Best Hotels in Louisville

If a town is the measure of its luminaries, then Louisville has got an outsized American reputation to carry. Muhammad Ali and renowned Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis are from Louisville proper, President Zachary Taylor was born in the surrounding county, John James Audubon was a shopkeeper in town as he began to paint wildlife, and, in 1884, local sporting goods entrepeneur Bud Hillerich lathed a fine baseball bat out of ash for a local player who had broken a couple in a game. Louisville Sluggers are still being made by the Hillerich family in Louisville. During World War I, a certain wan, melancholy US Army 2nd Lieutenant Francis Scott Fitzgerald, stationed at Camp Taylor, kept showing up to drink quite a lot at the Seelbach Hotel. Louisville has seen a lot of good folks who added significantly to the American dialogue, is the point, and that welcome sophistication is in the bones of the town.

The Brown

The Georgian-revival Brown is the undisputed dowager duchess of all Louisville hotels. Opened in 1923 by John Graham Brown, it saw the great and the good right into the teeth of the Depression, revived its hotel business during WWII, did a stint as a public building, and is now owned by 1859 Historic Hotels. From the get-go it was the spot for huge, elegant parties in its grand public rooms, and is still. The eminently Southern 293-room five-star is perhaps best known for its Kentucky Derby week fetes hosted by all and sundry. Whenever you go, order a boubon flight and the hotel’s signature ‘Hot Brown’ turkey-and-bacon open-faced sandwich slathered in Mornay sauce, a genteel Kentucky take on Welsh rarebit invented in 1926 to keep the ballgoers dancing till dawn. During Derby season, or anytime, the Brown will become your old Kentucky home.

The 21c

The 21c Louisville flies a very independent flag. It’s not just a tricked-out 94-room four-star in five converted warehouses with a destination restaurant and a full-on spa–it’s also a contemporary art museum with 9000 square feet of gallery space and a lively roster of traveling exhibitions. In fact, 21c is a chain of eleven hotels strung out across the upland South and Midwest, with sister properties in Lexington, Nashville, Oklahoma City, among others, and coming soon to Chicago. In the Louisville property, the house restaurant, Proof on Main–a reference to Kentucky’s fine distillates–is a hot ticket.

The Seelbach

The hotel in which that young 2nd Lt. Fitzgerald used to get drunk on leave apparently left an impression through the gin-rickey haze–the Seelbach wound up fictionalized in one of the former soldier’s novels as frequented by a character named Jay Gatsby. The venerable 321-room five-star was opened in Louisville in 1905 by the two Bavarian Seelbach brothers, who understood that there were no grand hotels in the European sense in Louisville. Their audience proved them right. Over the last 115 years, ten presidents, the Rolling Stones, and gangsters with a touch for the finer things in life, including Al Capone, whose room is still noted, have booked in. As former guest Lucky Luciano might have put it, the Seelbach has the moxie.

The Galt House

Hardly a house, more city-state, the Galt House is a modern two-towered five-star of a mind-boggling 1300 rooms right on the Ohio–in fact, it’s Louisville’s only really big hotel on the river, and its amazing room count testifies to the intense international popularity of the annual May kick-off to the Triple Crown and mint-julep fest known as the Kentucky Derby. Named for an old hotel run nearby back in the 19th century, the Galt House was privately developed in Louisville, along with the riverfront. With its ballroom, meeting spaces, restaurants and spa, it’s the go-to for conventions and big shindigs year-round.

The Vu

The Vu is a 34-room four-star boutique in its own eclectically stylish bubble a mile to the west of downtown, with its own event space, C2, next door. With its twin lions flanking its bright magenta-and-orange entrance, in the evenings you’ll think you’re entering a speakeasy in 1930s Shanghai, or 1930s Berlin, take your pick. That sort of devil-may-care club decor is continued in the zigzagged granite-topped lobby bar and the sleek lounge. They’re putting in a full-service restaurant to open in late 2019. In the meantime, the Vu’s ready for whatever sort of bourbon-infused mischief you’ve got in mind.

The Hyatt Regency

Louisville has been burnishing its hospitality charms over the last decade, so that the demand for properties like the brawny Hyatt Regency–whether during the Derby or March Madness–has only grown. The 393-room five-star Hyatt has 20,000 square feet of meeting space and a banquet capacity of 1200, so that, in the Louisville market, it would have to be classified as medium-big. For ordinary non-convention-minded mortals, there’s a nice indoor pool, a fitness center, and the hotel puts its guests down on West Jefferson close to the river.

The Omni

Finished in 2018, the brand-new Omni boasts 612 guest rooms and 70,000 square feet of meeting space on South 2nd Street, four blocks south of the river, which, although it’s half the size of its Goliath of a neighbor, the Galt House, still means that it’s big. The Omni is true to its name, so it comes with all the bells and whistles, namely, the state of the art health club, an outdoor pool, a spa, and three in-house restaurants, which include the inviting Library. South 2nd is within walking distance of the riverfront and in the middle of the attractions downtown, so you’re not wanting for restaurants or things to do, and that’s why this splashy four-star is heavily booked.

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