Louisville, Kentucky, nicknamed The Gateway To The South, is Kentucky’s largest city. Located along the northern state line, the city is separated from Indiana by the Ohio River. If you are not from the area you might mistakenly pronounce the name Louie-ville. To sound like a local, and to avoid scornful looks, Lou-vull is the preferred accent. This city enjoys fame for being the home of the Kentucky Derby, Muhammed Ali, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Full of fun neighborhoods, festivals, distilleries, and more, Louisville is a great place to visit or live. They boast the nation’s largest rock festival, polo championships, beautiful college campuses, and then some. With each area having a distinct personality there are quite a few spots to check out.
The Waterfront Park is great for a picnic or for access to the Big Four Pedestrian Bridge, which stretches across the Ohio River. For more adventurous fun there is an old limestone quarry, the Louisville Mega Cavern, that features underground ropes courses and seasonal events. If looking to walk around and peruse shops and restaurants there are plenty of interesting spots. The Highlands district is home to Restaurant Row, a lively area full of old Victorian homes and countless bars and eateries. The Nulu area (New Louisville) is brimming with art and antique boutiques. Downtown features Whiskey Row and Museum Row in addition to historic government buildings, a stunning skyline, and a view of the Ohio River.
The city has grown since the frontier days to become a bustling metropolis full of interesting restaurants, bars, culture, and, of course, coffee.
Sunergos Coffee is a locally owned chain of cafes with five locations. The name is Greek in origin and means, roughly, collaborative service. The name is a nod to the company’s commitment to working together with the community. When visiting the Norris Place location on a weekday morning it is clear that the locals appreciate what the cafe brings to the area. On a sunny morning this remodeled service garage turned coffeehouse has its bay doors open beckoning sleepy patrons in with the hiss of steaming milk and the scent of freshly ground coffee. The space is split between seating for patrons and a retail collection of beans, merchandise, and home coffee equipment.
Baristas hustle back and forth serving up patrons a number of local pastries as well as freshly roasted coffee varieties. With a collection of Mahlkönig grinders and a Synesso Hydra MVP on the bar, the baristas work as a team to prepare, create, and serve up delicious beverages. A patron queuing up to order a coffee shares, “The coffee here is so good that you don’t even need to add milk!” with her line-mates. Some sit and chat while others clack away on laptops. Each Sunergos Coffee cafe has a unique personality shaped by its devotees and neighborhood.
Quills Coffee is another local chain that Louisville coffee enthusiasts love to support. As a social worker and coffee nerd Nathan Quillo was inspired to start the business over 15 years ago while meeting with students in local cafes. As conversations inevitably bent towards coffee he was inspired. He wanted to build more community gathering hubs while sharing his love of coffee. The company’s motto, “Really good coffee for everyone,” embodies this goal. Now with seven locations, Quills Coffee is synonymous with the Louisville specialty coffee scene. It is important to the company to build relationships with coffee producers and source beans in a sustainable way.
The menu at Quills ranges from the familiar to the exciting. Some of the signature drinks include an espresso sour and a coffee soda. The summer menu featured a churro latte and refreshing virgin cocktails. The baristas here are eager to share their coffee knowledge and answer questions about their craft. Their Highlands location feels warm and well-worn. Distressed brick and scuffed hardwood floors add charm to the cafe. Customers quietly enjoy the atmosphere while sipping on their drinks. A quick look around gives the impression that the company is living up to its founding inspiration.
Somewhere between a cafe and a convenience store, Full Stop is a hip fueling station without the gas. Located on a wedge of land at a fork in the road in Germantown, patrons can grab beer, candy, hot food, conveniences, and coffee. Much of the food and products available are sourced locally. The menu is simple but fun, featuring both conventional and vegan versions of breakfast favorites, burgers, and salads. The featured coffee is by woman-owned Ritual Coffee Roasters. Using this coffee as a base the cafe offers old favorites in addition to creative choices like the Counter-Attack, a root beer served with a shot of espresso.
Full Stop is bright and welcoming on the inside, with ample natural light and minimalistic decor. Outside a collection of picnic tables with bright yellow umbrellas beckon you to come and sit. In front of the coffee counter several shelves hold toilet paper, local breads, vegan jerky, and even local music. With the goal of being an inclusive safe-space Full Stop operates with the ethos of being welcoming to all. When sitting in the cafe and watching people come in and out with smiles and coffee it is easy to feel the hospitality in real time.
Gralehaus is the name of a coffee bar located within an old Victorian home that also functions as a bed and breakfast. It is something of an open secret that this hip and hidden restaurant is also a coffee bar. Within this beautiful and rustic space you can get a sit down meal, a quick shot of espresso, or a full brunch including cocktails. Espresso shots are pulled on a Modbar that is seamlessly incorporated into the beautiful bar-top. Ruby Coffee Roasters, a Wisconsin based specialty roaster, provides the beans.
From the outside Gralehaus looks like an unassuming historic residence on Baxter Avenue. The only give away that this is a business is a small black circular sign featuring an image of half a house. Rest assured, however, that inside there is cozy and welcoming space with antique wood floors, brick walls, and good eats. The ceiling is a rainbow of woodgrains that catches the eye. Couples sit across from each other enjoying biscuits and gravy or mushroom grits. The coffee menu features exciting seasonal creations such as iced blueberry sage latte.
Butchertown Grocery Bakery
Located in the Butchertown area this quaint cafe and bakery is a busy hub for those who want something to nosh on with their coffee. A quick look in the pastry case reveals all manners of flaky pastry with some serious layers of buttery goodness. From french style croissants, to cruffins, to some heavy duty biscuit sandwiches, the breakfast options here are serious. Good Folks Coffee Roasters, a local company, provides the beans for your daily drip, latte, or creative seasonal beverage.
Built on a busy corner of Main Street, Butchertown Grocery Bakery has the appearance of an old fashioned deli from the outside, complete with a black and white striped awning. Inside you will find monochrome tiled floors adding bright contrast to the rough wooden tables and counters. A retail wall is full of bourbon bottles of all types from the reliable to the rare. Families sit outside at red patio tables on the sidewalk while commuters lineup indoors to grab sustenance. The espresso is good, the pastries are top notch, and the customers’ moods are ever brightening.
Smack dab in the middle of downtown Louisville, in a towering office building lobby, is Barista Parlor. Born in Nashville, Tennessee, this is the company’s first Kentucky location. A rectangular counter beneath tufts of hanging Spanish moss defines the boundaries of this coffeeshop within this massive open space. Subway tiles of white, red, and blue, midcentury furniture, and hanging lights serve as the decor. Within these four corners a barista hustles back and forth carefully measuring and dosing. If you nerd out over shiny coffee toys this is must-see stop.
A number of houseplants populate the space. Sharing real-estate with the greenery is a Poursteady automated pour-over station which utilizes Hario v60s and Origami Drippers. A Slayer Steam LP espresso machine makes its home on the opposite counter. There are tower coffee drippers, numerous grinders, bean dosers, and more. This is a temple to coffee with no expense spared. The company’s goal of blending art and commerce is on full display here as the atmosphere feels relaxed and soothing even among the gadgetry. The coffee is prepared with precision and care, and that combination of machine measurement and human touch comes through in every cup.
Eric Tessier is a freelance journalist based in Providence, RI. Read more Eric Tessier on Sprudge.