Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Night at the Louisville Museum

Eric surprised Neil with an overnight trip to Louisville as his Christmas gift.  They both were so busy around the holidays that they weren't able to get away until last week.  Of course they invited me to go along, but I preferred to stay back and watch the house…or sleep all day…no one will ever know!

DAY ONE: Rolling down I-71 we called Actors' Theatre of Louisville at 10 AM for tickets to their evening performance.  The theatre reserves 20 tickets at $20 available the day of the performance.  We luckily snagged a pair to The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity.  Now our first stop would be lunch at Jack Fry's (see our 
Jack Fry's Dining Room
separate review from 2/5/2012) on Bardstown Road in The Highlands.  It's one of several quirky bohemian neighborhoods that we found on the southeast side of downtown.  Jack Fry's is an award winning landmark that has been serving since 1933 with a ten year interruption in the '70s.  It's a sportsmen's style atmosphere that we found entertaining on many levels with superb food.

      From there we followed a route through the University of Louisville. It's a large campus with little visual appeal other than some of the buildings dating back to 1923 when the campus was moved to its present location.  A highlight was one of the casts of The Thinker by Auguste Rodin in front of Grawemeyer Hall.  

Entrance to Churchill Downs and the Derby Museum
      Just around the corner was Churchill Downs, site of the longest running sporting event in the US and "the most exciting two minutes in sports" -- the Kentucky Derby.  We were hoping for a Derby Day experience and that was exactly what we had!  We started with the 360º movie in the Derby Museum, after which it was time for our first escorted tour of
the grounds with Ben as our guide.  That tour was included with the museum admission and was a half hour of looking at the Derby from the beginning with personal anecdotes about the winners, the festivities of the race day, and facts about the track.  (A little known tidbit is that the racetrack was actually named for the family that tended the potato farm on which it was built.)  Then it was time for our second tour (there's an
The Obsolete Jockey Locker Rooms
additional charge) with our guide Mitch.  This was an in-depth walk through the jockey's locker and waiting rooms, the Director's Room where Queen Elizabeth and other distinguished officials have been entertained during
The Room Where
Queen Elizabeth Was Entertained

the race, the dining rooms for the influential, and the press room with the announcer's box.  It was like being there on Derby Day without the crowd and noise, but still a moving experience of one of the planet's greatest spectacles.  Pausing in the stands and walking down the path where all the winning horses and jockeys have walked since Aristides won in 1875, there was a thrill to it all.

Courtyard at Churchill Downs
Back at the museum, there were interactive exhibits like trying your talents at announcing a race (it's not all that easy) to trying on jockey outfits for the kids.  It's factual and fun for anyone who enjoys this sporting event.

Lobby at the 21c Museum Hotel
Hotel Entrance
      We spent more time at Churchill Downs than we expected so we were a little pressed for time getting to the 21c Museum Hotel to check in before the play.  Of course, the hotel is an attraction in itself from the changing art exhibits to the surprising interactive video at the elevators.  The concept was the brainchild of local art collectors Steve Wilson and his wife, Laura Lee Brown.  The 21c has been honored as one of the top 10 hotels in the world by Condé Naste Traveler magazine and the top hotel in the US.  The rooms were spacious and nicely appointed with all the amenities of a 21st century establishment.  Eric's only disappointment was that the bathroom seemed too small with the living space being too large.  A larger 160-room 21c Museum Hotel will open late 2012 in downtown Cincinnati in a building once known as the Metropole Hotel. 

Actors' Theatre of Louisville
      The hotel was a short walk to the theatre where there are two performance spaces. We were in the theater in the round where we found ourselves in the middle of a rousing theatrical experience (see post from 3/2/2012)!  After the show, we headed back to the hotel for a late night snack.  

      We stopped by Proof Bar (Proof on Main is the hotel restaurant) where we found a lively crowd of mostly male executives with a sprinkling of locals.  We were intrigued by the original list of cocktails and decided to give them a try.  Eric had the coffee liqueur concoction, while I asked for one on the sweet side to which our server recommended the Steppen Wolf with Finlandia vodka, St. Germaine liqueur, and grapefruit.  Both went down smoothly, while we were waiting for our order of Marinated Olives and Warm Ricotta.  The olives were a
Proof Bar
generous assortment with orange and pimenton…salty and appropriately pungent.  Our server recommended the ricotta that was baked in a crock with the addition of oregano and horseradish.  Served with toast, it was everything we needed to satisfy our late night appetites. It was rich in flavors, but mild enough to not be too upsetting.  A quick trip to our 4th floor room and we were ready for the sumptuous bed that awaited.

DAY TWO: We started the next morning with a walk down Main Street to Vint coffee house.  The moist homemade fruit breads were great accompaniments to our café au laits.  We had talked about visiting the Mulhammad Ali Center, but decided to forego it for a look around the hotel's current exhibit Alter Ego: A Decade of Work by Anthony Goicolea.

21c Museum Hotel Gallery
Many of the works are from the 21c Museum collection when founders Wilson and Brown started following Goicolea's artwork early on.  The first-generation Cuban American used digitally manipulated multiple self images to produce his early compositions of adolescent playacting.  The staged photographic works followed with video productions (The Septemberists was shown on the hotel channel) and installations.  From there, Goicolea moved into landscapes (some of which were devoid of humans) further emphasizing his images of human alienation from one another and nature.

      After checking out of the hotel we headed to the East Market District with options of home furnishings, art galleries, and restaurants in a rejuvenated area.  Driving further south our destination for lunch was Lynn's Paradise Café in Germantown.  Self-proclaimed
Lynn's Paradise Café
as a kooky restaurant with sophisticated food (see post from 3/2/2012), I would describe it as Betsey Johnson meets Paula Deen.  Although there was nothing good for our health there, we would highly recommend it as a "must" experience when visiting Louisville. There's a gift shop at the entrance and plenty of other playful stores in the area.  

Medieval Art Gallery at the Speed
Contemporary Art Gallery
and Grand Foyer
      For culture, we passed through the affluent Parkland neighborhood on our way to the Speed Art Museum on the grounds of the University of Louisville.  It was opening day for the special exhibit Renoir to Chagall: Paris and the Allure of Color, (post from 2/11/2012) a nice plus to my first visit there.  The museum boasts an extensive collection spanning the history of art in a spacious and grand neo-classical structure. Plans are underway for a contemporary wing that should be a welcome addition to the arts scene in Louisville. 

      A short drive back to the downtown area and east on Market Street, we took an afternoon break at Cake Flour (post to come) in the NULU area.  All natural ingredients are the feature at this bakery that was an inspiring spot for desserts and outside relaxation (yes, it was that warm in February) before journeying back to Cincinnati.

      Thanks, Eric.  It was the best Christmas gift ever!

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