What’s old is new again! Give a city a decade, and a lot can change. . .
A former church becomes a hip bar in the trendy part of town, specializing in craft beer. An abandoned factory is reimagined! It becomes an art & entertainment space, hosting special events and providing artists with creative work space, all the while holding onto its grungy, urban character. The inconvenience of renovations to my hotel chain drives guests to “free gym week” at a nearby gym. Reinvention and rebuilding occur there every day, 24/7, as athletes transform their bodies, and their lives, for “Just $10 a Month”.
I’ve visited Louisville, KY on business at least a half a dozen times, over the last decade. Expecting to see more of the same, and falling into an old habit of staying in the same hotel and eating at the same restaurants, my first evening is spent at happy hour. I seek out the only chain restaurant I allow myself to patronize – Carrabba’s Italian Grill. While this is a spot I could frequent back home, with its wine list and the smell of their bread knocking you over upon entry, I seek out independently owned restaurants even at home. I have two more nights in town, with time to explore and discover what’s new!
In the Highlands neighborhood, with block after block of local restaurants, retail, tattoo parlors and wine shops, I discover that an old church has been turned into a different sort of space altogether. It’s been transformed into a bar that serves no wine or brandy, specializing in its 26 craft beer taps. Space inside is limited; the restaurant’s website cautions you about this. There couldn’t have been a very large congregation here, and now 1/2 the place is taken up by the kitchen and bar. It is swelteringly hot, with moisture just hanging in the air, so I’m glad to find a seat and order the Prairie Barrel Wine Noir, finished in red wine barrels.
There are suggestions of the building’s previous purpose. It’s unmistakable in its exterior architecture, as having once been a church, a humble place of worship. Inside there’s a sign directing you upstairs to the 2nd story loft – the old choir loft. There are specialty beers on draft there, and a dim, quaint environment with a second bar. It’s July, so the outdoor beer garden is open. When the skies open up, to relieve the sweltering summer heat with rain showers, there’s a sudden rush of patrons who make their way upstairs to find a seat.
While the service from the bar staff was a bit standoffish, the food was Fantastic! I had shitake sliders, which one of the regulars sitting at the bar told me were a “good choice”. Food & Wine magazine agrees, declaring it amongst the best sliders in the U.S. (see link below). “A gastropub from Louisville Beer Store owners Lori Beck and Tyler Trotter, Holy Grale pairs indie brews such as Dogfish Head with substantial bar snacks like sliders.” Mine were vegetarian, and outstanding, but there are beef options as well. The beef is supplied by third-generation Fiedler Family Farms.
When travelers go abroad they tend to seek out places like this, which have character and an atmosphere that provides a bit of an escape. They settle into conversations, relaxing into the easy and comfortable atmosphere. Hearts and mouths are opened, and lasting connections are made. It’s a treat to find a place like this just around the corner, with locals indulging in a drink over casual conversation.
The next night I decided to revisit a location that I’d used 6 years ago as a backdrop for “On Location” high school senior photography. Standards are high when it comes to senior portraits. It’s not the experience I had, back in 1992, with the choice of having glasses on or off, and long curls pushed forward or casually draped down my back. Tilt left. . . tilt right. . . smile a bit smaller, to conceal your braces. Today a senior portrait session is (at least for the girls) more like a fashion shoot, with at least 3 – 4 outfits and accessories to match. Studio work is fine, and has its place, but for a full experience today’s seniors expect to be taken on location. The scenic park of the 1990s has been traded for back alleyways, abandoned factories and the grungy edge of a city’s art district.
I find myself at Mellwood Art & Entertainment Center. Built in 1904, renovated and expanded numerous times over the decades, this art center emerged out of what used to be the original Fischer Meat Packing Company. There’s no sign of the long-ago activities that would make a vegetarian, like me, cringe. The large red brick structure has taken on a new life. Visitors are encouraged to “explore this tremendous unique environment where artisans of all kinds network, collaborate and create!” (see center website below)
It’s not enough to be a creative, without a place to do so. Artists need space, right? They need room to breathe, an environment that encourages experimentation, and a common ground where their efforts will be appreciated. It’s a competitive art scene today, but there is a real sense of community in this unique space. Corner studios have been taken over by ambitious creatives. A space that has great light is ideal, and there is serious competition for these prime spots.
Mellwood’s communal spaces breed creativity and individualism. If you look at it from a career perspective, the artist sometimes needs a space to “go to work”. Some folks just work better away from the distractions of home, and on a schedule. For those who question what it is that creative types do all day, the work space certainly legitimizes that artist’s time spent. The studio gives the artist a place to dedicate to creative work, when the home is too small, too cluttered, too crowded or too loud. . . or too isolated, too quiet and too uninspiring. Each artist has her own way of working, and many artists thrive here.
Today this old factory serves many uses: event space, gym, pizza joint, shops and galleries, senior portrait location, and of course artist studio space. In one tucked away corner there is also room for art education and creative consulting – including a writing space that I hope to get back to and take advantage of. It’s called “Shape & Flow”, and takes a disciplined approach to the creative process! I’ve read enough books on the subject to know that a regular discipline of daily writing, along with creative exploration, is key to creative success. I’ve tried to create a space for myself, at home, to spark creativity.
On a recent trip to Key West I visited Ernest Hemingway’s writing studio, set back behind his beautiful home, part of the larger estate. The studio is filled with about as many books as there are 6-toed cats on the grounds, of which he was particularly fond. What struck me was the intimacy of the space, despite the fact that it is now on display for group tours. I was equally impressed by the cats. The cats have the run of the place, even today!
Back in Louisville it’s close to closing time at Mellwood. I notice that some shops are already closed, with handwritten signs declaring that they are “by appointment only”. The Center has some more growing (or maybe it’s just marketing) to do, but it has come a long way since I last visited a decade ago. The addition of the pizza joint, complete with a pretty standard beer selection, is sure to keep visitors there a bit longer, sipping their drinks on the outdoor patio. I wish success to all the artists who have called this place “home”.
Near the entrance of the complex is a sign that declares “Antiques!!!” I’ve noticed that shops around my own home town use the term rather loosely. As I get older, items I might think of as rather ordinary may actually have a certain nostalgic value to them these days. I can feel the essence of Kentucky in many of the items on display – this is horse country. The theme is loudly declared in my hotel as well, upon my return. Horse photos of all types and moods are in every lobby, hallway and hotel room.
Later that evening renovations at the hotel drive me to the local gym for my workout – it’s once again much too hot to consider getting my bike out of the trunk, to take a spin around the neighborhood. To take advantage of the gym’s “free week” I’m asked to hand over my name and email address. I suspect I’ll be fending off weekly advertisements as a result, offering to overhaul my workout routine, my body, my life.
When I arrive at Planet Fitness everyone there seems oddly happy to be there. The transformations that are advertised seem to be quite real. With the lift of a dumbbell and an increase to the incline on the treadmill, lives are being changed. The work might not be as obvious as turning a church into a stop on the bar crawl, but change sometimes happens a tiny bit at a time. I welcome it!
Flashback: So this trip was a chance to revisit a city I’ve been to many times, and have an eclectic collection of memories of. At 4th Street Live you’ll find flashing neon galore, a colorful wig shop, and a glowing (orange, pink and yellow) illuminated glass staircase. I was there years ago to photograph the lights! Nearby, at a kooky gift shop and restaurant, I found a Twister-style arrow waiting to be spun. Faced with life’s most challenging decisions, you’re instructed to ask yourself “What would a Unicorn do?” With a spin of the arrow you receive answers such as “Pose on a windy cliff”, “Nuzzle a newborn” and “Fart Rainbows”. I’m game! Let’s take a spin!
Join me on the next Adventure!
Mellwood Center: http://www.mellwoodartcenter.com/
Holy Grale: https://www.holygralelouisville.com
Rembrandt Lighting (in Photography): http://www.picturecorrect.com/tips/rembrandt-lighting-in-photography/
Mellwood Arts & Entertainment Center: http://www.mellwoodartcenter.com/about-us.html
Fisher Meats: http://fisherqualitymeats.com/