Sights of Thunder: Thunder Over Louisville

Sights of Thunder: Thunder Over LouisvilleA couple of weekends ago Sheryl and I headed south of the border… the Indiana and Kentucky border. We were in town for Thunder Over Louisville, a huge celebration to kick off the Kentucky Derby. She actually had planned it as a surprise, but thanks to her TripIt being linked to her Facebook page, I found out pretty quickly where we were going. She rented a car, and we headed out. A mere two hours later we were checking in to our hotel.

Hotels on a Budget

We rarely stay in nice hotels. That’s actually on purpose. When we travel, we don’t go somewhere to stay in our hotel. We like to get out and explore. Because of this, we usually stay at smaller more economical hotels. For this trip to Kentucky, that’s exactly what we did. We stayed at an Econo Lodge. The room ended up being pretty nice, and was located within walking distance from everything. Literally two blocks over was 4th Street Live. But I’ll get to that in a minute. One advantage of the hotel was free parking. During Thunder Over Louisville, over 500,000 people flock to downtown for boat races, a carnival, an air show, and one of the world’s biggest fireworks displays. It’s actually the largest display of fireworks in the United States. So when it comes to parking, expect to pay a ton. We saw rates starting at $10 all the way up to $50. Free parking at the hotel was a major perk.

When we pulled up to the hotel on Friday night, folks were already starting to party. There were people grilling out, drinking, and listening to music. This would continue all weekend long; the festivities actually go on for the entire week leading up to the derby.

4th Street Live on Friday Night

I had heard of 4th Street Live in the past, but had never experienced it until now. Seeing as it was only two blocks away, it was within walking distance. The weatherman had called for rain, but most of the bars on 4th Street are covered, so when it did rain it wasn’t a huge deal. We were lucky actually, never having to deal with the rain all weekend long.

Sheryl hadn’t eaten all day long, so when we got to 4th Street all we wanted to do was grab a bite to eat. Seeing as how all of the bars would be charging cover, we had to swing by an ATM first. Since Sheryl has paid for the entire trip, I figured I’d pay for her covers and some of her drinks that night.

For dinner, we went to The Pub. Sheryl had researched this place beforehand (she’s good at that) and knew it was a good place for dinner and a beer. We headed in, grabbed a table, and ordered a drink. I hate drinking the same beer twice, and I asked for something local. When our server came back, she was bearing gifts… Two very good brews. Sheryl got a Kentucky Bourbon Stout and I a Kentucky Bourbon Ale. The stout was decent, but the ale blew me away. It was sweet, and had thick and noticeable bourbon back. Apparently the beer is aged in old bourbon barrels. Whatever it was, it paid off. It was fantastic.

After dinner (I had a chicken sandwich; pretty boring) we went to Sully’s. Again, Sheryl had researched this place beforehand and knew they had some good drink specials. $2 beers and $4 Russian Standard vodka drinks. We are both big vodka drinkers, and ever since she introduced me to Russian vodka, I’ve been hooked. We ordered a couple of shots, and was told they were not on special, only drinks that included the vodka. I argued with the bartender for a while, and eventually we paid full price. Later, when we came back for more shots I tried a different bartender. He charged me $4. Needless to say, I went back to him for the rest of the night.

The Hotel (A Different Hotel)

After hanging there, we headed to The Hotel, a bar that apparently played beats. We were both dressed for a nicer joint; and quickly found ourselves surrounded by sharply dressed dancers. Funny thing is, there weren’t that many people there. The cover at both places was only $5, but drink prices were through the roof. A shot of vodka here was significantly more expensive. So what did we do? Danced here, and drank at the other place!

One cool thing about 4th Street is you can carry your drinks from one bar to the next. Think Las Vegas, only in Kentucky. We’d go to Sully’s Saloon, have a drink, and go back to The Hotel. We stopped by Howl at the Moon for a little bit too. They were running a deal on foursquare offering a free cover with every check-in. We didn’t even order a drink there. Sully’s had good specials, and we had a few drinks over at The Hotel, but being able to come and go as you please made it convenient for us to pick and choose our selection.

The best part about The Hotel was the dancers. Especially this one couple that was dancing by the bar all night long. They were older, but were dressed the part. She was wearing a long red dress, and was dancing like she knew what she was doing. He, on the other hand, wasn’t the best dancer in the world. But he didn’t care, and that was what made it all worthwhile. He was just a blast to watch.

Oh yeah, and Sheryl found a cell phone. What is it with her finding stuff? We turned it in though; did the right thing. It felt good leaving knowing that if whoever lost that phone came looking, it would be there. I would hope if I dropped my phone, someone would do the same.

Louisville Bats & The Indianapolis Indians

On Saturday we had tickets to see the Louisville Bats take on the Indianapolis Indians. The stadium, like everything we did all weekend long, was within walking distance of the hotel. It was a little bit further than 4th Street Live, but still not too far from where we were staying.

The weather didn’t like us on Saturday though. It was raining off and on all day long, and it was freezing cold! I’m not sure it ever broke 50 degrees on Saturday, and it was windy. It was so cold that we only stayed for two innings before taking off. We took off and ended up at the brewery on site.

Browning’s Restaurant & Brewery is actually located inside the Louisville Slugger Field. I had taken some photos before we went in to watch some of the game, but we ended up there for lunch. Actually, we grabbed some snacks at the concession stand first, then headed in there for lunch. Being a brewery, I just had to try their beers. They were out of the one beer they are famous for… but managed to win me over with their black IPA. It had a smooth finish to it, and tasted just like an IPA should. I tried all of their beers, minus the She Devil and their pilsner, and ended up ordering a pint of their black IPA. After that, we consulted with foursquare on what to do next.

Derby City Espresso

Oh man, did we find a diamond in the rough. Both Sheryl and I had looked at this place, and had made mention to it in the previous days. It was a coffee shop, but they served beer. So we were both intrigued. While sitting at lunch, Sheryl did a little more research and found that Derby City Espresso only had one employee… the owner. And not only that, he also lived upstairs. So imagine… a coffee shop, that serves beer, owned by the barista, who lives upstairs. We just had to check this place out.

A few blocks over we walked in, and were impressed off the bat. (No pun intended being in Louisville, home of the Louisville Slugger baseball bats.) The place isn’t big, and the bar is at the back of the establishment. There are a couple of booths up front, a few chairs and couches in the center of the room, and then a handful of barstools around the back bar. We walked in, and sure enough Matt was back there brewing coffee.

Matt is an interesting character. We stayed there for a few hours, sipping on our Joe and talking with the regulars. I even managed to schedule an interview with Matt. He used to work as a coffee buyer for Whole Foods. He also used to live in Europe as a translator working for several agencies. Needless to say, the guy had a lot to talk about. And he uses Square technology to take credit card payments.

After we finished up our drinks, it was time to rest. Friday night was a LONG night, and we needed to catch up on some relaxation. We headed back to the hotel to relax before the fireworks.

Fireworks Light up the Sky

We had great seats for the fireworks. That is the main reason we bought tickets to the baseball game. The fireworks are actually shot off a bridge that is just on the other side of the stadium, so sitting at the ballpark gives you a great vantage point. At first, I didn’t know what to expect. I had heard nothing but good things about this display, and it has been called the best in the country and one of the best in the world. So needless to say my expectations were pretty high. I mean, I have seen some pretty impressive fireworks in my day… especially over Disney World.

When they started, it looked like the same show on either side of the bridge… I would later learn that is exactly what they are trying to accomplish. They also play music to go along with the fireworks, but we could barely hear it in the stadium. Apparently there are 500,000 people that come down each year for this… and I didn’t believe it until AFTER the show. I have never seen so many people trying to go in so many different directions at the same time. Imagine rush hour in New York City. There were people, cars, golf carts… going everywhere. Where is the fire? Why was everyone in such a hurry?

One guy was in a hurry at a crosswalk… so much so that the crossing guard was yelling at the driver. About five minutes later, we saw the same car (it was a Mustang) revving his engine as he drove down the street. Not moments later, a policeman pulled him over. It was funny for a few reasons… first was because he was being a jerk, frustrating the crossing guard and then being an idiot revving his engine while he drove down the street.

It was also funny… the cop was in a mini van. I know, a mini van! It was awesome. By the time we got to the scene of the crime, the driver had been pulled out of the car and was getting searched by the police. It was just a funny turn of events to the guy behind the wheel.

Back to Derby City Espresso

After we finished dinner (we ate at a really crappy Mexican joint) we headed back to Derby City Espresso. All we had earlier was coffee… this time we wanted a beer. So we headed back, grabbed a few drinks, and watched some live local tunes. Apparently the live music, and the fact it’s an all ages venue, are what draw people here. I must say, the vibe you get just by walking in is irreplaceable.

We had a couple of drinks, and headed back to the hotel. We actually had plans early the next morning. I didn’t know what the plans were, but we had to be somewhere by 11:00 the next day. I hate it when she plans surprises like this… but I always end up loving what we do.

Deep Into Indiana Wine Country

Getting up early is hard to do… especially on the weekends. But we had to check out of the hotel and get on our way to… I had no idea. But I quickly figured it out when she told me what exit to take. We headed to Huber Winery, located in the Deep South. We actually got there early, and had a chance to eat lunch at their family restaurant.

This was country. It wasn’t very busy; we blame church. And the food was homemade. As a matter of fact, the menu said, “We promise barnyard fun.” We didn’t get to experience any of the barnyard fun, but it was obvious by our surroundings that it was a possibility.

After lunch we headed back to the winery. We had no idea what to expect, as we don’t make a habit of visiting Indiana wineries. Maybe we should… because when we finally did get to taste their juices, they were quite good. We walked into the gift shop, and saw a sign that said, “Tasting In the Loft”. We assumed the loft was upstairs, so we headed up the stairs to find out. Sure enough, there was a bar (a very long bar at that) and a ton of stuff for sale on the opposite wall. We walked over and were greeted by several folks eager to pour, and ordered a sampler. We got the $9 sampler for a few reasons. First off, you got to keep the glass. Secondly, you got to try two additional wines. So we started sipping, I started taking notes on my favorite varietals, and we continued our conversation with the bartender. She took the time to explain each wine as she poured, and it made for a nice experience as we sniffed and sipped on each glass.

My favorite was the port… I just love port so much. Imagine sipping a wine that literally tastes like chocolate… better yet, our sample was served in a chocolate cup. Yeah, I know… a chocolate cup! It was awesome. So you sip the wine, and then eat the glass.

After we left the winery, we headed home… we did stop at Edinburgh first, to shop at the outlet mall. But we didn’t have a lot of energy left, and just wanted to get home. Thunder Over Louisville was awesome, and we had a great time while in Kentucky. It was the first time I had heard of the festivities, and I hope it’s not the last time we make it down there for the fireworks. I mean, we did miss the air show… and the boat races after all.

Have you ever been to Thunder Over Louisville?