WHERE TO STAY:
The Brown Hotel, 335 W. Broadway; (502) 583-1234, www.brownhotel.com. This hotel dates to 1923, but doesn't look it; from the gorgeous lobby with its ornate ceiling work to the rehabbed and updated guest rooms (wireless Internet throughout the property), everything looks fresh and polished. I paid $199 for a double-occupancy room and was upgraded at check-in to the hotel's concierge level (the hotel was not heavily occupied this night). Besides a spacious room (oversized rooms are one of the hotel's selling points), with large bath, a terrific bed and all the pillows one could ever require, my room included admission to the 13th-floor Camberley Club, where I (and guests) could enjoy drinks and munchies at the extended happy hour and the better-than-it-had-to-be breakfast buffet. Service was exemplary; I checked out with regret. Doubles, $159-$265.
The Seelbach Hilton Hotel, 500 S. 4th St.; (502) 585-3200, vwww.seelbachhilton.com. This place is steps away from Fourth Street Live!, a block or so from the convention center and basically in the heart of Louisville's downtown. The hotel's dining room, the Oakroom, is a legendary restaurant. Our room in the Seelbach was very nicely appointed and very, very compact; two people could not coexist in the bathroom, and the very comfortable king bed took up most of the main room. Maneuverability aside, it was a nice room. Doubles, $199-$259.
The 21c Museum Hotel, 700 W. Main St.; (877) 217-6400, www.21cmuseumhotel.com. A 1-year-old boutique hotel (just 91 rooms) within three blocks of the Muhammad Ali Center, the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory and other points of interest. The hotel is owned by two Louisville investors and art collectors, and its lobby level is a de facto free contemporary-art museum whose exhibits change every few months. There's more art on the upstairs floors, and even the guest-room TVs offer one channel that displays a multimedia art exhibit. My room ($239) had a king bed with super-luxurious 500-thread-count Egyptian-cotton sheets, a sleek bath with Malin + Goetz bath products, a blue-glass-topped desk with a Herman Miller Eames chair and an iPod-docking clock radio — complete with iPod programmed with your musical preferences (the hotel called me a couple of days before my scheduled arrival) and an audio tour of the downstairs art installations. Way cool. Doubles, $129-$259.
WHERE TO EAT:
Louisville is a sophisticated restaurant town. But the one thing you must eat is a Hot Brown, a sandwich invented in Louisville in the 1920s. It's an open-faced sandwich of turkey and bacon drenched in Mornay sauce and broiled until the cheese browns up. I tried about four Hot Browns on my trip, and easily the best of the bunch was the version served at the Brown Hotel, which, fittingly, is where the sandwich was born. The Brown uses a thick slab of turkey breast — not a few thin slices, which I encountered elsewhere — topped with three strips of bacon and smothered in rich sauce and grated Parmesan cheese. It's hell on the arteries, but oh, so good.
Proof on Main, 702 W. Main St.; (502) 217-6360, www.proofonmain.com. This is the dining room in the 21C Hotel, and like the hotel, it's a year old. But already it's being touted as one of the city's finest restaurants. Chef Michael Paley makes much use of the family farms in the area, and the dining room boasts a lot of local influence as well; the glass-art votives on the table, for instance, are from the nearby Glassworks gallery. The restaurant is managed by Myriad Restaurant Group, the Drew Nieporent group that operates Tribeca Grill, Nobu and Montrachet in New York, among other restaurants. But for all its sophistication and low-key glitz, Proof on Main remains affordable; excepting the $12 Proof Burger, entrees range from $18 to $28 and include such stellar efforts as a country ham-wrapped pork chop with pickled peach marmalade and grilled skirt steak with oyster mushrooms and salsa verde. I liked the appetizer bison tartare, with frisée and a poached egg, as well.
Lilly's, 1147 Bardstown Road; (502) 451-0447, vwww.lillyslapeche.com. A colorful and very personal restaurant in the Bardstown Road district, where yellow walls meet bright-red door trim and chef Kathy Cary's regional menu calls its appetizers "Kentucky tapas," which include novel spring rolls stuffed with Kentucky Lake catfish and served with a sweet-hot Asian dipping sauce, and fried green tomatoes topped with Cadiz bacon (Cadiz is a small town in eastern Kentucky) and melted Asiago cheese. Among main courses, seared duck breast and leg confit is served over grilled polenta; slow-braised lamb shank is served over grits with olives and garden tomatoes, a kind of Kentucky-on-the-Mediterranean concept. Entrees start around $18 and scale up to $34, but my friend Kelly ordered the $14 grilled lobster tail with fried shrimp ravioli, nominally a salad, and pronounced herself full.
Seviche, 1538 Bardstown Road; (502) 473-8560, www.sevicherestaurant.com. This is a lively, colorful and very popular pan-Latin operation in which chef-owner Anthony Lamas cranks out intriguing items such as "chino-latino" ceviche that gives first-rate tuna the ceviche treatment, then serves it with a wasabi-lime mustard. Main courses run from $18 to $29 and include an Angus skirt-steak churrasco with garlicky chimichurri and excellent conchinito (slow-braised suckling pig) with corn-masa dumplings and salsa verde. The bar makes excellent caipirinhas and pisco sours too.
Lynn's Paradise Café, 984 Barret Ave.; (502) 583-3447, www.lynnsparadisecafe.com. A Louisville fixture since 1991, renowned for its funky decor and Lynn Winter's great, unpretentious home cooking, especially at breakfast. The front door opens into a retail shop with silly toys and games, the kind of stuff you didn't realize anybody still made. Then it's on to the dining room, a riot of color and kitsch dominated by a huge artificial tree in the center of the room, plastic flowers and tinsel hanging from its branches. Sit at Formica-topped tables with heavy mugs of strong coffee and await the arrival of dishes such as the Greek scramble, containing marinated artichoke hearts, sun-dried tomatoes and feta cheese, or fluffy buttermilk biscuits in a sea of sausage gravy. It's possible to eat sensibly, say, with multigrain "Crunchcakes" stuffed with homemade granola, but you're more likely to succumb to such indulgences as the bourbon French toast, which will fill you up until next Tuesday.
WHAT TO DO:
From May 24-28, the city will be home to "Abbey Road on the River," sponsored by the Courier-Journal and billed as the biggest Beatles Tribute festival in the world. Five days, eight stages and 75 bands will be scattered about Belvedere Festival Park (at 5th and Main streets) and the Galt House Hotel and Suites (4th and Main). General admission tickets are as low as $15, and an "Ultimate Ticket to Ride" pass that includes all sorts of goodies is $199.95. For information, tickets and links to hotel accommodations, visit www.abbeyroadontheriver.com.
TO LEARN MORE:
Greater Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau; (502) 584-2121 or (888) 568-4784, www.gotolouisville.com.