Grab a pour of your favorite juice, and let's visit a special street that was almost lost. Now it's a place on the bucket list of many bourbon enthusiasts.
Whiskey Row is an historic district that was once the hub of the bourbon industry. Located between 101 and 133 W. Main Street in Louisville, KY, the block of Chicago-School-style buildings almost got torn down in 2011. The buildings were first built in the 1850s and were used for offices and the warehousing of the whiskey barrels.
Having been saved from demolition, the row faced another threat. On July 6, 2015, three buildings were partially destroyed by fire.
(Whiskey Row, Louisville, Kentucky)
Today, with the renaissance of bourbon, the area is a tourist attraction, with luxury apartments, restaurants, upscale hotels, and the Old Forester Distillery which had been located at 119 West Main Street in the 1880s, and has come home. Old Forester was founded in 1870 and is known as the longest-selling bourbon brand; over 150 years. During Prohibition, the company held one of six licenses for manufacturing the alcohol for medicinal purposes.
Besides Old Forrester, this block of Main Street has Troll Pub, Side Bar, Bearno's and Repeal Oak-Fired Steakhouse. Two bars on the row, Doc Crow's and Merle's Whiskey Kitchen were named "Best Bourbon Bar" by The Bourbon Review.
"Best Bourbon Bars"
Merle's says of their place: "When you enter through our open-air vintage doors, you’ll be transported to a classic western whiskey hall. The historic interior features belt-driven fans and a bar built in the 1920’s. We’ll have you making new friends and having good times. Whiskey Kitchen: Memories are made here! See Y’all Soon!"
According to bizjournals.com, "Doc’s Bourbon Room — a new concept developed by the owner of Doc Crow’s Southern Smokehouse and Raw Bar — is ready for thirsty patrons at 129 W. Main St.
"The 110-seat, 2,300-square-foot restaurant will be an extension of the Doc Crow’s brand, but it will be a distinctly different experience from its namesake."
Here's a short video on the Old Forester tour. The tour includes a cooperage, where you get to see the making of the barrels. Afterwards they go across the street to Merle's. Try the candied maple bacon:
Kentucky Bourbon Trail ®
Old Forester became part of "the bourbon trail" in 2018, with its urban location added to the trail of nearly 40 Kentucky distilleries. The trail is sponsored by the Kentucky Distilleries Association (KDA). Besides Old Forester, distilleries in the Louisville area that are included on this trail: Evan Williams, Michter's, Angel's Envy, Rabbit Hole, Stitzel-Weller. A non KDA trail distillery is the Copper and Kings American Brandy Co, known for having the "brandy for bourbon lovers."
As the KDA says on their site: "There's something for everyone -- tours, tastings, activities, big-city nightlife, quaint country towns, Bourbon-theme hotels, and historic bed and breakfast accommodations."
If you're looking where to stay, there's the Marriott Downtown and Marriott Louisville East, both with some Bourbon-themed décor. The Omni Downtown has a bowling alley located in a "speakeasy."
If want some history, consider the Brown Hotel, which was opened in 1923. It's about a five minute drive from Whiskey Row, or about a 20-minute walk.
Of course, they have a fine collection of bourbons at their bar and you must try the "Hot Brown," a dish that was invented in 1926 at the Brown, talked about far and wide, including in the pages of The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Los Angeles Times.
As Eater.com wrote: "Invented at the hotel nearly 100 years ago, the decadent open-faced sandwich is a close cousin of both Welsh rarebit and the croque-monsieur, made with hand-carved turkey, bacon, tomato, Texas toast, and Mornay sauce." The dish, like all the bourbon, is on the bucket list of many who visit this part of the trail." There's even a book about it: The Hot Brown: Louisville's Legendary Open-Faced Sandwich "...the dish was likely created on a cold night: 'Something warm to eat on a frigid winter night during a break from dancing on the rooftop at the Brown Hotel...'"
(The historical Brown Hotel, built in 1923)
And it almost disappeared
It's hard to believe that this Whiskey Row was almost lost; it had been scheduled to be demolished in 2011. A last-minute deal between the City, the developer, and preservationists saved it, to the satisfaction of all involved. Now the location is the Whiskey Row Historic District, registered with the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, and is a top tourist attraction.
Another Whiskey Row
There is another Whiskey Row in the United States; in Prescott, Arizona. It is a block on Montezuma Street between Goodwin and Gurley Streets. Much of the history is filled by myth and legend, just like the history of American whiskey, particularly bourbon.
Instead of distilleries, Prescott's was a row of saloons, and today has bars, restaurants, and shops. At one point, there were over 40 bars, side by side, up and down the street. In 1897, the area became the first part the town to have public lighting installed.
Wyatt Earp, his brother Virgil, and Doc Holiday were regulars (before they headed to Tombstone) at The Palace Restaurant and Saloon on the row. First opened in 1877, it is the oldest bar still operating in Arizona. During Prohibition, a speakeasy operated in the basement.
Ironically, or maybe par for the course, this row also experienced devastating fires in its history.