Saturday, September 05, 2015

Sweet Surprise on the Bourbon Trail

We treated ourselves in true vacation fashion, and started our day with some of our favorite things. Chad loves a big eggy breakfast. I love a fruit smoothie and toasted bagel for breakfast. Hooray for room service! Also, the fruit smoothie was awesome! Thanks 21c hotel!

We hit the trail to tour the Maker's Mark Distillery in Loretto, KY. The country roads are scenic with rolling verdant hills, other bourbon distilleries and barns with colorful painted quilt crests. We also saw huge, tall warehouses in the middle of grassy fields, far separated from any other buildings. These are the off site aging facilities for the barrels of bourbon as we later learned on the tour. The grounds of the distillery are beautiful. The history of the distillery is interesting. Even if you don't like bourbon (like me), visit Maker's Mark distillery and take the tour. The three most interesting things I learned on the Maker's Mark Distillery tour: The limestone filtered water in Kentucky makes for more palatable, less astringent whiskey/bourbon. Marjorie "Margie" Samuels, wife of then distillery owner, T. William Samuels, designed the distinctive packaging, label and wax seal of Maker's Mark. Each bottle of Maker's Mark is still hand-dipped in the iconic red wax seal today. 

Just before the end of our tour, our guide brought us into one last barrel aging house with no warning of what we were going to see. I wasn't the only one to audibly gasp at the amazingly beautiful surprise: an installation of Chihuly glass art in the ceiling! I love Chihuly-style glass, and to find it in a bourbon distillery in Kentucky in such abundance and splendor was breathtaking. (Watch the video embedded below to get the full effect.) 

We walked past the old fire station on our way back to the parking lot. It makes sense that distilleries had their own fire trucks due to all the wooden barrels and flammable liquids. Before getting back on the road, we stopped at the Toll Gate Cafe for sandwiches and iced tea. We also shared a chocolate topped bourbon cookie. My advice: each get your own bourbon cookie, because they are too yummy to share.

firetruck at Maker's Mark Distillery
We made our way down winding country roads, thwarting a few frightening tailgaters along the way, back to Louisville. We landed in the NuLu area to peruse a few shops such as Revelry (Loved this shop/gallery! I harbor a tiny bit of regret that I didn't buy two prints I liked there.), Why Louisville (lots of t-shirts) and a funky little bakery called Please & Thank You. The rosemary lemonade from Please & Thank You hit the spot on a hot summer day. I love a good artisan lemonade. Seriously. 

We drove a bit around the historic home district of Louisville. Some of the homes are immaculately maintained and grand. Other homes are clearly historic, but looking as if they were subdivided to rental units and a little funky. Some are charmingly cruddy. Sadly, some are just cruddy. It's eclectic and real; not overly re-gentrified. We saw a wedding in progress at the Conrad-Caldwell House. We restrained ourselves by not honking and not yelling "woooo" out the car windows. We're classy.

Then it was Chad's naptime, so we returned to the hotel to rest before dinner. 

We took the recommendation of the friendly manager at Proof on Main and went to El Camino for dinner. El Camino has a tiki-surfer vibe and serves Mexican-influenced food. Yay for a vegetarian plate! The food was good. The drinks were fine. The decor was fun. Our sweet waiter seemed a bit flustered by the end of our meal telling us about how "slammed" the restaurant was. Um... really? There were plenty of empty tables, no wait to be seated on a Saturday night and plenty of empty seats at the bar. We smiled and nodded, trying diligently not to smirk in disbelief. I think if this guy ever saw any half-popular restaurant in Austin on a weekend evening, he'd want to run screaming, but would only be able to do so after carefully navigating his way through the throngs of hungry people crowding the precious-little waiting area.  

funky decor at El Camino

funky lights at El Camino

After dinner, we walked around the Bardstown Road area, window-shopping and people-watching. It seems to be the hip, happening district where the cool kids hang out. Wooooo!

Back at the hotel, we perused even more art. The exhibition space at 21c hotel museum is vast and eclectic. I especially liked the jungle scene dayglo room lit with black lights so that everything glowed garishly and creepily like a ride at a twisted theme park. Yay!

We had a busy, interesting, full day. I'm tired just recounting it here. Tune in later for a slightly less busy, but just as interesting account of our last full day of vacay.