It’s a post pandemic foodie phenomenon: escapist restaurants with transportive menus. Grabbing a meal or a drink at any one of these three experiential newcomers is like taking a mini vacation.
Written By Christine Fellingham | Photographed by Kylene White
Watch Hill Proper
11201 River Beauty Loop, Prospect, KY
With its gorgeous paneled library, towering wall of bourbon and whiskey and sumptuous leather and velvet club chairs, you feel transported to a bourbon magnate’s private estate from the moment you step off the sidewalks of Norton Commons and into Watch Hill Proper. But don’t be distracted by the 5-star hotel ambiance or postcard setting of this dinner-club-cum restaurant. With Chef Michael Crouch and a bourbon nerd’s dream bar stocked with over 500 different brands, this place serves up a drinking and dining experience that surpasses the impressive optics.
Even the concept behind Watch Hill is serious. Owners Tommy Craggs, formerly of Heaven Hill, and Josh Howse, local architect, are “bleacher dads” with a love of bourbon who wanted to create the quintessential American Whiskey Bar. “They started with 1,600 bottles of American whiskey — no Irish, no Scotch — just American whiskey,” says Creative Director Karla Green. “They wanted it to be a private membership club that celebrated whiskey and bourbon and served small bites.”
However, the members-only vision and the stripped down menu concept evolved with the hiring of French-trained chef Crouch of Cafe Metro, Bourbon Bistro and 1860 Bistro fame. “They were originally thinking that they would just offer charcuterie because the space had a small kitchen,” says Karla. But once Michael came on board, they decided to expand the kitchen and offer food that matched the gravitas of the bourbons — like the Foie Gras Bratwurst, Tuna Sashimi and Pappardelle Pasta with figs, shallots and Tuscan kale photographed here. They have also decided to open their doors to members and non-members alike while allowing members special privileges including private whiskey and bourbon tastings, free use of event spaces, a 30 % discount on drinks and the privilege of placing reservations. (Non-members can call ahead to check the wait and are very much welcome.)
The cuisine they will experience once they get a seat in this beautiful restaurant is worth waiting for. “French is my background, but I do everything from Southern to south of the Border,” says Michael. “I love to do elevated food with layers of flavor and give the public something different that they’re not getting anywhere else.”
The complexity of flavors doesn’t stop with the dinners and lunches; the place also serves up a delicious craft cocktail.
“Bourbon is the lifeblood of the community,” says Karla who is the resident mixologist. “I did a whole deep dive into the category of American whiskey and all of the cocktails that I created have bourbon, whiskey or rye. The idea is that someone who likes a gin and tonic might try something with a little whiskey in it (like the Bitcoin Miner’s Daughter pictured) and fall in love with the flavor.”
301 Story Ave, Louisville, KY
If you’re dreaming of a beachy getaway, Butchertown may now be a closer substitute. Local restauranteur Shawn Cantley (co-owner of the popular and packed Silver Dollar) is bringing the flavors and fun of the tropics to this downtown neighborhood with his newly opened South Seas Tiki Bar and he seems to have another hit on his hands.
And, really, who couldn’t use a little tiki in their lives right now? South Seas delivers the kitschy ambiance of the tiki bars of the 1950s along with the classic tiki cocktails made with fresh-squeezed juices and high quality spirits.
If that doesn’t draw you and your friends in, the inventive menu featuring family-style pig roast, spicy chicken tortas, Spam fried rice and Baja fish tacos (pictured) likely will. There’s also a tiki brunch seven days a week with a variety of mouthwatering Hawaiian pancakes, Spam and Eggs, Huevos Rancheros and more.
“We are in the business of making good memories and smiles,” says chef Tyler Powell. “Our goal is to create a tropical vacation in the middle of Louisville.”
1318 McHenry St, Louisville, KY
With its twinkling market lights over a lively patio and the “everyone here is my neighbor vibe” that permeates the cozy-industrial interior, this Germantown hot spot is the perfect staycation destination.
When it opened last July in the space that was formerly Couvillion, the goal was to create a restaurant that was welcoming to all — and a year later, they’ve succeeded. On any given night or afternoon, the place is filled with an eclectic crowd of families, millennials, couples, parties — all blending beautifully and having a fantastic time. “That’s what we were going for,” says Chef Caleb Schleifer. “We looked at the neighborhood and asked ourselves how many people can we attract? What can we do to bring people in from the neighborhood and outside of it? We decided we couldn’t be too narrow in our food focus. We have some Southern influence but also some from Nashville and my home of New Jersey. We keep it light and lively and the flavors simple and fresh so you can come in after a graduation or on date night or with a group of friends and find something that makes everyone happy.”
His favorites on the menu include the shrimp and scallop pasta with bourbon sauce. “I grew up on the East Coast so I’m combining seafood with the bourbon which is so Louisville.” Other hits include the Bacon Brie Artichoke Dip, grilled salmon with grit cake and asparagus and balsamic reduction, the hot brown with bacon jam and pimento cheese or the pineapple upside down pound cake with bourbon caramel sauce. “We’re not too fancy, but we’re fancy enough,” says Caleb.
While the menu truly has something for everyone, both the beer and cocktail menu can help keep the good mood going. “Since we first opened, we wanted to highlight craft beers,” he says. “The city has so many great breweries. And of course we have to do bourbon… but we also have fun with it and offer craft cocktails and frozen drinks. We’re not pretentious. We wanted to make this a fun bar.”
And fun it is — with friendly service, laid back ambiance and regulars who make everyone feel at home. “Where I grew up, you’d have these great corner restaurants where everyone went on Friday and relaxed,” says Caleb. “We wanted to offer that kind of hospitality and to offer it with delicious food and drink without overthinking it.”