Louisville is the sporting equivalent of Alcatraz; it’s impossible to escape the fact that Muhammad Ali and the Kentucky Derby will forever be associated with any sentence written about the city. Rightly so, because Louisville’s fame is largely predicated upon these two unique phenomena. Located on North Sixth Street, the Muhammad Ali Center is a compelling tribute to one of sport’s immortals. The center is not a monument to hubris housed in rooms designed to inspire worship at the nimble feet of St Ali, nor is it a gallery that simply paints a portrait. Multimedia presentations, interactive exhibitions and educational programs give the visitor a panoramic view of the man, his deeds, his words and his values, and although it occupies just two stories, it is an inspiring experience on many levels.
Churchill Downs, the home of the Kentucky Derby, is the other name synonymous with Louisville. Every year, on the first Sunday in May, thousands of people from around the world visit the track, drawn by the love of horses, the thrill of the race, the hammer of hooves, rainbow silks, fabulous food, mint juleps in the southern sun and the colour and buzz of the crowds. The Derby is not a race; it’s a festival that permeates all the senses.
Although these two shine brightest, other names are inescapably linked to the city, among them Colonel Harland Sanders, the Louisville Slugger and Johnny Depp. All are big and highly visible, yet the most dominant physical presence is undoubtedly the enormous baseball bat that leans against the facade of the Louisville Slugger Museum and Factory on West Main Street. Although you can’t see it from space, it’s big enough to launch a shuttle, and as the official bat of Major League Baseball, it symbolizes not only the city but also the enduring popularity of the country’s national game.
However, there are lesser known attractions in and around Louisville that give the city an enviable flair and create enduring memories. Some, like the Belle of Louisville, the paddle steamer that takes visitors on excursions along the Ohio River, are large and reminiscent of more relaxed times, while others are smaller without being lesser. One of these is the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft, at 715 West Main Street. Showcasing the work and diverse talents of more than 200 artists, the museum displays folk art, glassware, furniture, fashion, jewelery and paintings. The range mirrors the creative flair of the state and individual items are available at reasonable prices. Similarly, the Louisville Glassworks, at 815 West Market Street, is a unique facility that allows visitors to not only see beautiful glass products but also to make their own. Again, all work displayed is available for purchase. Both venues should not be missed.
After experiencing the city’s artistry and nourishing the spirit, attention should be given to the body. Lynn’s Paradise Cafe, a joyous explosion of color and quirky decor at 984 Barret Avenue, is just the place. From the multi-colored daisies outside to the trees and teabag chandelier inside, the Rainbow Cafe is like a monkey on water skis; unexpected, unforgettable and utterly absorbing. Every primary, secondary and tertiary color is used somewhere in the place, and the interior is a combination of a Salvador Dali vision after a heavy night on the Sangria and the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club album cover; eclectic, eccentric and richly tactile. And if the decor doesn’t cause your mouth to drop open, the food will, with huge plates of Southern delights cooked to perfection and served with a smile.