Scenes from Kentucky Pride Fest 2015 (Photo by Marty Pearl)

LGBTQ clubs, events and attractions can fill a getaway weekend—and we didn’t even mention the Derby.

 

By Rich Warren

The eyes of the world will turn to Louisville on Saturday, May 5, when the 144th Run for the Roses takes place.

But LGBT folks have reasons other than the Kentucky Derby to race to Louisville all year long. Its gay scene is so vibrant the city actually hosts two separate Pride festivals each year: one on the riverfront in June and another in September in the Highlands, one of the Derby City’s popular gayborhoods.

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Plus, for three consecutive years, Louisville has scored 100 in the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index, so it’s clearly a place that takes being LGBT- friendly to great lengths.

Here’s a guide to some of the highlights:

PLAY
There’s no better place to play than Play, a popular bar in the trendy Butchertown neighborhood, where frequent drag shows feature the local “Play Mates,” as well as celebrities from farther afield like Farrah Moan from Las Vegas and “RuPaul’s Drag Race.”

Tattoo parties, salsa nights, country two steppin’ and a Hot Mess open stage night help complete the fun.

On Bardstown Road in the Highlands, three bars are within close proximity: Chill (just as laid back as the name implies), The Big Bar (the name is ironic; it’s tiny), and Nowhere (right next door to Somewhere, another bar and restaurant).

Close to Downtown is Tryangles, popular with a mature clientele, while out in the neighborhoods, Purrswaytions draws a female crowd and Teddy Bears a furry one.

STAY
The gay-operated Vu Guesthouse is easy to spot. You could probably see its vibrant orange and pink exterior from outer space.

Inside, the lavish lobby with its cascading chandelier, baby grand piano and startling artwork suggest that the spirit of Liberace might have been channeled for design consultation. The flamboyance continues in the rooms upstairs, which range from cozy studios to suites and deluxe rooms large enough to hold a square dance—or a drag show.

In fact, female impersonators from across the country will be competing in the 28th annual Entertainer of the Year contest July 27-29 at the new C2 Event Venue, a site adjacent to Vu. Columbus’ Nina West will be on hand to entertain.

Other gay parties, concerts and contests will periodically take place there, too. To be added to the complex in late summer is a new diner-style restaurant patterned after the Little Goat in Chicago.

GRAZE
For modern American cuisine with a Southern twist, dine at the gay-owned Marketplace Restaurant in Downtown’s Theater Square neighborhood. Its spacious and stylish interior, complete with Chihuly-style chandeliers, is complemented by a huge outdoor patio.

With an astonishing 106 varieties of bourbon, Marketplace easily qualifies as a stop on the city’s popular Urban Bourbon Trail.

Out on Lexington Road, Le Moo quickly establishes its bovine theme with a huge anatomically correct copper-colored bull outside the front door and cow-related paintings indoors. The cuisine (big surprise!) focuses on steak, but its daily brunch offers an eclectic mix of tasty vittles. Le Moo’s new Drag Brunch on Sundays is all the rage, so much so you’ll need to reserve seats weeks in advance.

Don’t miss the Louis Vuitton booth, fashioned from 17 pieces of vintage Louis Vuitton luggage.

DIVERSIONS
Pandora Productions is a theater company devoted to telling the stories of the LGBT community. Its presentation of Charles Busch’s “Die Mommie Die!” from May 10-20 promises to be both kookie and campy.

The Louisville Gay Men’s Chorus offers a five-year celebration, “We Are Family,”
on May 19, while the mixed chorus, all- inclusive Voices of Kentuckiana will present “Sondheim and Hammerstein: A Cabaret” on June 9.

Daily walking tours are offered by Louisville Historic Tours in another of the city’s gayborhoods, Old Louisville, a 45-square- block cluster of Victorian mansions erected by the city’s barons of bourbon and titans of tobacco. Choose from daytime architectural tours or nighttime ghost walks with stops at places like The Witches Tree, supposedly once a place of worship for the satanic set.

For more architectural pizzazz, stroll down “Whiskey Row,” on Downtown’s Main Street, where highlights in addition to the buildings include the 30-foot tall gold statue of David, just as naked as Michelangelo’s original, and what’s potentially the world’s largest phallic symbol, the 120-foot baseball bat outside the Louisville Slugger Museum.

Ohio-based travel writer Rich Warren travels the country and the world looking for offbeat and off-the-beaten-path stories. He is a graduate of the Elf School of Reykjavik and can tell you what the Amish wear to the beach in Florida. Credits include the Chicago Tribune, Dallas Morning News, Cleveland Plain Dealer, National Geographic Traveler, AAA Home and Away, AAA Highroads, Ohio Magazine, Country Living, Long Weekends, American Way and others.

Bob Vitale
A Toledo native and graduate of Toledo Public Schools, Bob has worked as a local government and politics reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, as a Washington correspondent for Thomson Newspapers and as editor-in-chief for Outlook Ohio. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism and political science from Ball State University and a master's degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.