“Keep Louisville weird” is a phrase that refers to the city’s mandate to encourage and support local talent to flourish and keep the local culture alive; this is no better represented than on Bardstown Road, which fully embraces that motto on a number of fronts, particularly the eclectic commercial 2-3 mile stretch from Market Street (where Bardstown Road is really Baxter Avenue) near what’s known as the Cherokee Triangle to Taylorsville Road to the south. Bardstown Road is one of the most unique shopping districts in Jefferson Country, and features some of Louisville’s finest dining establishments, along with the best antique shopping and people watching in the country. Starting from close to the city centre and going as far as Bardstown, KY, 40 miles southeast of Louisville, Bardstrown Road is known variously as “punk street” and “Restaurant Row” for its copious nightclubs, pubs and eateries, and is a mixture of artistic, organic, punk and yuppie influences. I saw nothing ordinary here. Among the eclectic shops that provided body piercing, tattooing, and acupuncture, I saw clothing stores called “General Eccentric” or “Weeds of Eden” (they sell hemp clothing, by the way), beauty salons called “ScissorHands” and “Raindogs” (named after a Tom White tune), funky restaurants like “Za’s Pizza Pub”, “Karma Café” or “Ramsi’s Café On the World”, which is featured in the Best of Louisville CitySearch (2003). Late-night nibblers can stop at this funky eatery for international cuisine ranging from Morrocan to Italian. Of course, I had to go there!
Continuing on my walk I passed Doo-Wop, which sells musical equipment and Ear-X-tacy, a different kind of music store that sells CDs and DVDs. Among the many antique stores, a contemporary furniture store calls itself “Objects of Desire”. Practically every shop, bistro and bar is adorned with original hand-painted signs or old-style neon lights; like the eye-catching mural and avant-garde recursive-post modern design of the Metro Café, located on Barnstown Road off Duker Avenue. Upon entering, I felt a little like Alice as I left funky for high chic (must have been the blue pill I took earlier). Patrons are treated to the elegant ambience of a dining room lined with original German art-deco prints as they dine on anything from a starter of Vidalia Onion Tart with roasted tomato crème fraiche to a main course of Veal Scaloppini with Bing cherries and a Frangelico cream sauce with mashed potatoes and vegetable of the day. There’s a reason why the Metro Café was voted one of Louisville’s top five restaurants. And I didn’t even get dessert! Ah, those German pastries!
Stuffed with the diverse rich flavors of a good meal, I walked into the Old Town liquor/wine store, and was greeted by an imposing wooden Indian statue (affectionately named “Chief Wooden Head” by its staff). Jeremy, who stands in the picture next to the Chief with a bottle of one of Kentucky’s best bourbon, tells me that the Chief came with the establishment over twenty five years ago and survived the great tornado of 1974. The owners of Old Town Wine Store would prefer that the locals consider it as their neighborhood wine store, despite its more than ample selection of hard liquors and exotic soft liquors from all over the world, including champagnes that go for over $300.
While parts of Bardstown Road seemed old and almost run-down, even these displayed incredible character, particularly juxtaposed to the side streets, which showcased wealthy residential areas, shaded by impressive over 100-foot high mature oak, elm or maple trees. Streets east and west of Bardstown Road house mostly single-family residences, and range from working class neighborhoods to some of the most expensive streets in Louisville, such as Spring Drive, home of Louisville’s most famous Kentucky Derby parties.
Bardstown Road is a place to walk, meet people and experience the sights at a comfortable pace. You’ll witness anything from punkers with pink Mohawks and skateboarders doing 360-switches, to street musicians playing bluegrass on the musical saw. For instance, in a park beside one of the side-street cafés on Eastern Parkway, I met Nikki and Adam, a young couple with their two month old baby girl, who were travelling through Louisville in their converted school bus from New Orleans on their way west to Oregon. Adam plays the accordion to Nikki’s melodic musical saw. I walked, ate and drank my way down this funky fun street, which never seemed to close down. Nothing quite approaches Bardstown Road on a Friday night in the summer. Experience great cultural diversity, alfresco sidewalk-dining, and prime people watching; it’s clearly a place to eat, drink and be merry.
Thank you to my fabulous guest author, Nina Munteanu! Here’s her bio …
Nina Munteanu is a Canadian author and ecologist, who enjoys traveling around the world. She has been tasting and eating her way for years in exotic places from Bangkok to Paris. Her articles and short stories have been translated in magazines throughout Europe and North America. Nina’s latest book, “Darwin’s Paradox” is a science fiction eco-thriller that explores humanity’s evolution with intelligent machine and “intelligent” nature (http://www.darwinsparadox.com). Her award-winning blog, The Alien Next Door (http://sfgirl-thealiennextdoor.blogspot.com), provides lively discussion on topics of travel, pop culture, science and writing. For more on her writing and appearances visit her website, www.ninamunteanu.com.
Websites: General Eccentric, Scissorhands, Raindogs, Za’s Pizza Pub, Karma Café, Ramsi’s Café On the World, Doo Wop, Ear-X-tacy, Objects of Desire, Café Metro, Old Town Liquor/Wine Store, the great tornado of 74