Louisville’s Whiskey Row is where the big kids who love whiskey go to play. The whole concept of a “whiskey row” is pretty self-explanatory on the surface — there are several distilleries lined up along Main Street over a little less than two miles of road — but beyond those whiskey experiences, there are also hidden bars, plenty of good food, and hotels worth splurging for. You definitely need a travel guide to navigate it all.
Today, I’m diving deep into Whiskey Row (and a few spots right off of it). I’m including distillery experiences and the best places to eat, drink, and sleep, plus a few hidden gems thrown in for good measure. It should be noted that Whiskey Row is part of the greater downtown Louisville area, so there are tons of other venues, restaurants, and bars outside of the Row. But as worthy as those spots are, I’ll save them for a broader travel guide to the city — I’m keeping this laser-focused on the whiskey.
Let’s dive in!
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PART I — The Whiskey
Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co., 120 N 10th St.
Starting at the far west end of Main Street, you’ll find Kentucky Peerless Distilling Co. — the best place to start your Whiskey Row experience. The distillery is where everything happens for Peerless whiskey from mashing to distilling to aging to bottling. This is a real working distillery (that’s not 100 percent true of a lot of the other whiskey “experiences” on the Row) and you’re likely to see the Master Distiller actually making the whiskey you’ll taste after your tour.
Can’t Miss Opportunity:
The distillery tour is very small, as Peerless is still a small-ish craft operation. And while that’s totally worth doing, what you really want to do is get the in-house tasting in their tasting room and buy a distillery-only bottle from the gift shop.
The bottle shop will have limited releases and special single-barrel expressions you simply cannot get elsewhere. The tasting room experience will walk you through Peerless’ award-winning and delicious rye and bourbon whiskeys with a tasting expert guiding your every sip.
Distillery tours cost between $15 and $28 and run Monday through Saturday at 10:30, 11:30, 12:30, and 2:30.
Tastings cost between $10 and $18 and run Monday through Thursday at 1:45, 3:45, and 4:45, and Friday at 1:45 and 3:45.
Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery, 801 W Main St.
Continuing west on Main Street, you’re going to hit Michter’s Fort Nelson Distillery next. This micro-distillery and gift shop is located in one of downtown Louisville’s best preserved historic buildings.
The actual distillery is a small operation with three small, wooden mash tanks and two stills. The moment you walk into the place, you can smell the grains fermenting in the back. A few choice barrels are aged on-site as well. That all said, this is a tourist experience — the full distillery is out in Shivley (West Louisville) and closed to the public.
Can’t Miss Opportunity:
What you’ll want to do at Fort Nelson is fill your very own bottle of Fort Nelson Michter’s Barrel Strength Bourbon straight from a barrel. For that, you’ll need to take the Legacy Tour ($100), which is two hours, and includes a tasting with Michter’s 20-Year Single Barrel Bourbon (!), and the opportunity to also fill a barrel of whiskey on site.
Basically, you’re getting a chance to both sample a $200 pour at any high-end whiskey bar and walk away with a bespoke bottle from the distillery. That’s unbeatable.
The tours last one, one-and-a-half, and two hours and cost $20 to $100, depending on the tour. Tours run Wednesday through Saturday every hour between 11 am and 4 pm and Sundays between 1 pm to 4 pm. Each tour comes with a tasting at the end.
Evan Williams Bourbon Experience, 528 W Main St.
Evan Williams is one of the cheapest whiskey on the shelves, so this might be the must-stop for every bourbon lover out there. The Experience is right in the middle of the Row and one of the busier stops (there are sometimes lines to get in).
Once inside, the stop is part whiskey shop, part museum, part bar, and part micro-distillery. The mini-distillery is kind of there for show (the real distillery is out in Bardstown and totally worth the drive down), but whiskey is being made behind the glass as you’re guided through the place. As with all of these tours, the final stop is the destination of choice — it’s where the tasting is.
Can’t Miss Opportunity:
While this sounds pretty straightforward, Evan Williams Bourbon Experience has some serious variety when it comes to the tours and tastings. You can get a tour that ends with a charcuterie and whiskey pairing experience, a speak-easy experience in a hidden bar, or a cocktail course.
What you really want to make sure you do is hit the On3 Bar. Since Evan Williams is part of the larger Heaven Hill family, you’ll be able to find serious pours behind this bar. You can grab several Old Fitzgerald Bottled-in-Bond expressions, Parker’s Heritage pours, and the main expressions from Elijah Craig, Larceny, and, naturally, Evan Williams, plus a few true gems you’ll have to be savvy enough to ask about.
Lastly, don’t forget to grab a bottle of Evan Williams 12-Year from the bottle shop on your way out. You can’t get it outside of Kentucky and it might be their best expression.
Tours and tasting cost between $18 and $85 and last 45 minutes, one hour, and two hours. The tours run from Tuesday to Thursday from 11 am to 4 pm, Friday and Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm, and Sunday from 1 pm to 4 pm.
Old Forester Distilling Co., 119 W Main St.
Old Forester Distilling Co. is another stop that will likely have a line out the door, especially if there was a special whiskey drop that day. The distillery inside is worth the wait, even if it is a microcosm of the larger Brown-Forman facility (also out in West Louisville in Shivley).
The tour is a solid walk through every step of the process of whiskey making. The big ripple here is the on-site cooperage. You walk through every step of the barrel-making process from stave selection to charring the barrel. It’s a unique experience for Whiskey Row and adds to the already great tour. Naturally, all of this ends with a tasting and cocktail experience.
Can’t Miss Opportunity:
The Nothing Better In The Market Tour ($70) has the best tasting when it comes to Old Forester whiskey. The lineup is very high-end and includes Old Forester’s famed and fleeting Birthday Bourbon. Since that is one of the rarest (and spendiest) bourbons out there, you cannot miss a chance to try a pour.
Tours run between $32 and $70 and last about 90 minutes with a tasting. The tours operate daily and hourly between 10 am and 5 pm. Be warned though that several days are booked up months in advance. So plan ahead.
Old Carter Whiskey, 105 W Market St.
Old Carter isn’t a distillery so much as it’s a bottle shop for one of the best bottlers in the game right now. The “shop” is in a historic building and really is an insider-only spot.
You’re going to have to follow Old Carter’s social media to find out when their Pop Up bottle shops open at this location. If you are in town at the right time, you’ll be able to buy some of the most sought-after sourced bottlings in the game right now. The actual location is also a great, old-school whiskey bar-style location that oozes whiskey lounge.
Can’t Miss Opportunity:
Hitting up a pop-up bottle release is a must if you’re in town. You’re only allowed one bottle per person but you’ll walk away with a great bottle of whiskey you won’t be able to get anywhere else (not for retail prices anyway).
You can visit by appointment only or on pop-up days, which vary.
Angel’s Envy Distillery, 500 E Main St.
At the far east end of Main Street, you’ll find Angel’s Envy Distillery. The distillery is the biggest distillery location on the Row with a fully working distillery and warehouse right in town, across the street from a minor league baseball stadium.
The distillery was built into a historical warehouse where the team at Angel’s Envy created an industrial cathedral to all things whiskey. The tours range from taking you through the “cathedral” which overlooks the distilling floor to a tour on the floor where you can feel (and see) the whiskey getting made.
The whole experience is bright and shining and very new. This is a big facility that feels like you’re walking through a destination and not just a factory for whiskey. There’s also a great bar and plenty of space to savor the juice.
Can’t Miss Opportunity:
The whiskey tastings at the end are the real treat here. There’s a great, but small, whiskey and chocolate pairing that’s definitely worth it as it leans into Angel Envy’s overall vibe. After that, grab a bespoke cocktail from the bar and let it all wash over you.
Whiskey tours cost $20 to $25 and run on Mondays and Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10 am to 5 pm and on Sundays from 1 pm to 5 pm.
Rabbit Hole Distillery, 711 E Jefferson St.
We’ve made it to the official end of the whiskey tour and we’re technically off of Whiskey Row (but it still counts!). Rabbit Hole is another brand new distillery experience right in the middle of the city. The distillery is a mix of modern and street art and a full-on distillery and aging facility, which makes it one of the cooler destinations in the city.
The distillery is very modernist and expansive with one of the most interactive experiences on Whiskey Row. It’s also the sort of place you kind of what to just hang out at a get a drink. Taking a tour is fun, but it’s not the only thing to do — the whole place is a vibe.
Can’t Miss Opportunity:
The tour and tasting are definitely the draw but don’t sleep on the Over Look bar. You’ll end up here for a five-dram tasting of the core line. Stay for some cocktails and enjoy the view. Then make sure to peruse the art collection throughout the distillery for a bit of culture outside of whiskey.
Tours and tastings cost $20 to $25 and last 30 to 60 minutes. They run Tuesday through Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm.
PART II — The Food
Repeal Oak-Fired Steakhouse, 101 W Main St.
Repeal is probably the one place you have to eat at while in Louisville on Whiskey Row. This is the best of what Kentucky has to offer from superb steaks cooked over fires fueled with old whiskey oak staves to the best wedge salad in the game to what I claim are the best dinner rolls in the country (fermented for a week before they’re baked!).
Repeal also showcases some amazing seafood with a killer oyster menu of baked and raw oysters. It’s worth noting Louisville has a great seafood scene thanks to it being UPS’s hub. That means all the seafood from each coast stops in Louisville before it goes everywhere else in the country. That, in turn, means that Left Coast and East Coast fish and shellfish are fresher in Louisville than, say, Chicago because no matter where it’s headed, it stops in Louisville first.
Anyway, Repeal also has a killer bar scene with some seriously great cocktail mixers working tirelessly to make you the perfect sipper while you wait for your dinner rolls, oysters, and steak.
Can’t Miss Dish:
The Oysters Rockefeller is an easy win. Bacon creamed spinach and bread crumbs are accented with absinthe and baked over medium. But I’m going with the Iceberg Wedge as the pick (though the French Onion Gratinée soup is also killer).
The Wedge is a massive quarter head of iceberg that’s light and perfectly salted covered in a massive slab of in-house-cured and smoked bacon, gorgonzola crumbles, tomato, cucumber, pickled onion, and a buttermilk dressing with a hard-boiled egg. It’s a wedge amped up to its extreme. It’s also a full meal by itself.
Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen, 122 W Main St.
Merle’s Whiskey Kitchen is probably the most fun you’ll have while eating and drinking on the Row. The bar/restaurant is right across the street from both Repeal and Old Forester. It’s an open indoor space with a good-sized outdoor patio. There’s a killer bar with a great staff who can sense what your orderis going to be as the night wears on. Make sure to sample the barrel picks from behind the bar, especially if you’re looking for a special pour from Wild Turkey or Buffalo Trace.
The food menu is a list of classic Midwest-meets-Southern classics. Sweet potato casserole, baked mac and cheese, and cornbread all make appearances alongside pulled pork, fried chicken, and “dunked” Cuban sandwiches.
Can’t Miss Dish:
You cannot sleep on Merle’s fried chicken. The whole half-fried chicken is the way to go if you’re planning to share. It’s an entire half of a chicken that’s battered and deep fried and then drizzled with hot honey. It’s pretty much perfect bar-food fried chicken and pairs awesomely with a tall boy of Coors Banquet and a pour of the Buffalo Trace Bourbon barrel pick.
The Bar at Fort Nelson, 801 W Main St.
The Bar at Fort Nelson is the bar above the Michter’s distillery. This place is special and you’ll need to call ahead for a table. First and foremost, the staff is amazingly well trained. They have that special bar-sense of knowing how much attention to give you and when, while keeping 100 percent cool and collected even when slammed. Next, they make their own huge blocks of ice and process them into various-sized cubes, orbs, and crushed ice in the back. This makes for a massively better cocktail-making experience as block ice holds the cold better without over-diluting drinks.
Then there’s the setting. This is a chill bar with a touch of Belle Epoque meets Lost Generation vibe in a very comfortable setting. The fermenting malts from the distillery below waft up to the bar, creating a sense of place. Lastly, you can get a pour of some seriously rare Michter’s expressions here… for a price.
Can’t Miss Drink:
I’m partial to the Boulevardier. It’s served up with a large ice ball. It’s the perfect mix of Campari, Michter’s whiskey, and sweet vermouth with a couple of special touches to elevate it.
From there, you might want to consider your bank account before you dive into the 20 and 25-year pours of Michter’s.
Hell or High Water, 112 W Washington St.
Louisville is full of hidden bars behind no-descript doors. It’s a town that suits secret speakeasies. Hell or High Water is a well-known and well-hidden speakeasy right on Main Street.
The bar — which requires a reservation well in advance — is impossible to find if you’re just looking for it. Once inside, you’ll be treated to a plush library of booze with big velvet booths, old leather wingback chairs, and a bar menu second to none.
Can’t Miss Drink:
I’m partial to the My Oh Mai!, which is a bourbon take on a Mai Tai with plenty of rum too. It’s tropical, boozy, and full of nuttiness that plays nicely with the Old Forester 1920 at the base of the drink.
As with all bars like this in Louisville, there’s an incredible whiskey bottle list as well.
Third Street Dive, 442 S 3rd St.
This is just off Whiskey Row (by less than a block) and worth hitting up after the other bars close — a lot of Louisville closes down by 11 pm (or earlier). This is after hours with bands, karaoke, and bacchanal every night, but especially on the weekends. It’s also a dive bar so it’s incredibly cheap to drink here. Basic shots and bottles of beer are a couple of bucks each.
The decor is an uber-dive bar with chalk graffiti everywhere, pinball in the back, a funky pool table, and neon everywhere. It’s a dive bar, you get it.
Can’t Miss Drink:
A beer and shot. This is where the tattooed and pierced crowd go after they had their dinner and cocktails so don’t expect fancy unless it’s someone belting out the song on karaoke night.
PART III — The Hotels
21c Museum Hotel Louisville, 700 W Main St.
21c Museum Hotel is probably your best bet for a little culture next to great food (Proof on Main in the lobby is a must-stop for brunch or cocktails) and comfy rooms.
The hotel is right in the middle of Whiskey Row, making everything in this guide within walking distance. The lobby is a small art exhibit attached to a larger installation/full-on museum that rotates through art seasonally. The rooms are bespoke but simple — really, this is where the cool kids go to take selfies next to art, meaning the bedrooms are not the real draw.
The overall vibe is young and hip from the lobby to the bar to the rooms. There’s a full-sized golden statue of David outside, which tells you that this is a place to be seen.
Rooms start at $188 per night for a Deluxe King.
Hotel Distil, Autograph Collection, 101 W Main St.
Hotel Distil is the hotel attached to Repeal listed above. This is a boutique hotel with another great location right in the middle of the action. If you’re planning on just focusing on Whiskey Row on your trip to Louisville, you won’t have to rent a car if you stay here.
The hotel has a great lobby scene thanks to the bar at Repeal overflowing into Distil’s actual lobby. You can get drinks from Repeal and sit in the overstuffed chairs in the lobby and chat if you like. The lobby also serves cold pours of free bourbon on the weekend evenings around 6 pm. Expect something like JTS Brown Bourbon.
A great bar with free whiskey in the lobby? I think you’re sold.
As for the rest, the rooms are slightly corporate but plush with great amenities. The hotel is also super dog friendly with welcome baskets for your pup, which is a nice touch. The beds are very comfortable and the amenities are top-notch as well, but not mind-blowing. It’s a great hotel, not a luxury resort.
What is mind-blowing is the bar cart you can get delivered to your room. It’ll have super rare bottles like Pappy 10-Year and Eagle Rare 17-Year on there. The bar cart will have everything you need to pour the perfect dram or mix up the perfect cocktail, but it’s going to cost you.
Expect to pay $250 per night for a King Room.
The Hidden Gems
Justins’ House of Bourbon, 101 W Market St.
Justins’ House of Bourbon is a multi-faceted stop. One aspect is the excellent bottle shop that’s the heart of the establishment. This is where you get all the bottles you can’t find at home or aren’t willing to stand in a two-day-long line for. Justins’ is also one of the best places in the country to score a dusty (old bottle from a bygone era). Again, these are not cheap, but if you’re a collector/investor, this is probably going to be the place where you spend the most time (and money).
Beyond the bottle shop, there’s also a very unassuming-but-great bar in the middle of it all. You can get a serious cocktail while contemplating that $500 bottle of Old Crow from the 1960s. You can also get a pour of some serious whiskey ranging from old-school Pappy to modern gems that flew under the radar. The best bet is to get a flight of whiskeys. The Weller flight covers all the expressions and is only $35. That’s a steal.
And then there’s the tasting room which leads us to…
The Hidden Gem:
The true hidden gem of this place is the hidden whiskey tasting room behind a wall of whiskeys in the main room. If you plan ahead and plan to buy some real bottles, you can ask for a private tasting with one of Justin’s expert staff members (everyone who works here is a true pro). You’ll get to pick a handful of bottles and you’ll be guided through a historical tasting of some of the best bourbons ever made. There’s nothing else quite like it in America.
Doc’s Bourbon Room, 129 W Main St.
Doc’s Bourbon Room, attached to Doc Crow’s restaurant is one of those places that seems like a pretty standard whiskey bar on the surface. There’s a long bar up front and a lot of seating that stretches toward a backroom. Like Justins’ above, this is open to the public. Hell, they even serve a great brunch every morning.
In the evenings, this place can get hopping as well. People in the know drop in for a bite (Doc Crow’s next door is another great Southern-ish Kentucky restaurant) and a pour. The black walls are decorated with what seems like endless bottles, which leads us to…
The Hidden Gem:
This is the largest collection of whiskeys on a single menu in all of Kentucky and they’re what decorate the place. All of those shelves and shelves of whiskey on the walls from every corner of the world are on the menu, which is — wait for it — FIFTY-EIGHT eight-by-eleven pages long. Their whiskey list goes so deep that they have a section for “undisclosed” whiskeys that cannot be categorized.
While bourbon and rye are the center of attention everywhere else, this is where you go for it all. All the whiskeys are here and ready to pour — meaning it’s a great chance to compare various styles.