Louisville is best known for hosting the Kentucky Derby, famously dubbed “the most exciting two minutes in sports.” When you’re done with that, we’ve got a lot more to show you.
Author Amanda Petrusich Photography Sam Polcer
Hunter S. Thompson, a native of Louisville, once wrote an essay titled “The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved,” referring to the horse race that has been at the center of this city’s social calendar for going on 140 years and is still its biggest claim to fame.
The Derby has been referred to as “the most exciting two minutes in sports,” but the excitement that surrounds the event, and the city itself, is generally viewed as a fleeting, once-a-year thing. This, however, couldn’t be further from the truth.
Louisville dates back to 1778, and its rich history is on prominent display year-round—in its architecture, its music, its cultural institutions. The city is home to 123 glorious parks, some designed by the great landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted. In recent years, a thriving restaurant scene has emerged, combining innovation with down-home Southern cooking. The bars are hopping. The retailers do a roaring trade. And did we mention the bourbon?
Louisville also represents an unusual convergence of geography and culture. While there’s no shortage of Southern charm here, there’s enough Midwestern grit and East Coast ambition to keep things interesting—a city doesn’t spawn people like Hunter S. Thompson by sticking exclusively to the Dixie schtick.
Even the irascible, distinctly un-sentimental Thompson, it seems, yearned for his hometown from time to time. “If I could think of a way to do it right now, I’d head back to Louisville,” he once wrote, “and try to sink back as far as I could into the world that did its best to make me.”