Image: Kentucky Derby chef
Jamie Squire  /  Getty Images file
Kentucky Derby Chef Gil Logan juggles during a photo op on the day before the running of the 133rd Kentucky Derby on May 4 at Churchill Downs. Logan served over 150,00 meals on Derby day, including the meal that was served to Queen Elizabeth II.
Special to
updated 6/17/2007 11:38:04 PM ET 2007-06-18T03:38:04

I’ll never forget the greeting I got, many years ago, when I arrived in Louisville to act as a bridesmaid in my friend Erin’s wedding. There at the airport was her father, and with hardly a word, he threw my baby blue flowered dress in the trunk of his car, and took me not to the hotel or the church for rehearsal, but straight to the track. Churchill Downs, that is, the fabled racetrack that is in many ways the heart of this community. The marriage didn’t last, but that wasn't the wager that afternoon. Instead, we gloried in the warm sunshine, watching the stallions zoom around the track. Of course, you don’t need a wedding as an excuse to enjoy the charms of Louisville. With this day-long itinerary, you’ll get a taste of the track and much more.

8:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.: Kitsch out at Lynn’s Paradise Café ,a diner cum trinket emporium, filled with bric-a-brac and proudly ugly lamps (Lynn’s sponsors a contest each year for most hideous). Your eyes will be swiveling while your stomach is digesting all varieties of breakfast goodies from burritos to bourbon French Toast balls to oversized granola pancakes or omelets stuffed with you-name-it.

9:30 a.m. - noon: Secretariat and Barbaro aren’t the only champions to have come out of Louisville. This is the hometown of boxer Muhammad Ali, too, and in a morning you can pay homage to the man at the newly opened Muhammad Ali Center , learn all about the famous pugilist’s life, read his poetry and put on some gloves and spar in the interactive “Train with Ali” exhibit.

Morning alternative
More deadly forms of fighting are explored at the The Frazier International History Museum , which houses the largest collection of arms and armor in the world. Far more than a collection of dusty metal objects, this state-of-the-art museum enthralls its visitors with demonstration sword fights, an extensive display of Civil War weaponry (along with fascinating descriptions of how the development of certain guns helped shape the war) and audio tours recounting some of the bloodiest battles in history.

Noon - 2 p.m.: You’re in BBQ country, but you’ll have to drive about 15 minutes into the ‘burbs to find a genuine BBQ shack. Don’t fret, Jucy’s Smokehouse BBQ is worth the trip, especially if you’re a fan of silky pulled pork, tangy ribs or even Texas-style beef brisket (hand rubbed with a secret mix of spices and then smoked for about 20 hours).

2 p.m. – 5:30 p.m.: Go for a trifecta, at least once, at Churchill Downs . Though it’s unlikely you’ll be able to pick three horses and their running order, it sure is fun to try. History is as important as gambling at this handsome 1874 track, with its famous twin Edwardian spires, so put aside some time to visit the Kentucky Derby Museum or take a behind-the-scenes tour of the stables and grounds.

Afternoon alternative
Skip the BBQ and have lunch aboard the Belle of Louisville . Launched in 1914, it’s the oldest operating paddlewheeler in the United States. If it doesn’t have a lunch cruise the day you’re in town, try its sister ship, the Spirit of Jefferson. Both ply the Ohio River on two-hour outings.

5:30 p.m. - 7:30 p.m.: Head to the most elegant restaurant, in the most elegant hotel in town. Even F. Scott Fitzgerald thought so in his day. “In June she married Tom Buchanan of Chicago, with more pomp and circumstance than Louisville ever knew before,” wrote Fitzgerald in “The Great Gatsby.” “He came down with a hundred people in four private cars, and hired a whole floor of the Seelbach Hotel …” Just as grand today, The Oakroom , set in the Seelbock, is still the best place in town to splash out. You’ll dine in a positively regal, oak-paneled setting of massive furniture pieces, crisp white tablecloths, and towering floral displays. The food, just as ritzy, consists of high falutin’ preparations of Kentucky-grown and bred products such as limestone bib lettuce, paddlefish caviar, venison and squab.

8 p.m. - 10 or 11 p.m.: Skip dessert if you must, but be there when the curtain goes up at the Actor’s Theater of Louisville ,one of the finest regional theaters in the nation. Its Humana Festival is considered one of America's best showcases for new plays; many famous modern playwrights got their start here.

11 p.m. - on: Dance yourself into a frenzy at The Connection . A cavernous, multi-faceted club (along with a dance floor for 500, there’s a piano bar and a theater with a drag show), its primary clientele are gay men and women, but open-minded straights should feel comfortable here, as well.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommerguides in bookstores now. Her book, Pauline Frommer's New York, was named Best Guidebook of the Year by the North American Travel Journalists Association.

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Lynn’s Paradise Café, 984 Barrett Avenue, phone 502/583-3447;

Muhammad Ali Center, One Muhammad Ali Plaza, 144 North 6th Street, phone 502/992-5329; Admission is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors and $5 for students. The Center is open Mondays through Saturdays 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays noon to 5 p.m.

Frazier International HIstory Museum, 829 W. Main St. phone 866/886-7103 or 502/412-2280; Admission with the audio tour (a recommended buy) is $12 adults, $11 military personnel, $10 seniors and $9 for students. Hours are Mondays through Saturdays 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sundays noon to 5 p.m.

Jucy’s Smokehouse BBQ, 7626 New LaGrange Road, phone 502/241-5829;

Churchill Downs, 700 Central Avenue, phone 502/636-4400; The season runs from late April to early July and from late October to November; post times will vary.Even when the track is dark, the grounds and museum will be open for those who want to tour. General admission is $2 for adults, $1 for seniors, and free for children 12 and under.

Kentucky Derby Museum, at Churchill Downs, phone 502/637-1111; Open Mondays through Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. Admission is $9 for adults, $8 for seniors, and $3 for children ages 5 to 12; guided tours are available about every half-hour.

The Belle of Louisvilleis moored at Fourth Street and River Road. To book passage on either it or the larger, more modern paddle-wheeler, Spirit of Jefferson phone 502/574-2355 or go to

The Oakroom, at the Seelback Hilton Louisville, 500 Fourth Street, phone 502/585-3200;

Actor’s Theater of Louisville, 316 West Main Street, phone 800/4-ATLTIX or 502/584-1205;

The Connection, 130 South Floyd Street;

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommerguides in bookstores now. Her book, Pauline Frommer's New York, was named Best Guidebook of the Year by the North American Travel Journalists Association.

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