Listen up, LGBTQ+ travelers. If you’re seeking a diverse, inclusive destination for your next fabulous vacation, look no further than Louisville, Kentucky. While the city may be known for its iconic horse race—the Kentucky Derby—and its legendary bourbon distilleries, it’s also home to an impressive lineup of LGBTQ+ bars, lounges, art galleries and more!
From the historic, tree-lined avenues of Old Louisville to the burgeoning streets of NuLu, here’s your guide to LGBTQ+ Louisville.
Just east of downtown, you’ll find this small but mighty section of the city packed with iconic restaurants, cute boutiques and bumping nightlife.
Head to The Highlands to find just about anything you’d want in a neighborhood: Vegan cafes, local breweries, artisan shops and top-rated eateries. The Eagle restaurant, Mile Wide Brewery, and Edenside Gallery are some of the most well-known establishments for any traveler. But The Highlands is also a popular destination for the LGBTQ+ community and for a good reason.
The neighborhood hosts two hot LGBTQ+ nightlife destinations: Big Bar and Chill BAR. Despite its name, Big Bar is a cozy joint known for its great music, friendly atmosphere and affordable drinks. Its owners—who met while drinking at another Highlands bar—recently celebrated ten years in business by expanding and renovating the space. Just up the street, Chill BAR is another welcoming spot, with a spacious patio (named one of the ten best in the city) and popular karaoke and trivia nights. It also hosts monthly show tunes sing-a-longs and is the only gay bar on Kentucky’s Urban Bourbon Trail.
It’s hard not to be charmed by the Victorian architecture and small-town vibe of Crescent Hill, one of Louisville’s most historic neighborhoods.
Studded with parks and eclectic local businesses, this highly walkable section of town is a true haven for the LGBTQ+ community. From bookstores highlighting LGBTQ+ literature to hilarious drag brunches, you’ll find no shortage of LGBTQ-friendly establishments along its tree-lined streets.
But Crescent Hill is definitely one of the quieter, more family-friendly areas of Louisville, so it’s not the destination for hot nightclubs. Instead, check out places like Le Moo, a glitzy steakhouse that hosts a famous drag brunch—with recent performers including Blair St Clair and Dusty Ray Bottoms—on Sundays you won’t want to miss. There’s also Carmichael’s Bookstore, the city’s oldest independent bookstore, dating back more than 40 years. Located in both Crescent Hill and the Highlands, this bookstore is known to stock LGBTQ+ fiction and non-fiction and has a history of being a welcoming space to the community.
While you’re there, make sure to sample some of Crescent Hill’s amazing food and drink options along Frankfort Avenue. Hit up Blue Dog Bakery for its legendary pastries, sit down at Fork & Barrel for delicious farm-to-table fare, or venture a bit farther to Hilltop Tavern for a beer with the locals.
A diverse and up-and-coming neighborhood, Germantown offers a delightful mix of old and new. This historic (German) immigrant enclave is coming alive with modern amenities and top-notch food and drink spots.
First things first: For a taste of the German cuisine that gives this neighborhood its name, head to Check’s Café. This fixture of Germantown boasts an inexpensive menu of classic German-American dishes. You can also stop by one of the many dive bars that have long defined this part of the city.
But this neighborhood, located right next to The Highlands, is also earning a reputation for its LGBTQ-friendly businesses and welcoming atmosphere. Nachbar is one such watering hole, a laid-back spot with an extensive beer list and a homey vibe.
It’s also worth making a stop at Sis Got Tea, a Black-, woman- and LGBTQ-owned tea house that recently opened in Germantown. The business came from the owner’s desire to create a safe, sober gathering place for the LGBTQ+ community in Louisville. Hang out and sip fresh-brewed tea, or grab some top-shelf loose leaf to go.
When you’re in town, you really can’t miss Old Louisville. Much like Crescent Hill, this neighborhood is a picture-perfect slice of the city with beautiful Victorian-era homes and leafy thoroughfares. It’s also a National Preservation District (the third largest in the United States).
Old Louisville is also a quick walk from the Kentuckiana Pride Festival, one of the largest pride events in the state celebrating the LGBTQ+ community, which is hosted on the outskirts of the neighborhood.
But Old Louisville’s LGBTQ-friendly businesses are worth exploring any day of the year. Old Louisville Coffee Co-op is not to be missed; this queer-owned gathering space is a lot more than just a cafe. It also hosts monthly events, from open mic nights featuring poetry and hip-hop to comedy performances and a rap night. Plus, the space is home to periodic teach-ins, drag and burlesque shows, skill shares and clothing swaps.
For a classic queer nightlife experience, head over to The House Lounge. Home to a weekly piano night and frequent drag performances (by the likes of Cadillac Seville, Vanessa Demornay and Cammie Dietrich), this recently-updated Louisville club draws a big crowd for its welcoming ambiance and tasty cocktails.
Short for “New Louisville,” NuLu is a trendy and energizing neighborhood east of downtown, filled with art galleries, unique shops, and innovative restaurants.
NuLu is not short on Louisville mainstays, like bourbon bars Angel’s Envy and Rabbit Hole Distillery or restaurants Feast BBQ and Biscuit Belly. Some of the more unique offerings include Please & Thank You, a chocolate chip cookie bakery, and Galaxie, an artsy late-night drink spot.
This neighborhood also has an inclusive, LGBTQ-friendly vibe going for it. Art lovers shouldn’t miss Revelry Boutique + Gallery, which sells LGBTQ+ art and designs from Queer Kentucky; their cute pins, bold posters and embroidered ball caps are sure to catch your eye.
Nearby you’ll also discover Play Dance Bar Louisville, an LGBTQ+ dance club with a schedule chock-full of thumping DJ sets and glitzy drag shows. And NuLu is where you’ll go for the kickoff of the city’s annual pride parade in June.