Doc Crow's Southern Smokehouse and Raw Bar
With a name like that, how could you not want to visit? Doc Crow's occupies a remodeled former distillery on Whiskey Row, and it's a destination for eating and drinking both—take advantage of the raw bar, and add an order of peel-and-eat shrimp and fried okra while you're at it. Owner Brett Davis is a Master Sommelier, so the wine list is the equal of the spirits. And as for the whiskey, Doc's has a list of over 160 whiskeys, over 100 of those bourbons, and many highly sought-after, including Pappy Van Winkle 23.
Proof on Main
In the charmingly irreverent 21c Museum Hotel, Proof on Main is equally known for its dining room and its bar, which draws a crowd of bourbon and cocktail enthusiasts, both locals and visitors. Like the hotel it's housed in, Proof on Main features rotating art exhibitions—not recommended for those with a low nudity/bizarrity tolerance. Sip from their 50+ bourbon list, opt for a bourbon flight, or go the cocktail route; pictured is "For the Birds," with Pure Kentucky XO Bourbon, Smith & Cross rum, mole bitters, and mint.
Sure, it's more than a little dated. Sure, if you want bar food you'll be eating quesadillas and chicken tenders. But the Seelbach Bar is a piece of Louisville history—counting F. Scott Fitzgerald and Al Capone amongst its regulars—and invented the cocktail that now bears its name. With bourbon and bubbly, it's hard to go wrong... even if other bars on this list might make a Seelbach that's technically better.
St. Charles Exchange
This lofty, ornate bar and restaurant in Louisville's West Main Street says a lot about what makes the city's drinking scene so accessible—even in a grand space with exacting mixology standards and bartenders in vest-and-tie, there's no sense of stuffiness or attitude. (And there's still a TV mounted overhead.) A list of classic cocktails (French 75, Corpse Reviver #2, et al.) includes some with careful tweaks, such as the excellent Deshler: Rittenhouse Rye, Bonal (instead of the more traditional Dubonnet), Cointreau, and bitters.
This massive honky-tonk bar, all colored lights, open space, and Bakersfield Sound, would be a destination bar even without the killer drinks program. But not only does Silver Dollar have 100 bourbons, listed by distillery; it's also got an impressive cocktail list from Susie Hoyt, formerly of the Violet Hour.
Also down in Whiskey Row, under the Second Street Bridge, the new Sidebar is a friendly all-occasion joint equally suited to burgers, bourbon, or classic cocktails—including the mint julep (pictured left) and their barrel-aged Negroni (pictured right).