The Best Cocktail Bars in Louisville

Are you on the lookout for the most poppin’ Cocktail Bars in Louisville?

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On this page, you’ll find the official shortlist of the best Cocktail Bars in Louisville. (More in-depth further below)

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Nightlife may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of Louisville, but these bars will convince you otherwise. Louisville, home of the Kentucky Derby and the Louisville Slugger, is also the heart of the American whiskey industry and the taverns where it is served. Louisville, Kentucky is well-known for a particular beverage: bourbon. Sure, Kentucky originated Bourbon, but Louisville has embraced it, expanded on it, and established a drinking environment in its honor. Louisville has even developed the term “Bourbonism” to represent bourbon-centric tourism. Whether you’re passing through Louisville on your route to the Bourbon Trail or just visiting because it’s the finest city ever (albeit I’m little prejudiced as a resident), you can’t leave without sampling a few Louisville favorites. We investigate the best of the greatest cocktail bars that the city has to offer.

Trouble Bar

Flights, games, and all the bourbon you can drink. It may appear risky to enter any institution with the term “trouble” in the name. But at Trouble Bar, there’s more fun than worry until you get too deep into the whiskey list. Trouble Bar bills itself as a “bourbon inquisitive” bar, with bourbon flights created by people like a local baker and a Kentucky Distilling Association representative, among others. Not that interested? Then get yourself a craft beer, a drink, or a margarita. During the procedure, you may relax in the warm confines of an exposed brick and wood floor lounge setting with modern décor. Here’s the thing: distilleries are large factories. They prefer to plan a day with a terrific morning sampling, a farm-fresh lunch, and a post-lunch distillery visit. 

After that, they have a Happy Hour sampling – or simply a flight of bourbons from one of the distillery bars – before dinner. They will help you get in touch with the distilleries you wish to visit and the most relevant experiences for your party. Trouble Bar, 1149 S. Shelby St., was named one of the 2021 Best Bars in America by Esquire Magazine and is the only Kentucky institution on the list. According to a Trouble Bar press release, the women-owned, Black-woman-led Trouble Bar launched in August 2019 with a 75% people-of-color team offering customized whiskey tastings and classic cocktails. Allow at least twenty minutes to peruse the literary diary of a bourbon flight menu, in which whiskey-industry pals of creators Nicole Stipp and Kaitlyn Soligan Owens have organized their own tasting experiences and written at length about the why of each decision. 

There are plenty of whiskey bars in town, but they wanted to create a venue where everyone, whether they belong to 27 different whiskey clubs or drink Maker’s Mark, could feel at ease. They are also women- and LGBTQ-owned, and it was critical to building a location that can go beyond merely events and provide information to the community. The name of the bar is inspired by a phrase from civil rights pioneer and Congressman John Lewis, who declared that action should “create a good disturbance.” Shelby Park was chosen to encourage travelers to venture outside the downtown and NuLu circle while sampling Louisville’s bourbon. So, this is one of the best bars Louisville has to offer! If you are in the city, we recommend this spot!

ShopBar

A traditional cocktail bar meets a unique store. Louisville is known for embracing the strange and unusual, and ShopBar certainly falls into that category. This new-ish establishment is one part curated store, selling anything from local crafts to secondhand apparel, and one part hip cocktail club, housed in a former gas station and auto garage. Distressed flooring, brick walls, and a corrugated steel bar front indicate that everyone is welcome, and the beautiful garden space provides a pleasant refuge during the warmer months. You may also warm your soul with a Bloody Mary or bourbon, followed by a Frito pie. What was originally a mechanic garage is now a welcoming and quirky bar and boutique shop, thus the name ShopBar. The shop section is jam-packed with vintage finds, local art, and handcrafted items. 

The ShopBar bar is like a bohemian drinking spot, featuring quirky drinks and draught beer. The large terrace has several covered seating spaces, making it ideal for wet, snowy, or excessively sunny days (Kentucky weather is wild, you all.) Did I mention they welcome dogs? Such as fiercely dog friendly! Bring your dog or pretend you don’t have one, since these people like animals. While they do not have a kitchen, they host various food trucks every week. You can enjoy poutine from The Celtic Pig, tacos from Happy Belly Bistro, and even sushi from the Louisville Sushi Truck every week. The most significant offer, though, comes on Mondays, when you can order pizza delivery from Lupo to ShopBar for 30% off. Purchase a drink, and the bartender will provide you with the discount code. 

The Shutdown is a tequila-based cocktail with hibiscus, ginger ale, candied ginger, and a black lava salt rim. It goes great with the Milk & Honey sourdough pizza! While there is little interior space, ShopBar has constructed a 1,250-square-foot patio area with lots of shade, seats, and plants. Rose and Harrigan have devised an eight-course rotating menu. Currently on the menu are fried white fish with salsa verde over wild rice ($11), a jowl sandwich with apple slaw, jalapeño sauce, and fries ($9), and mushroom tostadas with pico de gallo and greens, topped with cilantro and romano cheese ($7). The Mexican-inspired food will accompany a specialty cocktail menu heavy on tequila and bourbon. ShopBar’s house bourbon will be Old Forester, while the bar will also serve Mala Idea Espadin Mezcal.

Hell or High Water

Part upscale nightclub, part library, You want something one-of-a-kind? This establishment may have a monopoly on the market. Sure, it boasts some of the best cocktails in town and some terrific bar foods, wines, and beers, but the main lure is the experience. When entering the speakeasy-style club, the first stop is a bizarre mini-gallery called Hello Curio, which leads to a bar room that seems like an escape into a Golden Age movie set, complete with deep mahogany and red velvet seats. This area then expands into a two-level antique book library with a mezzanine. Trust us and investigate. Hell or High Water is a real speakeasy with comfy crimson banquettes and gloomy lighting. Drinks from the “High Water” area of their menu are light and refreshing, while cocktails from the “Hell” section are more spirit-forward. 

Located at an unknown address under a drab room and behind a blank door, you’ll question if you’re in the proper location as you weave down Hell or High Water’s dark underground corridor until you arrive. Hell or High Water is decorated in dark red velvet and brick, and it has a lounge, a library, and numerous secret chambers. It seems like you’ve traveled back to somewhere absolutely exquisite and cool. The environment is cozy, and the beverages are delicious. We strongly advise you to make a reservation in advance and request to be seated in the Wardrobe Room. As much as I would want to say that this curiously stunning cocktail bar, Hell or High Water, is a well-kept secret exclusively for those deserving of being in the know, the fact is that the cats are out of the bag on this one. 

Reservations are essential; you should make them as far in advance as possible since this posh pub fills up quickly. This dark speakeasy cocktail bar may appear too hoity-toity for you at first. But after you get through the crowded reservations, the inconspicuous equine memorabilia waiting area, the noire library lounge, and the sumptuous tufted red velvet chairs get comfy and pick your menu. If daring, get the Bottom of the Barrel from the Hell menu. It starts with mezcal and then adds Irish whisky, Cynar 70, Velvet Falernum, and Mole Bitters. Definitely for the bravest of drinkers. Are you not feeling very daring? Check out the Highwater menu and order the Savoy Spritz, which includes effervescent champagne, St. Germaine, honey, grapefruit, and Contratto bitters. 

Meta

At Meta, craft cocktails, beer, sake & house sodas are served in an upscale speakeasy setting with vintage decor. When Downtown, this is the place to go for a refined cocktail. Meta is smart yet not arrogant, aristocratic but not exclusive. Cocktail enthusiasts, from specialists to casual drinkers, are welcome here. While the designer decor, velour sofas, and unusual, penny-lined flooring (you’ll get it when you see it) are incentive enough to congregate with friends at Meta, their cocktails will not disappoint. While traditional and handmade cocktails, frequently made with local spirits, are the lure, there’s also plenty of fun. This bar is used to make Jell-O shots with Pappy Van Winkle bourbon. 

Meta Bar is an effortlessly hip and raucous small spot for drinking and dancing, famous for producing Jell-O shots out of rare, cult favorite Pappy Van Winkle whisky, which retails for roughly $249 per bottle. Meta is housed within the four walls of a former strip club but has been transformed into an elegant cocktail lounge featuring unusual events such as Wu-Tang Wednesdays. At the Carrara marble bar, order the renowned High Pant (Old Fitzgerald, Fernet, ginger, bitters, orange). Meta is a local favorite for its stunning, well-made drinks. Their menu includes a variety of traditional cocktails that you will surely like, but don’t overlook the contemporary twists, which are just fantastic! 

Order the drink “Byrrh Me.” Meta is a fascinating world of opposites, with a marble-barred, copper-penny-floored temple of fancy drinking nestled next to a strip club. But it’s not only confidence and balls that make Meta the most excellent darn cocktail bar in a city where artisan cocktails were popular long before they were trendy. The signatures are all traditional but with a kick in the knickers. Consider The High Pant, which combines some Old Fitzgerald with fernet and ginger to create an entirely new Old Fashioned. And, with drinks this amazing, the strip joint next door is becoming less obscene by the sip. So, this is one of the best bars Louisville has to offer you! If you are in the city, we highly recommend you visit the venue at least once! Go with your family, friends, and loved ones for a fun and memorable time. 

Proof on Main

On Main, there’s upscale flair, bourbon, and finally picked art on the walls. Proof on Main is your best-of-both-worlds bar, so don’t worry if you and your companion have opposing tastes: there’s superb bourbon for you and award-winning wine for them. With a menu featuring more than 100 bourbons, including lots of unusual items (while supplies last), you can effectively embark on a distillery tour without ever leaving your seat. The art on the walls at Proof is just as well-curated as the art at the adjacent 21c Museum. If you’re hungry, there’s also a delectable Southern-inspired cuisine (try the squid salad if you want something a little different). Proof on Main features modern American food with Tuscan influences, celebrating artisan products and sustainable farming. So, a Spirits of America collection, accessible wine list, and signature cocktails make Proof a great addition to the Downtown area. 

Proof on Main is a boutique hotel, art gallery, fantastic restaurant, and bar. The menu features a modern approach to pleasant, accessible, and locally-sourced cuisine. Hours and menus are shown below. Proof On Main has a Private Dining Room for parties of up to 24 guests, perfect for a romantic rehearsal dinner or an important business luncheon. The Proof Chef Team creates unique dishes that are steeped in local flavor. Their buddies at the 21c Museum Hotel make things interesting. The nearby hotel’s rotating displays of modern art and site-specific installations continue in our area. Proof on Main is well-known for its Derby-night celebrations. The Proof is possibly the greatest location in Louisville to people-watch, whether you’re there for drinks or a casual snack, with a commitment to variety and uniqueness. 

Their distinctive cocktails are creative seasonal formulas, and their wine range is award-winning. The Proof is approachable, eclectic, and, most all, ready to shake things up. Proof, located inside the 21c Museum Hotel, has an extensive spirits menu. We propose ordering one of their world-class cocktails and strolling through the Museum, which is accessible 24 hours a day and free to the public. The 21C Museum Hotel is a hotel as well as a fantastic modern art museum. Proof on Main, one of Louisville’s greatest restaurants, is also located here. If you’re ready to pay, 21C is unique and well worth the money! In other places, there are 21c sites, but Louisville is the original. So, it is one of the best bars Louisville has to offer!

8UP Elevated Drinkery & Kitchen

8UP Elevated Drinkery & Kitchen is a Trendy restaurant featuring eclectic New American fare, craft cocktails & an open-air rooftop bar. It’s an insanely sexy, excellent sky bar. 8UP is Louisville’s rooftop bar for big-city vibes – and big-city drink pricing, too. With a unique outdoor + indoor all-glass drinking and dining experience overlooking amazing views of Louisville and the Ohio River, 8UP Elevated Drinkery & Kitchen delivers the finest in incomparable vistas. This location on the Hilton Garden Inn’s rooftop offers an entirely different vibe from the hotel below. Sensual touches include sexy reds, curved lampshades, velour sofas, and a glass fire pit. The “Sparkling Sapphire,” a gin and lychee cocktail finished with cava, remains on the summer menu. 

But it has been joined by seasonal offerings such as the “Strawberry Cheesecake” (Michael Godard gin, Giffard crème de fraise des bois, lemon juice, ricotta cheese) and the “Autumn Nip” (Michter’s bourbon, sweet potato pie syrup, black walnut bitters, and Assume you’re looking for a more upscale Louisville bar. In that case, 8UP in Downtown is a stylish rooftop bar with a view of the city serving artisan drinks like the Louisville Frappe, created with Buffalo Trace Bourbon, biscotti liqueur, and a heavy cream float. 8up is the ideal spot to bring a date (and one of our favorite romantic things to do in Louisville) and gaze out at the dazzling lights of downtown Louisville. 8up restaurant, lounge, and rooftop offer three distinct experiences under one roof and unrivaled views of downtown Louisville. 

Whether relaxing al fresco or in the dining room, 8up provides various dining and beverage options to delight refined palates while celebrating the spirit of fun that distinguishes Louisville. The lounge at 8up has its kitchen dedicated to the interior bar, and you can also enjoy our open-air rooftop bar with fire pits and plenty of seating. 8up is a 90-seat restaurant with dark wood paneling and 8-foot-high-backed banquets opposite enormous picture windows with the greatest view of the city. An open kitchen lets you see everything while providing a broad menu focused on American favorites made with local and sustainable ingredients. 8up is situated at 350 West Chestnut Street, Louisville, KY 40202, on the rooftop of the Hilton Garden Inn. Enter through the hotel lobby or the private driveway entrance on Chestnut Street. We provide valet parking and an elevator that whisks guests directly up to the rooftop. Reservations are strongly advised.

Conclusion

We spent a few weeks in my old Kentucky homeland, investigating everything from the greatest Louisville cocktail bars to wonderful Louisville bourbon bars and, of course, incredible Louisville distilleries. Of course, we also ate a lot: check out our Louisville foodie guide! Whether you’re a bourbon drinker or haven’t spent enough time in Louisville to develop a taste for it (it’ll happen, give it time), Louisville has many fantastic spots to get a drink, bourbon, or another. Louisville, Kentucky, is a must-see for alcohol tourists!

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