Last year’s festival guide to Forecastle Festival was such a smash that we decided to bring back the two Louisville legends to offer their truths to you humble travelers. So, lo and behold, We Listen for You’s Zach Hart and the one and only Kenny Bloggins return to bring you the lowdown on Louisville.
They’ve also made it really easy to digest, having broken down the guide into six categories: Food, Coffee, Drinks, Records, Before and After-Parties, and the Best of the Rest. In other words, as we explained last year, “They trimmed the fried fat and cut right into the savory meat of what can get you lucky in Kentucky.”
Rest assured, you’ll do wise to follow these folks.
El Mundo – 2345 Frankfort Ave.
Remember that episode of The Simpsons where like Homer eats that pan-dimensional atomic chili that sends him into an alternate universe where he befriends the wolf voiced by Johnny Cash? That’s El Mundo’s margaritas. El Mundo might be the only restaurant that explicitly states on their menu that you shouldn’t have more than two. Much like when I took out my earplugs during the My Bloody Valentine reunion show in 2008, I decided I like self-punishment and went for a third sometime back in Q2 of 2011. Yes, I did meet the Cash Wolf.
Their Latin fusion take on traditional Mexican, of course, is also incredible. Sure bets are the steamed mussels, soaked in a spicy chipotle cream, and the massive carnitas plate, enough for two people, served with their own basil-infused salsa verde. Be prepared to wait, as El Mundo is, um, “cozy” … and quite popular. But that’s what the margaritas are there for, ya dummy, and it’s worth the wait.
Taco Punk – 736 E. Market
For an inexpensive, fast, casual experience, drop by Taco Punk, less than a 10-minute walk from the festival gates. Taco Punk specializes in farm-to-table gourmet tacos, including Kentucky-raised pork and beef, and seasonable vegetables sautéed in their signature mole sauce. They offer exotic flavors as well, such as sustainably caught shark on top of homemade, gluten-free tortillas under a bed of shredded cabbage, cilantro, and pickled onions. Whatever you get, be sure to smother everything in their freshly made pineapple habanero salsa from the salsa bar.
Dragon King’s Daughter – 1126 Bardstown Rd.
Head three miles south east to The Highlands, a long stretch of great food, bars, and historic architecture along the Bardstown Road corridor, to Dragon King’s Daughter, a restaurant that pulls off the nearly impossible – successfully fusing two cuisines that should never go together. At DKD, you can enjoy sashimi pizza, kimchi nachos, prosciutto quesadillas, and ginger tacos. The creativity is commendable, but the execution is remarkable. Be sure to try the special late night menu with a bottle of sake.
Wild Eggs – 121 S. Floyd
You have Instagram, so it’s your moral imperative to brunch up sometime. Just a few minutes from the festival gates, you’ll find Wild Eggs. An incredibly and flawlessly modern dining room that looks like a page out of Dwell Magazine, Wild Eggs is just damn good breakfast. Any of their burritos should keep the festival hunger at bay for most of the day.
Queen of Sheba – 2804 Taylorsville Rd.
A bit off the beaten path, so you’ll need to Lyft or Uber (Lyft seems to be a bit more reliable in Louisville) out east to Queen of Sheba. If you know Ethiopian food, then you know what to expect – injera, consciousness-shifting flavors, and communal eating. But what sets Queen of Sheba apart is the flawless flavor. All the dishes delicately balance sweetness and spice, and all are served in generous portions, replete with a side salad and kik wot (a red lentil stew) for around $10 per entree.
I usually go for the sega tips (steak) or yebeg tips (lamb) – cooked to a level of tenderness that modern English diction does no justice to. I have a slight preference for the tips over the wot, but you can’t really go wrong either way. And vegetarians rejoice, as a little over half the menu is meat-free (and much of that is vegan as well).
Eiderdown – 983 Goss Ave.
Since we’re sending you to Nachbar anyway, in the heart of Louisville’s Germantown district, celebrate the city’s rich German heritage with lunch or dinner at Eiderdown. Eiderdown also emphasizes a farm-to-table menu, serving many Kentucky Proud products through inspired German dishes. The Viking’s Wurst and Spaetzle are no joke.
Highland Coffee – 1140 Bardstown Rd.
Other travel guides tout some of the newer, trendier spots (cough, Sunergos), but Highland Coffee is the underdog. A couple years ago when Urban Outfitters moved next door, the store had their sign taken down, much to the coffeeshop’s and their patrons’ chagrin. Out of that incident, you’ll often see T-shirts around in big Bebas type letters that read “I Know Where Highland Coffee Is.” Their constantly rotating cache of organic and flavored coffees has something to please any palate. Or for a frozen drink, be sure to top it off with their homemade whipped cream.
Please and Thank You – 800 East Market St.
Please and Thank You offers up a pretty good model of a successful business in the 21st century: a hybrid coffee shop, brunch spot, and record store. P&TY’s new and used stacks of wax are carefully curated, providing a great opportunity to discover something you didn’t know you wanted. That’s the magic of record stores versus the Internet, right? Seeing as Please and Thank You, located in Nulu, is mere blocks from Waterfront Park, get jacked on P&TY’s delicious drip coffee (provided locally by Argo and Sons) before you enter Forecastle. For those not as concerned about caloric intake, treat yourself to the world’s best chocolate chip cookie. Otherwise, peruse their selection of breakfast and brunch items fitting for both carnivores and herbivores.
Quill’s – 930 Baxter Ave.
Recently named by Imbibe as one of the top 100 places to visit, Quill’s offers up the requisite drip coffee by the cup or carafe and fresh espresso. But the real reason to drop by is their new summer coffee drinks. Made with cold brew and soda, try a Derby Pie flavored pick-me-up. These drinks will most likely appeal to the more adventurous palate, but for a cold beverage that often offers a disappointing caffeine punch, these cold cocktails are rocket fuel.
Zanzabar – 2100 S. Preston
Not just the best small venue in the city, Zanzabar is one of the most unique places to catch live music and late night DJs anywhere. Throughout the day, Zanzabar serves up delicious barbeque, sandwiches, burgers, and more. In the evenings, Zbar has played host the past few months to acts who rarely perform in a 250-person room. Late at night, DJs of both local and national fame bring in generous crates for a gratuitous dance party that takes full advantage of Louisville’s hedonic liquor laws (Zanzabar is open until 4 a.m.). Throughout the day, bring a pocketful of quarters and geek out on the club’s awe-inspiring collection of retro pinball machines, including this Dolly Parton one. Come for all the above, stay for the cheap libations and comfortable outdoor patio.
Haymarket Whiskey Bar – 331 E. Market St.
Like Zanzabar, Haymarket boasts a killer collection of vintage arcade games and fantastic live entertainment from both local and touring talent throughout the week. However, Haymarket takes special pride in its bourbon selection. Unlike other bourbon-minded watering holes in the city, Haymarket is the come-as-you-are “punk rock bourbon bar,” a place where you could be drinking a rare pour of Pappy Van Winkle next to the mayor and a crustpunk. With nearly 200 unique bourbons to choose from, this is the place to come not just for a literal taste of Kentucky, but for a sampling of Louisville’s funky je ne sais quoi in the bar’s decor and jukebox selections. You can also buy a bottle to take home directly from the bar, and it’s easily the closest full bar to Waterfront Park.
The Holy Grale – 1034 Bardstown Rd.
This converted church is a must-stop for any travelers who have the mildest interest in beer – the snobby record store of beer (but with friendly service). With the best rotating craft beer selection in town, The Holy Grale has become a regular stop for those looking for a more sophisticated selection of beer. The entire ambiance is beautiful with a comfortable and inviting beer garden that is the perfect spot for a big group or going solo and mingling with strangers. Embracing their history, The Holy Grale’s upstairs is known as the “choir loft,” providing a cozy milieu for conversation, and the men’s room is adorned with (by my last count) 13 portraits of the Last Supper.
The recently renovated outdoor patio offers great al fresco drinking opportunities influenced by Munich biergartens – replete with hops vines growing up the privacy fences, dangling rope lighting, and backlit stained glass sculpture. If you’re looking to relax after a long day at Forecastle, The Holy Grale offers a peaceful escape, delicious beer, and one of the best aesthetics in Louisville.
Nachbar – 969 Charles St.
Looking for relaxing, post-festival drinks and/or nightcaps but on a budget? Nachbar is the premiere dive. A little off the beaten path in the heart of Germantown, Nachbar appears as if a UFO just straight dropped it off in the middle of a shotgun house-laden neighborhood on the way to go fuck up some cattle. Inside, the bar looks like your grandmother’s basement: wood paneling, tacky paintings, owl sculpture, and jukebox spanning 50 years of rock and roll (what, your grandma didn’t have one of those?). Dogs are allowed inside as long as they behave, which is a funny thought since most dogs behave better than humans do when they’re several beers deep (but I digress). You can often find some of the city’s food trucks outside, too. And if you’re staying in town an extra day, enjoy free jazz on the outdoor patio Sunday nights.
As for the products sold, Nachbar’s specialty is their sweeping selection of drafts that covers everything from super esoteric craft beers to more recognized imports and domestics. The staff is super speedy, even when the place is packed wall to wall. I love Nachbar. I refer to it as my “retreat,” in that, if we go somewhere and it sucks, we can always retreat to Nachbar, and it’ll always be fun. This has happened on several occasions. Its divey, neighborhood feel, all-welcome attitude, and price point that respects any budget make it one of the most comfortable places to go out.
Apocalypse Brew Works – 1612 Mellwood Ave.
Louisville has a rich vocabulary of craft beer throughout the city. Apocalypse is one of the closest to the waterfront and offers one of the most experimental menus amongst the microbrews (Watermelon pilsner anyone?). Beyond the great outdoor patio, Apocalypse executes its theme beautifully, with the bar area resembling a bunker, fallout shelter signs on all the kegs, and the Atomic Cafe playing in the background. A little dark, but in the best and campiest way possible.
Seidenfadens – 1134 E. Breckenridge
Hoppin’ until 4 a.m., Seidenfadens provides you with Louisville’s oddest dance party. An all vinyl affair, a rotating cast of guest DJs spin their personal collections every weekend while cult, art house, and abstract films play on the bar’s large projector screen. It’s not unusual to catch many of the people who keep the local music scene chooglin’, including Jim James and whoever may be recording with him at his nearby studio. Enjoy quick and friendly service, cheap domestics, the occasional food truck outside, and billiards in the back room as well.
Underground Sounds – 2003 Highland Ave.
Louisville’s longest-running record store since the closing of the world-famous Ear-X-Tacy. Underground Sounds sports a massive used collection with a recent treasure chest of 1,500 LPs unloaded into the crates. Some amazing blues, jazz, and ’60s finds are just waiting for you. Also talk to the owner, Craig Rich; having run the store for close to two decades, he’s seen it all and happy to tell you some life-changing stories. Follow via Facebook.
Astro Black Records – 1000 E. Oak St.
Astro Black definitely wins for record store with the most character. Sharing space with an amazing thrift shop, this record shop is an oddball vinyl collector’s dream spot. Huge jazz and experimental sections are topped off with the best cassette collection in town. Follow via Facebook.
Better Days Records – 1765 Bardstown Rd.
Like Underground, another Louisville classic record store. Fresh and used wax can be found crate after crate, and make sure to check behind the counter for some hard-to-find vinyl treats. Follow via Facebook.
Guestroom Records – 1806 Frankfort Ave.
New to Louisville but easily the largest new vinyl collection in town. The bright record shop has a near 100% “I have to buy that” record in my book. Three huge stacks of “recent arrivals” greet you at the door and is a must-hit for wax heads. Follow via Facebook.
Modern Cult Records – 2001 Frankfort Ave.
Modern Cult is brand new but already making a name for themselves as the go-to shop for metal, punk, and outsider music. The stacks are carefully curated and a few pieces of vinyl found here will make you drool or cry … or both. Follow via Facebook.
If you’re really wax obsessed, check out Backseat Sandbar’s extensive Louisville record store guide.