyline with big, tall and pretty buildings and lots to see.
First go down to Main Street, about two blocks from the River, and see the large, make that HUGE, Louisville Slugger baseball bat standing up beside a building, a museum you just cannot miss. It is interesting and well done. Nearby is the Frazier Arms Museum, site of weaponry from medieval times to the present, a fascinating place.
You will also pass the Kentucky Art Center, but it is doubtful you will have time to catch a play.
For eating, Proof on Main is a good restaurant that is close by. Also close by is 21C Boutique Hotel and Restaurant, where a small museum, interesting décor and other fine things can be found, including the food.
Further down Fourth Street, or Muhammad Ali Blvd., is Kunz’s, the Dutchman restaurant. It is ancient by today’s standards, but with excellent German food and super great steaks. Reservations are hard to come by on this the busiest time of the year, but you can always ask.
And be sure to save a night for a good dinner at “Vincenzo’s” at Sixth and Main Street, the crème de la crème of downtown dining. Fantastically lovely, the food is the best in town with Chef Agostino Gabriele doing the actual cooking and his brother Vincenzo Gabriele at the door to welcome you.
You will never be a stranger again after dining there. All items are cooked to order and are truly wonderful. Start out with steak tartare, usually prepared tableside unless they are too busy, and do end your meal with Mousse a la Chocolat. Then waddle or bounce back to your motel or hotel.
One of the best museums you will find anywhere is the Churchill Downs Museum located, of course, out at the Downs. Many of us can recall going there perfunctorily several years ago and coming out overwhelmed.
Churchill Downs Museum is perfectly done. It is beautifully designed and executed. You can even have your picture taken beside a fully saddled horse statue. And do not forget the excellent gift shop with the restaurant located inside, which has super good food as well.
For those not wanting to fight traffic and parking on race day, there are shuttle buses and city buses at selected sites around the city and downtown, which for a nominal fee, will deliver you to the very gates of the Downs.
They run frequently, are clean and quiet and, trust me, everyone with any sense rides them. Go dressed to the nines or in casual attire and you will do just fine.
People ask about the attire and that is easy. Make it summery and bright, loud sport coats or even louder slacks for the guys, although some will belie their age and try the Bermuda shorts style although it is rather passé now. The ladies still wear their finest styles of dress, sun dresses, regular “party” dresses, casual ones — you are bound to see it all.
And the hats are de rigeur, as bright and wild as you like, just remember that there is always the chance of rain so stick a big plastic baggie in your purse or bag just in case – hair dries, fancy hats do not. And do not wear anything you will not mind having the customary mint julep spilled on. Also, one of those small tote umbrellas is a good idea in case of rain as well.
Betting is up to you. Some folks go to great efforts figuring out the lineage of the horse, his or her past performance, the races run, the trainer, owner, the color silks, and most of all the jockey. But do remember, it is a high-strung, hard working horse, and it all depends on how the horse feels that day. Just do not bet more than you can afford to lose, and do not drink more than you can safely handle. If you drive, do not drink at all. Police will be everywhere.
Just like any other large tourist attraction, which is what this day has become, everything costs money, from the souvenirs and the programs to the mint juleps. Early in the week, a great steamboat race is held on the Ohio River, a parade down the main street, “Thunder Over Louisville” was last week with fireworks, and plane acrobatics, darn it, though sequestration probably eliminated most of the latter. Save it for next year and come early!
There is something for everyone, and if you get tired of all of that, check out one of the numerous malls or go out to Locust Grove, the National Historic Register site once owned by William and Lucy Clark. He was the brother-in-law of George Rogers Clark, founder of Louisville. A peaceful May stroll around the grounds is just wonderful.
The friendly folks in Louisville, the Southern atmosphere that still prevails and the diversity of the City will pleasantly surprise you. So come for the races and come back for the rest of Louisville. And be sure to learn how pronounce the city’s name. Locally and even most announcers on national networks have now been taught: it is “Lou-ah-vul.”
Even sounds great. Have a wonderful time, you all.
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