Traveling with your dog in winter is tricky. Many “dog-friendly” places limit pets to outside patios, and so cold weather can severely limit your options. Fortunately, there’s Louisville, Kentucky. Add that to a list of places where you can find plenty of pup-friendly accommodations and activities — even indoors.
Rusty and I went there during the holiday break. Even in the dead of winter, Kentucky’s horse country is gorgeous, so the ride is worth the trip.
Louisville is in an interesting place right now. It’s Kentucky’s largest city, but housing there is still far more affordable than most major metropolitan areas. The median listing price in November was $244,900 according to Realtor.com, an eye-popping number if you live in a coastal city like New York or Seattle. It’s even considerably less than nearby Nashville ($369,900) and Cincinnatti ($260,000). Louisville has a bustling food scene, a resurgent downtown, breweries aplenty, and of course, bourbon and barbecue. On the other hand — for better and for worse — Louisville is NOT Nashville, or even Cincinnati. The city itself is small, and parts of downtown can feel a bit abandoned during non-work-hours.
There are several large employers in town, like UPS and Yum! Brands. Still, unemployment is higher than the national average there. And the local Courier Journal just completed an analysis of youth unemployment that suggests deeper reasons for concern.
“The findings are startling: Roughly one in 10 metro Louisville residents ages 16 to 24 is “disconnected” from society,” neither in school nor working, the paper wrote — a rate that’s worse than many major metro areas.
Still, Louisville’s suburbs and outer neighborhoods are self-contained and walkable, making this a great place to visit — or more.
Rusty and I had been to Louisville four times last year, each time for one night on our way to another place — so we decided to spend a few days there during winter break. Here’s the fun we found, and you can find, too.
First, remember that long-time mainstay La Quinta hotels now lets local operators charge a pet fee (thanks to the Wyndham acquisition) so I changed my Louisville hotel this year after a surprise $20 fee. Their loss. The good news is that I found someplace better — Aloft hotels. In Louisville, there’s an Aloft downtown and one in the eastern suburbs. I’ve stayed at both.
I’m a recent-ish convert to Alofts. Designers have done a great job cutting out what many (young?) travelers don’t need (small shampoo bottles, inedible continental breakfasts) and loading up on what they do (a cozy bar in the lobby, uber-friendly employees). I’ve yet to be disappointed in an Aloft, though I wish the beds were just a bit more comfy.
No matter. Rusty couldn’t be more comfortable at Alofts, which usually have dogs bowls full of biscuits in the lobby. More important, Rusty is even welcome at the hotel bar, which is a welcome relief after a day of travel. Of note: The Louisville East location was exceptionally kind to Rusty during our extended stay (thanks social media manager Tucker Shives and director of sales Janel Theilen).
(Disclosure: I did get a couple of free drinks and Rusty probably devoured an entire box of dog treats during our stay)
As usual, we went searching for breweries, which are often dog friendly, and Louisville didn’t disappoint. We’d been to 3rd Turn Brewing before. It’s on the outskirts of town, but worth the ride. It’s in a converted church, which creates a great atmosphere. Rusty remembered that he could order a dog treat at the same place people line up to order beers, so you can bet we stayed near the bar the whole time, The neighborhood, J-Town as the locals call it, also has a Feast location, one of the area’s better barbecue places. We also visited Great Flood Brewing, near Louisville’s hip Highlands neighborhood, which had a comfortable large space with big TVs for football, and Apocalypse Brew Works, which has a much, much smaller taproom.
Downtown — well, in the NuLu neighborhood — we had a great time at Akasha Brewing Company, where I enjoyed my favorite beer of the trip — the Strawberry Board Shorts. Hey, I have simple tastes. Grind Burger, across the street, delivers amazing sandwiches if you get hungry. And staffers at Akasha were all really kind to Rusty, many stopping for extended pets, giving me a sense they all really like working at a dog-friendly place.
No dog visit to Louisville is complete without visiting Taj, an eclectic place dressed up as a dive bar — but it’s much more than that. Taj calls itself very dog friendly, with signs out front inviting in four-legged friends. I’ve posted pictures of Rusty and I at Taj several other times. We went there twice on this trip; I’ve had probably my best Old Fashioned ever at Taj, which makes its own bitters, I was told. It’s usually a great place to relax with your dog, as you can see below. Plenty of friendly people, and there’s something about Taj which makes it feel always full of people and buzz, but never crowded.
We had big fun the first night. On our second visit, which was early on New Year’s Eve, things got oddly tense, even when the bar was pretty empty, so we left quickly. Chalk it up to the strange energy that night often brings, I suppose. If you find yourself with your pup in Louisville, you should definitely go to Taj, but maybe not during a busy time. Was great to have the Aloft hotel bar to watch the ball drop in safety, anyway.
Before we left town, we toured the Louisville bat factory (not dog friendly), which was much more fun than I anticipated.
There’s a lot more left to do in Louisville — we didn’t hit any bourbon tours (dog-friendly? I don’t think so) — so we’ll be back. The city doesn’t quite rise to the level of our beloved Folly Beach, or New Orleans, as a great dog vacation, but it’s at the top of that next tier of cities. Highly recommended.