Off the Kentucky Bourbon Trail
is a review of things to do, places to stay
and honey holes to visit off the
Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
The TAJby Jeremy Schell
The downtown Louisville area of the East Market District, also known as Nulu (New Louisville), has been revitalized over the past decade and is now a fast-growing favorite among tourists and locals alike. Walking up and down East Market, specialty shops, antique stores, art galleries, hotels, restaurants and bars are almost everywhere. In the heart of Nulu is a nearly hidden Speakeasy bourbon bar, the Taj.
The Taj is a converted 1800’s home that now features one of the most interesting speakeasys you’ll find in Louisville. The Taj is a popular hangout spot for locals featuring some of the friendliest bartenders south of the Ohio river. Inside the bar, sit and enjoy a pour of your favorite whiskey on one of the unique bar stools either at the bar or at the roll-up front window. Nulu is often bustling with activity and bar stools are great for taking in the street activity any day, especially during the frequent Nulu street events which occasionally include live music outside of the bar. The interior’s eclectic decorating from the shuttered ceilings, neon lights, goats on the walls, and unique collectibles are humorous and entertaining. Taj is true to its Louisville roots with light up mural of the Louisville skyline on the back as well as behind the beer taps. These make for great photo opportunities but one Friday and Saturday evenings it can be standing room only so plan accordingly. The music selection is fun but not exactly what you’d expect based on the overall vibe of the bar, it is definitely upbeat, but the Taj is not a dance club.
The feel at the Taj is akin to a southern dive saloon and their dog friendly atmosphere embraces Louisville’s southern charm. Sit out front and enjoy one of the Taj’s signature frozen slushes or hangout in the back in the spacious Beer Garden and back bar. The alley walkway to the back gives the feeling of going back in time to Prohibition and finding a secret hideaway to share a drink with friends.
Louisville may be a booming foodie town, but the Taj celebrates their BYOF, bring your own food, policy. They have some small snacks, however, feel free to bring your own food in or have it delivered from one of the awesome local restaurants including Impellizzeri’s Pizza, Feast BBQ, Garage Bar, Royals Hot Chicken, Butchertown Pizza Hall, Wick’s Pizza, or Grind Burger.
The bar selection at the Taj is everything you would expect and more from an establishment in the heart of bourbon country. The cocktail creations, whiskey flights, and the overall bourbon selection are outstanding with prices ranging from affordable to, you’re going to need a second mortgage. I was a little disappointed in their single barrel selection, but they make up for it with all their offerings.
Taj offers several cocktails inspired and created by their staff which showcase their creativity. The Taj Old Fashioned with Four Roses Bourbon ($8) is an absolute must try. If you’re feeling bold, upgrade the whiskey for a nice kick. The Ashely, Old Forester, Lemonade, Honey Syrup and bitters ($8) is perfect on a warm Kentuckiana afternoon. The Dennie “Sea Monkey” features Maker’s Mark, fresh juices, splash of grenadine & bitters ($8), and the Nichols includes David Nicholson 1843 & Rhinegeist bubbles over ice ($10). My personal favorite is the Maloneyo, a Double shot of bourbon with a splash of bourbon ($8), how can you go wrong?
As with many area bars, Taj has compiled various whiskey flights from almost every corner of the Bourbon Trail. Personally, I appreciate their creative approach to flight naming. These include: Smell the Roses (yellow label, small batch, single barrel) $15, Woof-Ford Reserve (Woodford Reserve, Woodford Rye, Woodford Double Oak) $22, Beam me Up (Basil Hayden’s, Bakers, Knob Creek) $22, 3 Ryes Don’t Make A Right (Angel’s Envy Rye, Bulleit Rye, Old Forester Rye) $25, Single Ready to Mingle (Four Roses Yellow Label, TAJ Old Forester, Colonel E. H. Taylor) $50, and the less than creatively named, Whiskey Row Series (1870, 1897, 1910, 1920) $32. If you’re so inclined, you can always buy a shot for the bartenders ($10).
The bourbon and rye whiskey selection is extensive, and pricing is across the board. There are a variety of affordable pours including: Maker’s Mark ($7), Weller SR ($8), 1792 Sweet Wheat ($10), Eagle Rare ($10), Weller Antique ($10), Old Forester 1920 ($13), Booker’s ($14), Elmer T. Lee ($15), Blanton’s ($15), Rock Hill Farms ($16), New Riff Single Barrel ($15), Maker’s Mark Cask Strength ($16), Weller 12 yr. ($16), I.W. Harper 15 yr. ($20), Woodford Reserve Double Oaked ($20), Michter’s Barrel Strength ($21), or the Four Roses Limited Edition ($24).
Of course if you’re celebrating, showing off the size of your wallet, or just want to try something you’ve never been able to find except at astronomical secondary costs, try some of these: Old Forester Birthday Bourbon ($35), Michter’s 10 yr. Bourbon ($35), Lot B ($45), Old Rip 10 yr. ($45), Four Roses Al Young ($50), Pappy 15 yr. ($65), Pappy 20 yr. ($90), of the Pappy 23 yr. ($150). For me, the Van Winkle Family Reserve Rye ($50) is a bargain at twice the price.
The Taj is truly a hidden gem in the heart of Nulu, so when you’re Off the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, plan to spend time in the Nulu area and stop in Taj’s for an afternoon cocktail.