Celebrating Derby Days at the Kentucky Derby Festival Chow Wagon.

This weekend, my beau and I took our littlest dog down to Louisville's Waterfront Park to visit the Chow Wagons.
All Kentucky'ed out -- Bluegrass Tee by Old Try; KY Necklace by Southern Belle Glitz; Derby Festival Pegasus Pin.

The Chow Wagons are part of Fest-a-Ville, a week-long carnival of music, food, and fun associated with the Kentucky Derby Festival. Admission is free with your Pegasus Pin.

You can purchase tickets for food and drink. 

And, of course, there are awesome carnival prizes!

We managed to pass up the beer and funnel cake tents, but these gyros were pretty awesome.

It was a perfect day to celebrate the Derby City before the madness of Race Day sets in.

Have you taken in any of the Kentucky Derby Festival events this year?

Story Magazine Website Release Party

I recently had the opportunity to attend the most delightful party!

Our friends at Story Magazine unveiled their new website at the Green Building in Louisville's trendy NuLu District. It was great to catch up with Story's publisher, Julie Wilson. I even saw our very first HerKentucky Business interviewee, Carolyn Hannan of Bourbon and Beans!

Gorgeous table at the Story party
Are y'all reading Story Magazine? You certainly should be. They always have a unique perspective on Kentucky life. I love any media that doesn't reduce us to dichotomies like hillbillies vs. debutantes, or coal miners vs. thoroughbred owners. Julie has done a fantastic job of  breaking down those stereotypes and showing some great glimpses into Kentucky life.

As my beau and I left the party, we caught a glimpse of the most gorgeous sunset. It was a great end to a fun day!

Angel's Envy Distillery

When I visited Louisville a couple of weeks ago, I was delighted to see all the renovations that are going on in the Whiskey Row district. It's going to be such a fun place to eat, drink, and discover Downtown Louisville!
©Ted Tarquinio
Whiskey Row is another fantastic example of Kentucky's growing Bourbon Tourism industry. It used to be that a few of bourbon's biggest labels boasted visitor centers. Now, there's the Kentucky Bourbon Craft Trail, a host of new labels popping up across the state, and tons of new ways to enjoy Kentucky's native spirit. 
©Ted Tarquinio
Yesterday, Angel's Envy Bourbon became the latest craft bourbon to add a presence on Whiskey Row. Along with Governor Steve Beshear and Mayor Greg Fischer, the label founded by former Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Lincoln Henderson held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new Angel's Envy distillery and brand experience center on Main Street.
©Ted Tarquinio
The Angel's Envy center is not only great news for bourbon lovers. It also holds the promise of significant economic impact for Kentucky. With nearly $12 million in private equity investment and the promise of 40 new jobs, the distillery turns abandoned industrial spaces into a positive force for Kentucky's economy.

Architect's Rendering of the Angel's Envy Distillery
Architect's Rendering of Angel's Envy Event Space
I can't wait to visit the Angel's Envy complex, which opens in 2014. In the meantime, I think I'll acquaint myself with their spirits -- a bourbon aged up to six years, a limited edition Cask Strength label aged in ruby port wine casks, and a rye. You can learn more about Angel's Envy on their Facebook page and Twitter.

Have y'all tried Angel's Envy?

Top Ten Kentucky Geocaches

HerKentucky welcomes our good friend Jessica Lotz for a special guest post about geocaching Kentucky. Jess lives just outside St. Louis, MO with her husband, toddler son, and 5-year old dog, Cooper. After a successful 13 year career in health care administration, Jessica quit her job in November 2011 to answer life's next calling as a stay-at-home mom. Jesssica likes football on Sundays and cruises to just about anywhere. Although she's lived throughout the U.S. courtesy of the Air Force, Kentucky really is her second home. -- HCW

One of the many things I enjoy about HerKentucky is its ability to introduce readers to places, historic or trendy, that we may not have experienced otherwise. Whether through HerKentucky’s 60 Things Project or because of the passion of its contributors, it's not unusual for me to add new places to visit, businesses to support, and adventures to experience to my Kentucky Bucket List on a nearly weekly basis. As an adopted Kentuckian, I appreciate learning about it all.

In that respect, HerKentucky is much like geocaching. Geocaching, an outdoor recreational activity in which participants use GPS enabled devices to find hidden containers or caches, began in 2000 and since then has attracted hundreds of thousands of loyal cachers who have hidden over 1.6 million caches throughout the world. Caches range in size from nano (the size of a screw) to large (ammo box), and can be traditional caches (a physical treasure), virtual (no actual cache, but rather a site you’re visiting, usually for historical purposes), or Earth caches (think Mammoth Cave). Some caches can be located rather quickly (within minutes of arriving at the coordinates) while others can take hours (particularly if hiking/repelling/kayaking is involved).

My Geocaching hobby actually began in Kentucky. While visiting the in-laws over Christmas one year, I stumbled across something regarding geocaching. I started researching it online and within 30 minutes, I had my entire family outside looking for a cache in the park behind my husband’s childhood home. Using my sister-in-law’s iPhone, we quickly found the cache and immediately wanted to see where the next closest one was located. That’s how easy it is to get started.

Since then, geocaching has become a lifestyle for us. We love it because it gets us outside (year round), it's an activity our 2.5 year old son enjoys with us and we usually take care of Mother Earth while we’re at it (a practice known as CITO, or Cache In, Trash Out).

And, just like HerKentucky, it takes us to places we would not have otherwise visited or seen. Honestly, that’s my favorite part about geocaching. While I enjoy the fresh air and spending time with my little family, ultimately what gets me off the couch is knowing that we’re about to visit somewhere beautiful, unique or historically significant. 
Falls of the Ohio in Southern Indiana
Not surprisingly, many fabulous geocaches call Kentucky home. I recently spent some time researching them and compiled a list of 10 which I feel are worth a look:

1)    “Tom Sawyer” Traditional cache. Placed back in 2001, it ranks as Kentucky’s oldest and second most favored cache by those who have found it. Located in E.P. “Tom” Sawyer Park in Louisville.  Just as I was about to walk across the stage at my college graduation, someone placed this cache in a park mere minutes from where my future husband lived. Nearly 12 years later, almost 900 people have found this cache! How am I not one of them? This cache is top on my to-do list during my next trip to KY.

2)    “76 Falls” Traditional cache. Placed 10/17/2004. Located about 2.5 hours south of Lexington, on the south side of Lake Cumberland. Requires a hike, but pictures posted by other cachers are absolutely beautiful. Nature at its finest.
The view from 76 Falls geocache location
3)    “Kentucky Floral Clock” Virtual cache. Placed 1/3/2003. Located in Frankfort, KY. From the description: “There are other flower clocks in the world-one in Canada at Niagara Falls, some in Europe, and smaller ones in the United States. Kentucky's is unique because it keeps time over a pool of water instead of resting on a bank of earth. The face of the giant clock is 34 feet across. The planter that holds it weighs 100 tons. Dedicated in 1961, the floral clock was a project of the Commonwealth and the Garden Club of Kentucky. It takes more than 10,000 plants to fill the clock. All are grown in the Commonwealth's own greenhouses near the Capitol. Coins from the pool are used to benefit young people in Kentucky.” Best viewed in the spring and summer.

4)    “Reflections” Virtual cache. Placed 9/19/2002. Located in downtown Louisville. Ranked as the #1 geocache in the state. A very cleverly designed cache which takes you on a brief walking tour of downtown. Using the glass buildings, the cacher must look for reflections to get clues of how to proceed to the next point in the cache. Comments from those who have done this cache: “It was fun identifying the different buildings and making our way to them. We spent a lot of extra time just admiring the architecture and seeing different things in the downtown area” and “What an awesome cache. Had some time before catching our plane back home to Colorado and this was at the top of our list to do. We certainly were NOT disappointed. Fun, fun, fun. Got a nice walking tour of the town and even spotted a place to have lunch. Thanks so much.”

5)    “Gatti Land(ing)” Traditional cache. Placed 12/31/2006. Located in Pikeville, KY. It’s highly rated for its creativity (meaning the cache container or location is pretty cool). Historically, the site of the cache is now a popular pizza joint, but was once home to Valley Airport. Comments by those who have found this cache rave about how creatively designed this cache is....another on the top of my to-do list.
A very creatively hidden (inside a wooden log) geocache found in Florida.

6)    “Cache Across America- Kentucky.” Traditional cache. Placed 8/24/2006 as part of the Cache Across America Series. Located at the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, KY. Any geocachers trying to complete the Cache Across America challenge must find this specific cache in order to qualify. This cache has likely been found by more out-of-staters than Kentuckians due to the nature of the cache.

7)    “Holy Overlook”. Traditional cache. Placed 11/21/2005. Located in Wickcliffe, KY (about 30 miles West of Paducah), this site is apparently very beautiful with an incredible view of the Mississippi River. Another highly rated cache. 

8)    “DOWN Town.” Traditional cache. Placed 5/27/2003. Located in Horse Cave, KY (about 80 miles South of Louisville, East of Mommoth Cave). From the description: “The town, which formed around the cave in the mid 1800's, once sustained a thriving tourist trade. Visitors arrived by the train load to see the natural wonder, once billed as the "World's Largest Cave Entrance". By the 1940's, pollution had cut off not only the drinking water but also the streams of tourists the cave attracted. The cave's restoration in 1993 was one of the most remarkable environmental success stories in America and a breath of fresh air for Horse Cave. Today, Horse Cave, Kentucky is a constant reminder of the delicate balance between caves and the sunlit world above.”

9)    “Vampire U- Fact or Fiction” Traditional cache. Placed 9/28/2011. Located in Lexington, KY. For all of the Transylvania Alumni! From the description: “Old Morrison, the only campus building at the time, was completed in 1833, under the supervision of Henry Clay, who both taught law and was a member of Transylvania's Board.”

10)     “Dead Men Don’t Cache” Virtual Cache. Placed 8/12/2012. Located in Lexington, KY. For all of the UK basketball fans. From the description: “The location of this virtual cache is nationally recognized as one of "America's most beautiful arboretums.” If you haven’t visited this grave, can you really call yourself a C-A-T-S fan?

Geocaching can be reduced to a mere hobby where folks use expensive GPS equipment to locate tupperware containers hidden in the woods. While that may be true, the other reality is that it also encourages participants to explore nature, delve into local history, and spurs commerce as people will sometimes drive 2-3 hours off course during a road trip just to snag a specific cache.

Three things are certain in my life: death, taxes and if there’s good weather on the weekend, you’ll find my little family, including our 5 year old dog, Cooper, outside geocaching.
A fellow and his dogs find King Kong's Log cache just south of Louisville. Coop would love this one!

What's the Big Deal about Derby Festival?

Image via Kentucky Derby Festival.
I'd been living in Louisville for a couple of months when April rolled around. Suddenly, the questions started coming from colleagues and clients:

"What are you doing for Thunder?"
"Have you eaten at the Chow Wagon yet?"
"Have you bought your Pegasus pin?"

Now, before I moved to Louisville, I thought I knew Derby.  I'd been to the race itself, of course.  I even knew that Louisvillians considered Oaks to be THE must-see race rather than its next day Big Brother.  But the Derby Festival events left me perplexed.  I knew I'd seen framed posters for Festivals past; they're inescapable in offices and family rooms in the Louisville Metro area.  Still, I had no idea what the events entailed.  Why would I wear a $3 lapel pin from Kroger? Is a Chow Wagon more appetizing than it sounds? And Thunder is just a bunch of fireworks, right?

After living through that Derby season, I learned that Derby Festival is one of those events that separates true Louisvillians from visitors.  The Pegasus pin is not only a key to admission at the Festival's events; it's symbolic of  a fourteen-day celebration of the Derby City itself.   Before Louisville becomes overrun with celebs and race enthusiasts, it fetes its own natives with steamboat races, parades, concerts, and fireworks.  It's a two-week party that unites Louisvillians from a variety of backgrounds and interests.
Image via Thunder Over Louisville
By the following April, I was far better-versed in Derby Festival events.  When Thunder Over Louisville kicked off the season, I knew that the private parties in downtown office buildings were a more comfortable and enjoyable alternative to mingling with the massive crowds that congregate for the fireworks show.   Since my beau and I aren't much for big, rowdy crowds or fireworks, we learned to time our dinner reservations to avoid the Thunder madness.  We even found that we could watch a good bit of the fireworks display from our Highlands condo.  As we fell into a few Derby Festival routines of our own -- Oaks brunches, the Chow Wagon, cocktails at the Seelbach -- we found that we weren't just celebrating the Greatest of all Horse Races.  We were celebrating the fact that Louisville is a great place to live.

Have y'all attended any Derby Festival events?

Kentucky Places: The Louisville List

Downtown Louisville as seen from Indiana
This weekend, a Nashville-based friend Facebooked me for recommendations for a summer trip to Louisville.  I guess it's where I've lived in (and loved) three amazing Southern cities, but I get  variants of that email all the time.  "Where should I stay in Louisville?"  "Where are the best places to shop in Nashville?"  "Where should I eat after a day at Keeneland?" -- I actually keep my responses on file in my email account and then re-work the answers to compliment individual friends' personalities, tastes, traveling preferences and companions.

Now, my friend is planning for an early June trip to a concert at the Yum! Center and a few days' stay in downtown Louisville.   She's never been to Louisville before, and wants to get a sense of the city.   There are so many attractions within walking/easy driving distance that this trip virtually plans itself.  Even though it's the middle of winter, talk of a Downtown Louisville summer puts me in the mood for Proof's gelato, a ride on the Belle, and a seat on Molly Malone's patio. -- HCW

The Yum Center and Downtown Museums
The Ali Center
I've never really been to the Yum! Center, but it's supposed to be an incredible venue.  It's right in the middle of Downtown Louisville, and you could have a fantastic trip without ever leaving the Downtown area.
The guys on the trip will probably want to see the Louisville Slugger Museum. If baseball's your thing, the RiverBats - the Minor League team - play downtown. The Frazier Museum has a lot of historical war/arms stuff. The Muhammad Ali Center is also quite neat -- it's kind of a walking tour of The Champ's life, as well as a cultural center that supports a lot of education and charity events.  There are also some very cute galleries/museums up and down Main Street, near Slugger, Frazier and the Ali.
The Seelbach lobby
As for hotels, I would strongly suggest either 21C or the Seelbach. 21C is a very hip and boutique-y museum hotel. The restaurant inside -- Proof on Main -- is extremely cool. Excellent locally sourced food, insanely good cocktails, and a very artsy decor -- all without being too pretentious. Proof also has a fantastic gelato cart on the street during the summer -- I can't recommend it highly enough.
The Seelbach is way more traditional with four-poster cherry beds, marble lobbies, etc. I feel like a princess every time I stay there.  It has some really cool little bars, the best Starbucks in town, and an amazing day spa.  It also boasts the only five-diamond restaurant in the state.  They're even dog-friendly, and treated Max like a visiting dignitary.  Fitzgerald actually got thrown out of the Seelbach for public drunkenness and then set Daisy's wedding there when he wrote The Great Gatsby.
Outside Jeff Ruby's
The Galt House is kind of a non-descript conventioners' hotel, but it does have an amazing view of the river. There is also a really good high-end steakhouse, Jeff Ruby's, at the Galt House that's like a regional Ruth's Chris. Good, big steaks and a fantastic wine list.
Food/ Entertainment

Max  visits Fourth Street Live.
My very favorite breakfast in the world is at Toast on Market. The Blueberry-Lemon Pancakes are insane, as are the pancakes that are dressed out like a pot roast sandwich. Their hash brown casserole is incredible as well. Also on Market is Garage Bar, which is a high-end wood-fired pizza place that also includes a great oyster bar.
The Belle of Louisville
Downtown, just by the Seelbach, is a kind of touristy entertainment district called Fourth Street Live. There's a Hard Rock, a MakersMark-themed restaurant/bar, and a lot of little restaurants and bars. It's a fun place to people-watch and go out for drinks. I think they even have Yum! Center adjacent parking, and there is often live music and other event-y kind of stuff going on.
Oh, and if the weather permits, you can go out on a steamboat. The Belle of Louisville and the Spirit of Jefferson do lunch and dinner cruises and little sightseeing excursions. It's a very neat way to see downtown from the river.
The Highlands
Molly Malone's
If you want to venture just out of Downtown, the Highlands is a fun, eclectic neighborhood just minutes away. Very cute and cool (we lived there for years) shops and some of the best food anywhere. Lynn's Paradise Cafe is a cute, funky diner with fantastic food. Lunch and dinner are really good, and the breakfast/brunch is legendary. Wick's Pizza is kind of a neighborhood favorite -- huge pizzas with tons of quality toppings. There are some really great nicer restaurants up and down Bardstown Road (the main street going through the neighborhood); if you're up for Latin Fusion, Seviche is our favorite restaurant anywhere -- fantastic seafood and mojitos, and my beau loves their skirt steak, too.
I absolutely love the Louisville Stoneware factory--they do tours, paint-your-own, etc., and their big summer sale should be going on. There are also several really cute Irish Pub kind of places in the Highlands -- Molly Malones and O'Shea's are the kind of places where everyone from college kids to Congressmen go -- very laid-back and fun.
Churchill Downs
The one thing that would be worth driving out of downtown would be Churchill Downs. The summer meet will be in full-force by early June. For just a regular weekend race, you should be able to get tix -- you'd be fine to just dress like you would for an afternoon wedding or a "coat and tie rather than suit" church.  If you're in town on the right weekend, I'd hit up Downs After Dark, which is a fun night-racing event.
Louisville in general
Louisville is a really fun city. It can be a little more Midwestern than the rest of Kentucky -- people talk and walk a little faster and sure do drink in public more than they do anywhere else in the state. I think y'all will really like it, though. It's beautiful in the spring and summer! Also, it has really easy roads to navigate for a city its size; you really can get from one part of town to another pretty rapidly.
The biggest drawback to Louisville in the late spring/early summer is the weather. It's located right along the Ohio river and gets a lot of the river basin storms/tornado watches.

What about y'all, dear readers?  What's on your "Must-See Louisville" list??

(All photos are my own.)