NuLu is de facto one of the final phases in Louisville’s transformation into Portland, Oregon… and we think there’s nothing wrong with that. It is a cultural, economic, artistic, entrepreneurial, architectural and culinary revitalization of East Market Street, which was historically a center of commerce and, incidentally, impromptu horse street racing (apparently that used to be a thing).
NuLu promotes a culture of sustainability with LEED certified renovators and eco-friendly renovations of buildings that have been standing since the 1800s. It is also home to many local art galleries and restaurants which serve locally sourced, farm-to-table offerings. Are you beginning to understand why Portlandia hits so close to home?
NuLu can be overwhelming and many Louisville natives still don’t really understand what it encompasses. Here is a guide to ease your way to enlightenment about Louisville’s newest, hippest neighborhood (until the Portland neighborhood gets underway, but that’s a post for another day):
First Friday Trolley Hop
If you’re going to boldly go into uncharted territory, the best way to dive in is head first and liquored up. The First Friday Trolley Hop is self-described as a “showcase of Louisville’s downtown Main, Market and Fourth Street corridors.” On the first Friday of every month, hop on a Trolley as early as 5:00 PM for a FREE come-and-go-as-you-please tour of downtown Louisville and NuLu. The Trolley line includes galleries, Louisville-original restaurants, unique boutiques, shops which offer fine wine and bourbon tastings, theaters, home décor shops and nationally acclaimed and historical Caufield’s Novelty and costume shop… or you can disembark at the Flea Off Market.
Flea Off Market
The Flea Off Market is a flea market which sets up every first weekend of every month and coincides with the First Friday Trolley Hop. This “outdoor bazaar” draws dozens of vendors peddling their wares, which range from records, bicycles, arts and crafts, fresh-cut flowers, books, jewelry, fine art, bourbon barrel art, pet adoptions and more. Live music fills the air and food trucks post up to sell you their fine foods (I once had some tacos from the Holy Mole Taco Truck so good that they gave my virginity back, but I digress). There is no shortage of adult beverages, either. Bloody Marys start flowing at 10:00 AM.
These are the broad strokes of touring NuLu. Now, let’s try exploring it in a more refined way.
Here are a few places you would regret passing up:
Ghyslain on Market
Ghyslain is a bistro AND chocolatier. Stop by for breakfast, lunch, dinner or for exquisite, hand-crafted chocolates, macarons, homemade pastries or gelato. If you’ve been living under a rock, gelato is a thick, dense Italian ice cream and it. Is. AMAZING. Ghyslain itself is classy and casual and the menu serves up French-international fare. Crepes, quiches, sandwiches, pancakes and more – you’ll find something to love about Ghyslain.
“Authentic Mayan Cuisine with local, seasonal ingredients” is the way the Mayan Café humbly describes its fare. Stop in to find out why all of Louisville is flipping their shit over lima beans. (Seriously, we’re going to need a Tok-Sel Lima Bean support group soon). The menu serves an array of colorful dishes ranging from Scallop Ceviche, to slow-roasted pork to pumpkin seed dip to the ever-exotic cheeseburger. Of course, most of these dishes possess a title that is 90% consonants (but the ingredients are spelled out in plain English). If all else fails, just point.
Earth Friends Café & Espresso Bar
Craft beer, smoothies (beer smoothies?), espresso, vegan options, vegetarian options, gluten-free options, omnivorous options… “There’s something for everyone at Earth Friends Café.” Stop in for a delightful sandwich, wrap, soup, salad or breakfast offering. It’s not often you find a menu catering to such a wide variety of diets under one roof, but Earth Friends Café is boldly blazing the trail of equality in dining.
The Green Building
The Green Building Gallery is arguably the epicenter of NuLu and is touted as ‘ Kentucky’s first Platinum LEED Adaptive Reuse Project.’ Check out the roof garden (the ‘green roof’) which is intended to help reduce the heat-island effect, while you’re there. The Green Building Gallery features rotating exhibitions: the works of local, regional and national artists.
Inside you’ll also find the Southern/French bistro (it works), La Coop Bistro a Vins.
Toast on Market
Brunch is arguably the best meal of the day – it’s all of the deliciousness of breakfast without the inconvenience of having to get out of bed at a reasonable hour. Toast on Market is one of the best places to have brunch. So have your (pan)cake and eat it too – come on down to Toast to stuff your pie-hole with exotic omelets, delightful pancakes, artisanal French toast and so much more.
WHY Lou Two
“Officially accredited as a roadside attraction by Roadside America” this is not simply a souvenir shop. Sure, it sells shot glasses, but it also houses a 1930s fortune teller, it peddles living terrariums, original t-shirts that even locals proudly wear and Lebowskifest swag (Lebowskifest – another Louisville original). It also sells the work of local artists and so much more. WHY Lou Two is a concise summary of why Louisville is so weirdly delightful.
Wild Rita’s was created after the founders traveled the Mexican countryside, studying the cuisine of Mexico and their exceptional quality of service. Wild Rita’s serves authentic Mexican dishes such as Panza (crispy pork belly served with pickled jalapenos and cabbage), and Molcajeteso, a Mexican-style stew with chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, onions and peppers, spicy tomato chile sauce, cilantro and queso fresco.
Happy hour is 4:00 PM – 7:00 PM!
“A locally grown restaurant.” New American food – meaning barbecue, burgoo, fried okra, Buttermilk Fried Chicken, Pork Confit… and it goes on like this. Order a bourbon flight and you’re pretty much an honorary Southerner.
Garage Bar offers a reasonable selection of craft beers at reasonable prices. This gas-station-turned-hip-bar/eatery creates original cocktails like the Blackbird, made with bourbon, black pepper honey syrup, ginger, lemon and Hellfire Bitters. Try an Oyster Shooter while you’re there. Garage Bar serves oysters, by the way, in addition to brick oven pizza and many other delectable entrees. And there’s ping pong! Because why not?
Please & Thank You
It’s a coffee shop, bakery and record store, all at once. Only in Louisville. Bring your manners and stop by for a vegan lunch or some new vinyl (why not both?)
Rye on Market
The farm-to-table “New American” cuisine is executed with finesse at Rye — in a charmingly rustic setting, no less. Like any good Louisville restaurant these days, it boasts an extensive bourbon selection. Try the Duck Breast or the Flowering Kale Salad… or maybe the oysters, if neither of those are really your thing.
Market Street Barbers
Market Street Barbers resurrects the look of the dapper gentleman. Young hipsters and seasoned old guys agree, the quality and skill of this barbershop is something to be reckoned with. Come by for a straight-razor shave or a fresh cut to update your look (you look like a hippie).