Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Louisville's Once And Future Whiskey Row.

Two different parts of Louisville have been called "Whiskey Row." The first one, along Main Street downtown, is coming back, not just with restoration of the historic buildings and revitalization of the neighborhood's businesses, but also with whiskey history and even whiskey making.

The other Whiskey Row is in the suburb of Shively, along Seventh Street Road and Dixie Highway. Most of the big whiskey producers whose offices and sales rooms were along Main Street's Whiskey Row had their distilleries, aging warehouses, bottling plants, and finished goods warehouses along Shively's Whiskey Row.

Mixed in among the distilleries were major tobacco concerns. The neighborhood was also notorious for its bars, brothels, and other adult entertainment emporia. Some of that flavor remains. The tobacco barns are gone. Most of the distilleries have been re-purposed, demolished, or sit there in ruins. Even the flesh trade isn't what it used to be.

Brown-Forman has the only operating distillery in the area. It is a bit removed from Whiskey Row proper, in a residential neighborhood. Stitzel-Weller, too, is in the general area but a little removed. No distilling has been done there for 20 years but it is still an active maturation facility. The owner, Diageo, has teased us for years about opening it up to the public as a showplace for their Bulleit brand.

Shively's Whiskey Row died during bourbon's decline in the 1970s and 80s. Downtown's Whiskey Row has long been part of the downtown scene, with many attractions for locals and visitors alike. Heaven Hill has had it local sales office at 528 W. Main for decades. That's where the new Evan Williams Experience will be housed. An attraction predicted to draw 100,000 visitors a year, it will include a working micro-distillery.

Michter's has also announced plans to build a visitor center and micro-distillery on Main, and other folks have hinted that they will too. Brown-Forman, which is headquartered in Lousiville, has some of its offices in a restored Main Street building and it seems likely they will devote some of it to a visitor attraction before too long.

There are already some excellent bars and restaurants there, such as Proof on Main and the Bristol Bar & Grill, and non-whiskey attractions such as the Louisville Slugger Museum.

When it comes to generating business from tourism, there are always two ways to go: (1) create a destination attraction that people will gladly travel to (think Lynchburg, TN) or (2) put an attraction where people already are (think Smoky Mountains National Park). Whiskey tourism until now has been limited to the former but the latter has a lot of potential too.

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