Bourbon and Massages in Derby Town

Relaxing in Louisville, Kentucky

Correct me if I’m wrong:  you’ve heard of the Kentucky Derby, the fastest two minutes in sports where you don hats and drink mint juleps from silver cups at Churchill Downs. That’s all true, but if you haven’t lived in Louisville, you don’t actually know anything about it.  Derby is actually several weeks long, so if you’re visiting, and haven’t scored tickets to the big day, don’t worry.


Buy a Pegasus pin and don’t lose it. Wear it everyday because you just don’t know when you’ll need it. From Thunder Over Louisville – the airshow and fireworks display, to the Pegasus Parade, Chow Wagon, Marathon, steamboat races, hot air balloon events, turkey legs, Thurby, Oak’s Day, Derby Parties, and then you finally get to Derby day. Oh and school is out on Oak’s Day because JCPS can never get enough substitute teachers- the Friday before the Saturday – when the fillies run – wear PINK. On Thurby the horses and jockeys tour the paddocks. There’s bourbon everything, and picking a bourbon can be fighting words. I have to admit I’m a Woodford girl, but you should try them all. If you’re not up for the crowds, find a local bar to celebrate. After all of the excitement, maybe it’s also time to relax.

“The light music of whisky [or bourbon, JJ might have gotten this part wrong] falling into glasses made an agreeable interlude.”

James Joyce


As exciting as those three weeks can be, everyone who knows me knows that my three years in Kentucky was not the highlight of my life. However, there were some fantastic things that happened there:

  1. I got my Master’s degree at University of Louisville,
  2. I made some of the best friends a girl could hope for,
  3. I learned to like bourbon,
  4. I found the best massage therapist EVER.

I have a number of friends and acquaintances that are massage therapists, and I have long considered myself a connoisseur, if you will. After a Derby weekend car accident (see long list of reasons why LKY was not a high point in my life. Actually scrap that – for brevity’s sake, from this point forward, an *asterisk will be included to reference that list, which is actually too long to write), I wanted a massage, and my boyfriend (now ex-husband*) gave me a gift certificate to Massage Envy. Typically, I wouldn’t have chosen a chain spa in a strip mall in Kentucky, but desperate times called for desperate measures. They were able to fit me in the same day, as opposed to any of the independent therapists that I knew.

I wasn’t expecting miracles, but I got them. Clouds did not part, and rays of sunshine did not beam down with angels trumpeting glory, so naturally I had no idea what was about to happen. For the next 60 minutes, Alex worked on every achy sore muscle I had. I went in after a car accident, but I also have some historical injuries, and a chronic bad shoulder, he worked on it all. Alternating magic hands with hot towels, I have never felt so relaxed. I left feeling like a new person. Against typical massage advice, I did not go home and relax and drinks lots of water. Alex’s Cuban accent had me craving good food, so I went to dinner at Havana Rumba ate Fricase de Pollo and had several glasses of amazing sangria, plus extra butter. (If you’ve been to Havana Rumba, you have a set of stolen butter cups too…the overhead on ramekins for their amazing herb compound butter must be astronomical!) As I gazed into my soon to be ex-husband’s eyes*, all I could think about was how amazing it felt to have full range of motion in my arm.

About a month later I called up to get another appointment with Alex, only to find out that he had changed locations. He no longer worked at the Matthewstown location* (5 minutes from my house) but all the way across the city at the Springhurst location. I decided to make an appointment with someone new who they assured me was just as good as Alex. Besides, it was probably just my imagination that he was that good. I was wrong and they were wrong.  I decided to skip the chain spas from then on and just go back to my regular therapist. But, fate had different plans for me. For Christmas, I received a gift certificate for twelve more massages. One cannot let a good gift go to waste, so I started making the drive.

The drive was inconvenient enough that I started doubling my 45 minute gifted massages into 90 minutes. I started going straight after work*, preferably after weekly faculty meetings.* And before you knew it, I had run out of massages. My shoulder and leg had not felt this good since I was 18 years old. Once again, I was running, coaching Girls’ Varsity Soccer, and kayaking. My birthday came around, and I got another gift certificate, this time for twelve 90 minute sessions. It was getting harder to get appointments with Alex, so I became secretive, not telling anyone his name. The truth is that I was addicted.

Over time I got to know him as a person, not just a miracle worker. As he worked on my painful frozen shoulder or bad knee or pitiful ankle, he would distract me with stories of his talking bird, his grandmother, his search for a house, his motorcycle, and his schooling. For two years I saw him at least once a month (maybe more, but who’s counting? and don’t judge me!). He knew to ask me about work* and the crazy kids I taught, my wedding plans*, then my divorce plans*, favorite Cuban recipes, my soccer girls.

So the title of this post mentions bourbon, so I feel I should at least mention it. My last massage with Alex was sad. I was now living in Indiana, even further away. I was preparing to move to Doha, Qatar, and my dog was dying*. My therapist (by then* I had one of those too) kept asking me how I was dealing with everything, and I answered that the key was good friends, lots of bourbon, and weekly massages.

Traveling There

If you’re thinking of visiting for Derby – book early, tickets sell out, stores run out of fascinators, and hotels are booked months in advance. Look for locals renting their houses out, and find out what’s going on in the neighborhoods. The roads all around U of L, Churchill Downs, and Old Louisville are a mass of closures, so be prepared to walk. Check out the Highlands – a fab neighborhood with tons to do. Look now for next year’s event schedules. If you love fireworks or airshows, don’t miss Thunder. You can see it from the waterfront, or get tickets to a rooftop event. My favorite viewing locations were from the Frazier History Museum or Copper & Kings distillery – both just on the edges so parking and leaving isn’t as awful as some other spots.



It’s been a while since I lived there, so my list isn’t so current, however, here are some trusty favorites that will never go out of style.

Craving Cuban food? Havana Rumba has several locations, and Habana Blues Tapas is in Indiana just across the bridge.

Needing some Mexican? Santa Fe Grill is just down the street from the tracks, and makes burritos I still dream about. Get the green sauce.

Want farm to table? Want to eat local? Louisville has an amazing food scene, too many to mention, and way too many new things since I lived there. Harvest was always a favorite, as were Hammerheads, the Mayan Cafe, and Silver Dollar.

WFPK Waterfront Wednesdays – usually on the last  Wednesday of the month, the local radio station puts on amazing concerts for free. If you like to hear current progressive bands, bring a picnic no coolers or glass or stop by the food trucks, get there early, and enjoy the sounds! Head to the Big Four Lawn in the spring and summer months to see what’s happening.

Go for a Bourbon Trail tour, but absolutely get a driver!

Stop by Highland Coffee Company, a hidden local gem, and try the day’s pastries, check out local artists, and hang with the cool kids in the Highlands. They have some of the best coffee in town, not to mention the best artsy weird vibe ever. You’re super cool if you know where Highland Coffee is, and they are definitely part of the Keep Louisville Weird movement.

There during the summer months? Get an omelette at the Bardstown Road Farmer’s Market. While you’re at it, check out the whole farmer’s and arts market scene in the city. It’s a wander well worth many a Saturday morning.

Music. Music Music. It’s so hard to decide what to listen to and see in a town like Louisville, but my friends over at Live Music Lou have you covered. They bring you a fantastic Can’t Miss list every week, and suffer through attending concerts as often as possible to bring you amazing photos and artist info. They are the best source for everything Live Music in Louisville.

For sports fans, Louisville has you covered. You can check out the Louisville Slugger Museum, or a Cardinals game, but if you have a chance, attend a Louisville Coopers soccer match if you’re in season.

Adventure you say? Craving adrenaline? Go ziplining in Louisville’s Mega Caverns for a thrill. I did, and loved it. What better way to spend a day than hurling through the darkness yelling “yippeekayay mother****” like Bruce Willis?

2 thoughts on “Bourbon and Massages in Derby Town

  1. Delightful writing, I especially like the use of *.
    The photos are lovely and you could have included a mudd bath as it was the wettest running on record.


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