Louisville is a serious tourist town with incredible food, excellent music, equestrian culture, and enough history to keep one busy for a lifetime.

But who are we kidding? If you are reading this, chances are you are heading to Louisville for the whiskey, and this bourbon-centric city never disappoints. Modern Louisville is home to state-of-the-art distilleries and whiskey experiences featuring incredible bars, sophisticated tasting rooms, and world-class restaurants. While there’s something for every whiskey lover in Louisville, planning your best adventure requires an inside scoop. The right hotel, the best places to eat and drink, and of course, knowing the local distilleries all contribute to a stellar trip. Part I of this five-part series takes you inside the city’s finest hotels so you can find your perfect home base for your best bourbon adventure.

The classic Hot Brown sandwich is a Louisville staple. Photo courtesy of The Brown Hotel

The Brown Hotel

335 West Broadway
The Vibe: Old School and Austere

Walking into the Brown, one of Louisville’s two remaining old school Grand Dame hotels, is like time traveling back to the jazz age during the prohibition era. You check into the hotel inside gilded metal cages, and if your room’s not ready, step to The Brown’s Lobby Bar & Grill for a classic mint julep and chill out with live piano music. The English Grill is the restaurant here, home of Louisville’s classic Hot Brown sandwich, invented in 1926. Back in the day, party people would go dancing at the hotel, then hit the restaurant for a late-night snack. To feed the crowd, the chef put his spin on a classic Croque monsieur by crafting an open-faced roast turkey sandwich bathed in mornay sauce and topped with bacon and tomato. Today The Brown Hotel pumps out about 1,000 sandwiches on Derby Day.

21C is an art museum inside a hotel. Photo courtesy of 21C.


700 West Main St
Vibe: Hip and Arty

This edgy and modern hotel is more than just a place to rest your bones after a long day in Louisville. 21C is literally a contemporary art museum with rotating curated collections of works by modern artists. It is undoubtedly one of the most entertaining lobbies in Louisville, with its one-way mirrors in the main floor restrooms and a fun, interactive art installation in its elevator bank. The hotel is also home to Proof On Main, a bourbon institution in town with an insane whiskey selection poured by knowledgeable bartenders who will teach you all about what’s in your glass, plus a flight menu to sample drams side by side.

Pin + Proof, a speakeasy style bar at the Omni Louisville. Photo courtesy of Omni Hotels.

Omni Louisville Hotel

400 2nd Street
The Vibe: Young and Social

Built in 2017, the Omni really embraced the bourbon and equestrian themes in Louisville, and that plays throughout the hotel from the use of wood, copper, and leather. As a result, everything in the hotel makes you feel like you are either at a race track or a bourbon distillery in a beautifully modern way. But the pulse of the Omni can be found in its hopping nightlife, including a rocking rooftop pool bar popular with trendy locals as well as hotel guests. Downstairs is Pin + Proof, a speakeasy with a four-lane bowling alley, a popular entertainment back in the 1920s.


Getting Around Louisville

UBER is the obvious choice for barhopping all night or hitting tasting rooms all day, and it’s a pretty straightforward and inexpensive option. The longest you’ll need to go is from 21C to Stitzel Weller, which tops out at around $20, but most rides will cost less than half.

But to elevate your experience, book a tuk-tuk by Bourbon City Cruisers to drive you around. More than just a lift across town, these funky, three-wheeled scooters seat up to six and are driven by experienced tour guides who will teach you all about bourbon, Whiskey Row, and all facets of Louisville history. Up to 18 people can rent a tuk-tuk for the day, which leaves from the Omni Hotel. Book online or at the Omni.

The Seelbach is the epitomy of Southern elegance. Photo courtesy of The Seelbach.

The Seelbach Hotel

500 Fourth Street
The Vibe: Sexy and Decadent

The second grand old-time hotel in Louisville is The Seelbach, founded by two German immigrants in the early 1920s, immaculately gilded and steeped in history. For starters, Al Capone played cards in the hotel’s Rathskeller, a cavernous space built in the Bavarian tradition. F. Scott Fitzgerald was known to frequent the Old Seelbach Bar, where he found inspiration for The Great Gatsby. It’s the site of Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s wedding scene in the novel. For an authentic Louisville experience, order a Seelbach Cocktail (champagne with a splash of triple sec, topped with bourbon) at the Old Seelbach Bar and drink it in The Rathskeller.

Distil is the toast of Whiskey Row. Photo courtesy of Distil.

Distil Hotel

101 W Main St
The Vibe: Bourbon-centric

Located just steps from the Old Forester Distillery on Whiskey Row is The Distil Hotel. Opened in 2019 and housed inside what was once a bourbon rick house, Distil’s dedication to providing a bourbon experience begins at check-in as you are presented with a prohibition-style prescription for whiskey. Then, each day in the hotel lobby, at precisely 7:33 PM, a nod in military time to 1933 when prohibition started, there is a bourbon toast in mock salute of the outlawing alcohol. Repeal is the steakhouse and bourbon bar at Distil, which cooks over the same American oak used to make bourbon barrels. After dinner, hit the rooftop bar overlooking Main Street on Whiskey Row.

Photo courtesy of The Grady

The Grady Hotel

601 West Main Street (corner of N 6th Street)
The Vibe: Modern and Sophisticated; Date Spot

Opened in May 2021, the new kid on the block is The Grady, a slick boutique hotel located in Louisville’s downtown Market District just steps from the Louisville Slugger Museum, Michter’s, and a buzzy bar and restaurant scene. This July, the place to be is the Wild Swann, a posh cocktail bar and restaurant specializing in small plates, shareable, and a killer cocktail menu. If you like to drink your dessert, order the Swan Song, made with locally-made Copper & Kings Brandy, mint-chocolate liqueurs, and a touch of cream, topped with shaved chocolate.


John McCarthy is a spirit, travel, and lifestyle journalist, managing editor, and author of The Modern Gentleman and Whiskey Rebels: The Dreamers, Visionaries & Badasses Who Are Revolutionizing American Whiskey. McCarthy is also editor of Barleycorn Drinks and Director of Judging of the John Barleycorn Awards.