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The boss thinks Friday is a workday. And maybe it is for the rest of those poor folks back at the office. But when the days are sunny, the nights are warm, and the water’s just right, two-day weekends hardly seem long enough. So we hereby declare Friday workdays to be optional. And by “optional” we mean we won’t be showing up at all. Join us, won’t you?
A burgeoning arts scene and new architecture, combined with high regard for old traditions (read: bourbon, horseracing), make Louisville an intriguing mix of dignified past and bold present. Below modern buildings in the glittering riverfront skyline, downtown streets are a menagerie of historic facades; the collection of old cast-iron storefronts along West Main Street, known as Museum Row, is second in number only to New York’s. Newer surprises appear at any turn, like funky public sculptures (a large dragon, for instance) that double as bike racks. The emerging East Market District, or “NuLu,” has trendy new galleries, shops, boutiques, and restaurants. And an air of Southern hospitality makes for a friendly stay. All the hipness of a big city, in other words, but without the attitude. —Amy Lynch
TRAVEL: 114 miles (2-hour drive)
STAY: Once named the nation’s best hotel by Conde Nast Traveler, 21c Museum Hotel (700 W. Main St., 877-217-6400, 21cmuseumhotel.com) combines luxe lodging, cutting-edge design, and a 9,000 square-foot contemporary art gallery. The fashionable in-room appointments include original artwork and pre-programmed iPods.
Built in 1923, the Brown Hotel (335 W. Broadway, 502-583-1234, brownhotel.com) is one of Louisville’s two historic grand hotels and features a breathtaking two-story lobby with an exquisitely detailed plaster-relief ceiling and live piano music on Thursday and Friday nights. The other, the Seelbach Hilton (500 4th Ave., 502-585-3200, seelbachhilton.com), was a reputed hangout of F. Scott Fitzgerald.
EAT: The East Market District is a buffet of trendy eateries, such as the hip Toast on Market (736 E. Market St., 502-569-4099, toastonmarket.com), serving innovative breakfast and lunch fare in a cozy brick-walled dining room. At the Mayan Cafe (813 E. Market St., 502 566-0651, themayancafe.com), chef Bruce Ucan brings farm-to-table sustainability to authentic dishes from his Mexican homeland.
Further afield, local institution Lilly’s (1147 Bardstown Rd., 502-451-0447, lillyslapeche.com) holds a place of honor on Bardstown Road’s restaurant row. Chef/Owner Kathy Cary uses artisanal ingredients and organic produce to create delicious “Kentucky tapas.” The owner of kitschy Lynn’s Paradise Cafe (984 Barrett Ave., 502-583-3447, lynnsparadisecafe.com) once took on the Food Network’s Bobby Flay in a French-toast throwdown and won.
DO: Among the surprising artsy shops and galleries of the East Market District, Glassworks (815 W. Market St., 502-584-4510, louisvilleglassworks.com) is a standout; visitors can watch glass artists at work, browse a colorful gallery, and attend walk-in workshops. AT Louisville Stoneware (731 Brent St., 502-582-1900, louisvillestoneware.com), local artisans form and paint each pretty piece of clay stoneware, dinnerware, and bakeware by hand, then kiln-fire—and sell—them on site.
Founded in 1925, the Speed Art Museum (2035 S. 3rd St., 502-634-2700, speedmuseum.org) is Kentucky’s oldest and largest visual-arts venue, and its permanent collection runs the gamut from Old Masters (Rembrandt) to modern (Picasso) to contemporary (Alice Neel). In June and July, the Shakespeare in Central Park (1340 S. 4th St., 502-574-9900, kyshakespeare.com, free admission) series runs in a lovely outdoor venue designed by famed landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted.
PLAY: Following the Urban Bourbon Trail (justaddbourbon.com) is an efficient (if tipsy) way to sample the region’s signature spirit at bars that know how to serve it. Recommended establishments: Bourbons Bistro (2255 Frankfort Ave., 502-894-8838, bourbonsbistro.com), which carries 130 varieties, and Proof on Main (502-217-6360, proofonmain.com) at the 21C hotel, a see-and-be-seen spot that stocks a handpicked collection of small-batch labels.
DETOUR: Online shoes-and-clothing retailer Zappos (376 Zappos.com Blvd., Shepherdsville, 502-921-4949, zappos.com) has a huge, bargain-heavy outlet store south of Louisville.
The last public resort on Indiana’s largest natural lake closed a few years ago. Truth be told, homeowners at the northern-Indiana destination—“Lakers”—prefer things this way. For them, as for generations before, Lake Wawasee (dubbed “that delectable spot” by Eli Lilly) is a family retreat away from the madding crowds. Suits and appointments remain at home, abandoned for boat-deck afternoons and patio evenings. Wawasee has the same allure for outsiders, but lakefront rentals are limited, and they go fast. Hurry to book one now, and there will be no rush when you get there. —Evan West
TRAVEL: 135 miles (3-hour drive)STAY: Vacation rentals are in particularly high demand over Fourth of July weekend, but availability eases up in late August and September. Niki Pawlicki of Todd Realty (574-457-4417, toddrealty.com) or Malinda Pinney of Chalet Realty (866-457-4478, wawasee.com) can put you in places ranging from humble “cottages,” to adequate houses from the ’80s and ’90s, to recently built homes with all the conveniences. All have a private dock. Anchor Inn Bed & Breakfast (11007 N. State Rd. 13, Syracuse, 888-347-7481, anchorinn.biz) is one of the area’s few by-the-night options. Service in the antique-filled country mansion, built in 1905, is friendly without being intrusive.EAT: Cooking out is the real local cuisine, so go to Bales’ Butcher Shop (504 S. Huntington St., 574-457-3312) for plump hotdogs, brats, and Italian sausages, and thick-cut steaks and chops. Lakers drift toward restaurants they can boat to: The Channel Marker (5793 E. Pickwick Rd., Syracuse, 574-457-5900, channelmarker.net) serves seafood and steaks amid tongue-in-cheek deep-sea decor, and the outdoor tiki bar is a fun hangout; The Frog Tavern (1116 S. Harkless Dr., 574-457-4324, sslillypad.com) is known for—you guessed it—beer-battered frog legs. In nearby Syracuse, Wawasee Cafe (615 S. Huntington St., 574-457-3297) is a popular spot for basic hot breakfast, Louie’s Bar & Grill (209 E. Bowser Rd., 574-457-3944) is the place for burgers, and Downtown Grounds Coffee House (110 ½ E. Main St., 574-457-2005, downtowngroundscoffeehouse.com) serves espresso drinks and hand-dipped shakes and floats. DO: Before you go, sign in at wawascene.com (it’s free) for insider area info, from event listings to gossip. Without a boat you’re grounded, and both Main Channel Marina (720 S. Lakesdie Dr., 574-457-4200, mainchannel.com) and Wawasee Boat Company (6521 E. Cornelius Rd., 800-950-9292, wawaseeboat.com) rent pontoons; for the more adventurous, AAA Boat & Jet Ski Rental (9203 E. Hatchery Rd., 574-457-8230, aaaboatjetskirental.com) provides personal watercraft and ski boats. On the northwest end of Wawasee, a narrow channel flows into Syracuse Lake, where you’ll find Lakeside Park (N. Long Dr. and E. Northshore Dr., 574-457-3448, syracusein.org), with a public swimming area and live music throughout the summer. The Syracuse Municipal Pier offers free docking about a block from the shops and restaurants of downtown Syracuse; you won’t believe there’s a friendly watering hole inside that tiny gazebo unless you check out The Down Under (801 N. Huntington St., 574-457-3920, thedownunder.net) for yourself.PLAY: Shallow, sandy bottoms make the Sandbar, at the southwest corner of the lake, the liveliest hangout on the water: Anchor the boat, grab a beverage, and jump in. You might see the S.S. Lillypad II (574-529-3300, sslillypad.com), a double-decker party boat from The Frog Tavern, motor past on a private charter or public cruise. In downtown Syracuse, the Huntington Street Bar & Grill (704 N. Huntington St., 574-457-3399) has tin ceilings and a respectable craft-beer selection—and the adjoining concert hall feels like a big-city music club. DETOUR > In nearby Amish country, Shipshewana’s Blue Gate Restaurant & Bakery (105 E. Middlebury St., 260-768-4725, bluegaterestaurant.com) is famous for fried chicken and 25 varieties of pie.
The folks at the National Civic League named Cincinnati a finalist for their 2011 “All-America City Award.” And it’s tough to argue. Its strategic location on the majestic Ohio River made Cincy the original gateway to the American heartland. It’s home to the Reds, the national pastime’s first all-professional team (which plays in a stadium called Great American Ball Park, no less). The city’s legacy as a meatpacking hub (“Porkopolis” is one of its various monikers) makes the hotdog, from ballpark to haute gourmet, a local specialty. And no city takes more pride in that other quintessentially American food, chili. Legend has it the eponymous “Cincinnati-style” originated when a local hotdog vendor added cinnamon to the chili to spice up his Coney dogs. Beyond its homey trademark cuisine, though, something intangible about the city embodies a distinctly American character—a former frontier river port in rugged wilderness that became, in remarkably short time, a shimmering cityscape. —Amy LynchTRAVEL: 115 miles (2-hour drive)STAY: The downtown Cincinnatian Hotel (601 Vine St., 513-381-3000, cincinnatianhotel.com) is sumptuously appointed and steeped in history. Built in 1882, it has hosted former presidents James Garfield and Cincinnati-area native George Clooney. Slightly newer, though no less grand, the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza (35 W. 5th St., 513-421-9100, hilton.com), built in 1931, is a showcase of French Art Deco design, with Brazilian rosewood paneling, silver-nickel light fixtures, and elaborate ceiling murals.EAT: Though relocated in Kentucky, Empress Chili (7934 Alexandria Pike, Alexandria, 859-635-5900, empresschilialexandria.com), is credited with inventing Cincinnati-style and the spaghetti-and-cheese three-way. In Cincy, Jimmy Buffett is said to prefer Camp Washington Chili (3005 Colerain Ave., 513-541-0061, campwashingtonchili.com); the huge Price Hill Chili (4920 Glenway Ave., 513-471-9507, pricehillchili.com) is packed to the gills after Elder High School football games; Guy Fieri visited Blue Ash Chili’s original location (9565 Kenwood Rd., 513-984-6107, blueashchili.com) on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.
Barbecue joint Montgomery Inn at the Boathouse (925 Riverside Dr., 513-721-7427, montgomeryinn.com) is famous for pulled pork and fall-off-the-bone ribs. The Senate Pub (1212 Vine St., 513-421-2020, senatepub.com) serves glammed-up street food, like duck-fat fries with harissa-tinged aioli and hot dogs topped with ham, bechamel sauce, and poached egg. The second-ever location of Graeter’s (2704 Eerie Ave., 513-321-6221, graeters.com), opened in 1922, is still making another American favorite: ice cream.DO: Cincinnatians have been going out to the ballgame since 1869 to watch the Cincinnati Reds (100 Joe Nuxhall Way, 513-381-REDS, reds.com). Leave work early on Friday, July 29, to catch the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants by evening, or take the day off to stroll the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame Museum beforehand. BB Riverboats (101 Riverboat Way, Newport KY, 859-261-8500, bbriverboats.com), complete with huge (but now just decorative) paddles, depart on Ohio River sightseeing tours and brunch cruises accompanied by Dixieland jazz.
One of three museums within the massive Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal (1301 Western Ave., 513-287-7000, cincymuseum.org), the Cincinnati History Museum has a lifelike re-creation of the Cincinnati Public Landing along the Ohio in the 1850s. The neon signs, lighted placards, and hand-lettered show cards of the American Sign Museum (2515 Essex Place; 513-258-4020; signmuseum.net; open most Saturdays) comprise a nostalgic tribute to the past. The National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (50 E. Freedom Way, 513-333-7500, freedomcenter.org) chronicles the difficult struggle for equality throughout American history. PLAY: Arnold’s Bar and Grill (210 E. 8th St., 513-421-6234, arnoldsbarandgrill.com)—named one of the 50 Best Bars in America by Men’s Journal—has been in operation since first opening its doors as an old-time saloon in 1861. DETOUR > In Northern Kentucky, Covington’s darling MainStrasse Village (mainstrasse.org) has historic churches and homes, quaint pubs, and a 100-foot German Gothic glockenspiel.
You don’t have to travel far afield for a posh urban getaway. In fact, you don’t really have to travel at all. Downtown Indy is more cosmopolitan than ever, if you do it right: drinks in a swanky lounge, dinner at the new place everyone’s talking about, late-night bottle service, and high-floor hotel rooms with views of the city lights. And since conventions and business types check out by Friday, we locals can take advantage of attractive weekend rates. So settle in for a while. You’ll have the run of an urban scene compact enough to walk everywhere yet varied enough for a weekend full of discovering the things that cropped up when you weren’t looking. —Megan FernandezTRAVEL: Destinations located within a half-mile of Monument Circle (10-minute walk), unless otherwise noted.STAY: You’ve ogled the sapphire-blue wedge that is the JW Marriott Indianapolis (10 S. West St., 860-5800, jwindy.com) from every angle—except from inside, where it’s even more dazzling. The fitness center has chilled towels and sweet skyline views, and luxe guestroom features include three-head showers and stylish wingback chairs. Upgrade to an upper-level corner room for two walls of floor-to-ceiling windows. The primo full-service spa has reopened at the refined Conrad Indianapolis (50 W. Washington St., 713-5000, conradhotels1.hilton.com), perennially one of Conde Nast Traveler’s top 100 hotels in the world. The coup de grace of 14 West Restaurant & Suites (14 W. Maryland St., 636-1414, 14west.net): a 2,500-square-foot penthouse with steam room, nine-head shower, and 900-square-foot covered terrace. EAT: The JW’s Osteria Pronto (860-5777, osteriapronto.com) features contemporary Italian cuisine created by Princess Caroline of Monaco’s former personal chef. Outside, Tavern on the Plaza pours zingy martinis like the Ginger Crush. Sensu (225 S. Meridian St., 536-0036, sensuindy.com), a sizzling new Wholesale District eatery, serves sharable pan-Asian dishes; its downstairs ultralounge, with bottle service, dance floor, and jet-set crowd, is the hottest scene in town. Hue Dine (36 E. Washington St., 634-4830, huedine.com) is velvet-rope cool without the velvet-rope scrutiny, and serves innovative entrees and creative desserts. In the trendy Mass Ave district, the ball & biscuit (331 Massachusetts Ave., 636-0539, ballandbiscuit.com) is a dark, sexy speakeasy with good small-plate nosh and vintage cocktails.DO: You’ve heard the arts scene is increasingly vibrant—now judge for yourself. On the First Fridays (idada.org) of each month, from 6 to 9 p.m., more than 30 downtown galleries host open-to-the-public receptions, often with free adult beverages and hors d’oeuvres. From August 13 though October 16, the 87th-annual Hoosier Salon will showcase the work of some of the state’s more-established artists at Indiana State Museum (650 W. Washington St., 232-1637, indianamuseum.org).
Beginning where the Indianapolis Cultural Trail (713-3333, indyculturaltrail.org) crosses the Canal, near the intersection of Walnut and Ellsworth streets, a scenic 5-mile route incorporates the Indiana War Memorial Plaza Historic District, Mass Ave, and public art such as Julian Opie’s illuminated “Ann Dancing” installation. Cruiser bikes from Wheel Fun Rentals (767-5072, wheelfunrentals.com) are available near the southeast entrance of White River State Park (just west of the JW Marriott). The Walk Indianapolis (walkindianapolis.org) “Monuments and Memorials” tour, a series of downloadable mp3s narrated by local architects, is a self-guided exploration of notable downtown structures. PLAY: Hot-ticket, Thursday- and Friday-night concerts at The Lawn (inwhiteriver.wrsp.in.gov, 800-665-9056) in the state park include Alison Krauss & Union Station (June 9), The Black Keys (June 10), and The Decemberists (Aug. 5). Concerts on the Canal (Indiana History Center, 450 W. Ohio St., 232-1882) are Thursday-night waterfront performances with music ranging from salsa to Beatles covers. The Cabaret at The Columbia Club (121 Monument Circle, 275-1169, thecabaret.org) showcases singers in an elegant space where Hoagy Carmichael performed. DETOUR > Fountain Square (discoverfountainsquare.com), around the intersection of Virginia Avenue and Prospect and Shelby streets, is the boho alternative to sleek downtown proper, with happening restaurants like Siam Square (siamsquareindy.com) and hip galleries like the Indianapolis Museum of Contemporary Art (indymoca.org).
Beachside in New Buffalo, MichiganCelebrity-chef watch in ChicagoHorse-country escape in LexingtonTaste of the Indiana Wine TrailR&R in French Lick and West BadenNatural wonders in Parke CountyPlus: Cool boutique hotels
Photo Credits- Speed Art Museum / Photo by Sarah Lyon 23 ("Speed Art Museum" - credit: by Sarah Lyon), "Wawasee sunset" credit: by Jay Vandermark,"Dockside" credit: by Dan Kopp, Cincinnatian Hotel / Cincinnati_CincinnatianHotel_Exterior.jpeg ("Cincinnatian Hotel" credit: courtesy Cincinnatian Hotel, CulturalTrail_102 ("Cultural Trail" credit: by Tony Valainis, ColumbiaClub_byMarkLee_002 ("Cabaret at the Columbia Club" credit: by Mark Lee)
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