With the 2023 Kentucky Derby approaching, we knew we needed a city guide for Louisville, Kentucky.
Below, find her suggestions for the best restaurants, bars, and shops for finding non-alc in Louisville, as well as must-see tourist destinations, and insider advice on how how to Derby like a local.
Where to Eat and Drink
Location: New Loop
"You will always find something non-alcoholic on their menu. Their menu is printed daily or weekly, and they always have non-alcoholic cocktails, as well as beer and wine. They really have embraced the movement in Louisville. I love sitting at the bar. It's true Italian: wood-fired pizzas, homemade pastas, that kind of stuff. I love sitting at the bar, I also love taking my kids, it's that kind of place."
The menu features a dedicated non-alcoholic cocktail section with Italian-inspired cocktails, including two spritzes and a zero-proof Negroni using Ritual Zero Proof and Martini & Rossi Floreale and Vibrante.
Location: New Loop
"NoraeBar is a karaoke bar, also in New Loop. They have been huge supporters of the non-alcoholic movement, especially in the early days when we started and no one knew what this stuff was. It's great for something different to do."
Location: The Highlands
"Nostalgic is new, and it's in the Highlands, which is a little more 'Brooklyn'. It is darling. Their cocktail list is incredible. Everything on their list can be made non-alcoholic. They carry the entire line of Lyre's to do that. Their cocktails also come in proper glassware, which I love, like they have beautiful birds where you drink out of the beak, or they have a true coupe glass that's crystal. I hope it lasts. It's not something you see in Louisville."
Location: The Highlands
"Seviche is always the top of my list. It's definitely a Louisville institution. Anthony Lamas is the owner and the chef. He's a long time friend, he is sober, so he has always had non-alcoholic cocktails: they make a really good NA mojito. They don't have them listed on their menu, but if you ask they can make you anything. Last time I was there, they had Spiritless on the bar, I don't know if that's still true, but like I said, he's been sober for 15 years and he's very active in the community and speaks highly of the NA movement."
Location: The Highlands
Darling's is walking distance from Seviche, and the perfect place for a post-dinner drink. Abbey says that the Art Nouveau themed bar has a non-alcoholic menu, but the real draw here is the gorgeous decor.
Location: Frankfort Ave. - Crescent Hill
"Volare is a Louisville institution. It has been around forever. It is Italian, the atmosphere is incredible, they have live music Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays in the bar area. I do not take my kids here. We usually start our meal with Spiritless Manhattans, and then they have an incredible wine list. Jonathan is always at the door, one of the owners, and Josh Moore is the chef. He has a farm, so they use fresh tomatoes and lettuce and things like that that you'll always find on the specials there."
Location: Frankfort Ave. - Crescent Hill
"Susie Hoyt runs The Silver Dollar, and she's the only bartender in Louisville that people talk about. She also runs The Pearl of Germantown. She's probably the top of the list when it comes to the Louisville cocktail scene, and the Silver Dollar is cool. It's an old firehouse, so it has the garage doors. They do beer can chicken, and they have an insane bourbon list and cocktail list."
Location: Downtown Louisville
"Proof on Main is in the 21C hotel. It's a destination if you come to Louisville. There's this big, gold statue outside, there's naked people on the bar [editor's note: these are statues, not real people, just FYI], the art is always interesting. I always used to take people there, they used to carry Spiritless, now I think they carry Naked Lady. To go there as a visitor for cocktails or to stay there, it's a thing to talk about. It's a conversation starter."
Location: Harrods Creek
"I go there to snack, but they probably have my favorite cocktails in town, period, the end. I love their Paloma. They carry Jalisco 55 and Kentucky 74, they understand 'halfsies' (using some non-alcoholic spirits and some alcoholic spirits in a cocktail for a low ABV drink). They have egg whites in their cocktails. It's a good place for my friends, it's kind of in the middle of the three areas where you live if you have kids. The atmosphere is good, but you could go in your tennis skirt or you could go dressed up for date night. It's just a very catch-all place."
Location: Norton Commons
"Watch Hill Proper is new to the scene. It's not considered 'in town', it's out in an area we call Norton Commons. Picture a farm where you build a bunch of $3 million houses, a school, restaurants, it's a community. If you live there, you don't live there. Michael is one of my favorite chefs in Louisville, so the menu is amazing. They have I think one of the top bourbon lists in the world, but they have non-alcoholic beverages, and Kentucky 74 is on the menu there."
Location: Goshen, KY
"The woman who bartends at Barn8 was part of making Naked Lady, so they definitely have a non-alcoholic cocktail list. It's far from Louisville, like it's a destination. It's an old horse farm, so you actually dine in the stalls."
Where to Buy Non-Alc
"Liquor Barn and Party Mart carry everything Spiritless. If you're new to town or you're coming to town, Westport Whiskey and Wine is a great education place. Their assortment and the knowledge of the staff is incredible, and they have a non-alcoholic section. Also, Cox's and Evergreen. They have a great one in New Loop, and they have tasting bars. And then obviously we have two Total Wines and you can't discredit their eight feet of non-alcoholic space.”
What to Do
"The Louisville Slugger Museum is cool. Our science center (Kentucky Science Center) and our zoo (Louisville Zoo) are top class. There's the Big Four Pedestrian Bridge, where you can walk to Indiana and walk back.
"We don't have a professional sports team, so we're huge on college sports. You're either wearing blue for UK (University of Kentucky) or red for U of L (University of Louisville). You're either a Cards fan or a Cats fan, like there's no other way around it. So we have a lot of college sporting events."
Do the Derby Like a Local
(Above: Abbey and her husband in their Kentucky Derby hats, pre-gaming with some Kentucky 74)
Book your travel first
The most surprising piece of advice Abbey gave us is to book your flight, hotel, and dinner reservations before even thinking about your Derby ticket.
”When I first moved here, I said to my husband (who is from Louisville), 'We have to get tickets, we have friends coming in," and he said, ‘No no no, you have to get dinner reservations, hotel rooms, and your outfit. The tickets are the last thing you worry about.' Now I've been here 11 years, and that's totally true, you don't book tickets until 30 days out.”
“Flights and hotels," however, "people are going to leave and immediately book for next year,” so make your travel arrangements as far in advance as you can.
Where to Sit
“The third floor is by far my favorite place to sit. You have that level of prestige, but it’s still fun. The higher you go up, the more sophisticated it gets, and the Turf Club is probably the hardest to get a table, but what people don’t understand is that during Derby, you can’t go outside. The Turf Club has a beautiful patio other times of the year, but during Derby, that patio is for celebrities, so you’re stuck behind the glass,” and can’t go outside to watch the races and listen to the announcers.
“When you get to the Jockey Club suites and all of those, you’re looking at ten-fifteen thousand dollars a ticket, and they’re just not as fun. The third floor is fun. The people are somewhat sophisticated and put together, but you’ll have all types of age ranges, and you can walk around. It’s the place to be.”
What to Bring
“There are hours between races. It is the longest day,” Abbey says, so you want to arrive prepared.
“There have been years they've run out of water, so you can bring in your own water.” According to the Kentucky Derby website, as of 2023, you can bring two 24-ounce bottles of water in unopened, clear, plastic bottles. (Though, sadly, you can't bring in your own bottle of Kentucky 74.)
“Derby is all inclusive in certain seats post-COVID, but another local thing is boxed lunches. You can get them in town at delis and things like that. It comes in a clear bag, and that's key.” There are strict rules about what you can bring to the Derby (check the Kentucky Derby website for more details), but you can bring a boxed lunch in a clear bag.
Where to get your boxed lunch?
“Cheddar Box Cafe is probably a town favorite, and Gracious Plenty is the other one. They have all the right sandwiches and they come in the clear box with the pickle and the chips and sides of pimento cheese. They usually tie a pretty bow on it so you know where everybody’s lunch came from. You can tell a local when you see them walking in with their boxed lunch.”
“And it always rains on derby, so you should have a poncho.”
Finding Non-Alc at the Kentucky Derby isn't easy
Don’t expect the same options you’ll find in the rest of Louisville at the Derby.
“They do two things: there are key places at the track where you can get non-alcoholic beer. It's not everywhere; you have to know where that bar is. They serve O'Doul's. I have a best friend I always go with who doesn't drink, and he always has to go on this random adventure to find a beer.”
“And then walking into the Derby, there’s always different tunnel areas, and they have pop-up tents with different activations." She says that there have been "mocktail tents" in the past, "but it's usually like fruit juice in a glass.”
After the Derby
Dinner reservations usually open up 60 to 90 days out, will require a credit card for booking, and likely have a non-refundable cancellation fee.
But Abbey doesn’t recommend booking a table at a restaurant at all.
“I will say, going to dinner after Derby is the worst. We don't do it. I mean, by the time the last race runs and you leave the track, it's nine o'clock. By the time you get in your car and get to dinner, it's late.”
“My favorite thing about Derby is that the area where the track is located, a lot of the homes are rentals, and they make their rent parking cars for Derby. They have rickshaws and golf carts to give you rides to the track. They get out their grills and coolers, and they DJ, and throw the after-party for Derby. I've bought flip-flops, I've got pictures of random girls making hamburgers. That area transforms during Derby weekend.”
Non-Derby Days at Churchill Downs
Abbey emphasized that you don’t have to go to the Kentucky Derby to enjoy the track… and you’ll save a lot of money if you go on a different day.
“If you're here on a random weekend, I encourage you to go to the track. Tickets are like $10. It's so fun, and my kids love it! It's way cheaper than your Derby ticket."
"Honestly, the only part of Derby that is different than a day at the track is before the actual Derby race, we sing 'My Old Kentucky Home.' The entire place is silent, and then everybody sings. It is amazing. Like that is the bucket list item right there.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.