Readers’ Choice - LEO Weekly’s (Probably) Overly Optimistic Guide to Promising Changes in Louisville
Once a year, for reasons known mostly by our advertising department, we let you people say what’s good in our fair river burg — unequivocally and without embellishment. It is an inexact science, as you’ll see in the following pages, and (sometimes unfortunately) we make no executive decisions as to what should qualify or, more accurately, be disqualified.
Nope, now’s a time — one issue a year — to cover our critical eye and just be happy about all the good things that surround us, and there are many. What follows is our staff contribution, our own sort of Readers’ Choice. We read the thing too, after all.
Stephen George, editor
Yes, you should wear a helmet. Claim your lane by riding in the middle of it. Obey traffic signals. Ask your Metro Council representative for more dedicated bike lanes in your district. Ride your bike to work — damn the sweat! Replace your 5-10 minute car trips with a bike. If you’re driving, give a cyclist the right-of-way if the other option is to run her/him into the curb or another vehicle (I’ll remember you, blue Honda CRV on Broadway!). Don’t perpetuate the idea that motorists and cyclists are locked in a never-ending death battle to save (or not) 30 seconds per commute. Help change the culture here.
Expanding free local media
Although it means way more competition for us, the proliferation of free media in Louisville in the past few years has broadened the palette for those who think, pay attention and want to help their city function properly. The websites — biz partners PageOneKentucky.com and TheVilleVoice.com, ConsumingLouisville.com, BackseatSandbar.wordpress.com, LouisvilleHomesBlog.com, five0two.com … and many others I’m overlooking — offer, among the breaking news, mostly astute cultural observations and hyper-local neighborhood reports, a salient reminder that Louisville is packed with forward-thinking, engaged young people who are pretty good at those Internetz.
We’re ‘going green’ … or starting to, anyway
Unfortunately for the world, there aren’t many American politicians asking their constituents to conserve. That would interfere with the idea that your Hummer represents freedom and ingenuity, or that your 80-minute shower is OK because you’re paying for the water and the electricity or gas heating it. Earlier this year, Mayor Abramson fired up (plugged in?) the “Go Green Louisville” initiative, asking residents to do a whopping five things to make our particular environment a little more sustainable: Save Energy, Protect Our Water, Work for Cleaner Air, Preserve Land and Reuse/Recycle. Simple, concise, direct. Kinda hard to believe these days. (www.louisvilleky.gov/GoGreen)
There still aren’t new bridges
Some argue it’s a bad thing that we have yet to spend $4.1 billion on a pair of bridges and massive expansion of Spaghetti Junction that would be finished in two decades — when, by all estimates, gas will cost $28 a gallon, the air will be so thick with pollution from cars that city governments will be forced to charge a “driving toll” to operate a motor vehicle in commonly congested areas, and businesses and residents once attracted to our burgeoning downtown will have long left behind a metropolis under massive, brutally ugly, sustained construction. I disagree.
Open homophobia in local political races
Like the great majority of you, I was outraged at the disgusting homophobic flyer that canned Democratic Metro Council candidate Ken Herndon’s chances at repping the 6th District after this year’s primary. It was the sleaziest kind of personal politics, one that played on the irrational fears of the trenchant minority of bigots who still think being gay is a threat to something. Here’s the good part: Although at Herndon’s expense, the discourse has again been modified, and many close to (and in) city government were forced to show their unease with this style of politics in some public way. Latent fears about homosexuality are in the center of political discussion, which is by some measure good: The more we talk about it, the less fear and hate spread.
It’s classic gentrification: Old and somewhat depressed neighborhood with substantial, inexpensive infrastructure is rediscovered as hip cultural wellspring; young people with a little money and initiative buy property, renovate, populate; bars and restaurants open, thrive, begin drawing night-crawlers from all over city; newspapers write stories, more people arrive in time for the bargain; home prices begin long-term ascent, insanely cheap real estate begins to vanish; cultures clash from time to time but mostly people get along, become exposed to something outside themselves. And we have Gnadinger — at less than one acre, it’s the city’s smallest park.
South Louisville buys things — we proved it!
It’s long been said that South Enders use cash, a fact that hinders the city’s ability to attract major retail operations there. Seems weird, right? Spend responsibly (i.e. what you have on hand) and your credit card purchases can’t be tracked, so there’s no proof you spend money, meaning there’s no proof Corporation X, Y or Z could sell you its cheap, foreign-made plastic wares or pre-packaged faux Italian food. Well, no more! Metro commissioned a study this year that found some $480 million in previously unknown spending power along the Dixie Highway corridor. As well, turns out in some of the city’s “low-income” burgs’ — Russell, east downtown — average household incomes have been dramatically misrepresented in census figures.
We’re talking about commuter rail again
Although many local officials are still too chicken-poo about something as simultaneously pragmatic and visionary as public transit, well, others aren’t. In the last handful of years, we’ve gone from a full-on plan for light rail (that local officials refused to enact) to nothing but bridges talk and an ice-cold congressperson to $4-a-gallon gas and now, surprise, back to commuter rail. Members of the Metro Council — especially Jim King, D-10, and Dan Johnson, D-21 — want to talk seriously, and the Coalition for the Advancement of Regional Transportation is taking local legislators on an experimental tour of a possible new commuter rail that would run along Dixie Highway. Mayor, your play. (www.cartky.org)
STAR program is working
The Strategic Toxic Air Reduction program is actually producing results, which should be a relief to everybody with asthma or in case you happen to not look forward to wearing a gas mask to leave the house. As of August, 30 of the city’s 37 major industrial polluters were in compliance with STAR, a response to studies several years ago that showed certain dangerous chemicals to be present in the air here at levels hundreds of times higher than what EPA allows. And it didn’t cause our industrial economy to collapse! STAR has been praised nationally, from EPA to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office. (www.louisvilleky.gov/APCD/STAR)
John Yarmuth in Congress
He’s called a few things wrong in his day — predicting, in a column that went to press on Election Day 2004, that John Kerry was a shoo-in for president — but John Yarmuth is generally doing a solid job repping Louisville in the House of Representatives, and without morphing into the liberal devil we were guaranteed by his detractors in 2006. Yarmuth has secured that elusive $45 million for a new Veterans Administration Health Center, voted to expand child health insurance and spends all his free time in Louisville hanging out with constituents. Textbook. (yarmuth.house.gov)
Sara Havens, arts & entertainment editor
City Scoot rewards
You love it. Don’t fight it. We know City Scoot is a cool service available in this city — but lately I’ve noticed certain bars have “partnerships” with City Scoot, meaning a cheaper ride home for you and less drunk-driving liability for bar owners. Right now there are only a handful of watering holes in the East End that have ponied up to the partnership — including the Back Door, Cahoots, Saints and ZaZoo’s. But we hear big things are about to happen — the taxi service that gets you and your car home safely is jumping in bed with the City of Louisville and the Louisville Originals restaurant conglomerate. Stay tuned. (www.cityscoot.com)
Left-turn signal at Bardstown & Eastern
Is it pathetic to take joy in the simple addition of a left-turn signal? I nearly soiled my pants when I first came upon the new traffic pattern finally changed at the intersection of Bardstown Road and Eastern Parkway in the Highlands. Before the glorious left-arrow signals, you’d sit for at least two rotations of the light before you got a chance to maneuver up Bardstown Road. I agree that faux hipsters and twirling tweens chugging down Qdoba burritos provide ample entertainment, but I’m late for my mani-pedi, dammit. Move!
Where have all the glowsticks gone?
I’ve noticed a sharp decrease in the amount of glowsticks in this city’s dance clubs, and that’s a good thing. When’s the last time you tucked one in your lip or swatted at air trying to form a figure-8? After doing serious time on Connection’s dance floors, I would come home with random g-stick bruises on my arms, face, even my ass. I would have nightmares filled with violent streaks of blues and reds and greens, all swirling to the beat of Ace of Base’s “All That She Wants.” Let’s leave them in the freezer where they belong.
ThursGays at Pink Door
Is it a bar? A noodle restaurant? A live music venue? A gay club? Yes. Does that suffice? The Pink Door is a Highlands bar with a fine array of craft beers on tap. It also serves Asian food at dinnertime and hosts local bands throughout the week. And on Thursday nights, it turns into a dance club and general hangout hub for twinkies, lipsticks, frats, soon-to-be brides and everything in between. It’s ThursGay — show up late and expand your horizon (preferably not in the bathroom … we gotta pee!). (www.pinkdoorlouisville.com)
An Old Navy in Clarksville = Huh?
And you thought Southern Indiana was just another vapid concrete jungle full of aging strip malls and massive car lots. Have you seen Veterans Parkway lately? Holy shit — Clarksville has never looked so appealing. Sure, it’s mostly chains, but I can run over there, buy an iPod and grab some nuggets and waffle fries at Chick fil-A — on my lunch hour. Did I mention there’s an IHOP? Chocolate chip pancakes anyone?
21c Museum Hotel
Whether you can afford to stay there, 21c is a very cool thing for this city — go check it out for yourself: It’s free and there’s no dress code. The constantly changing modern art exhibits are fun to see and play with (when applicable — but watch out, those penguins bite). It’s cutting edge without needing a hipster beard to enjoy. Stop in at Proof and say hi to Jenny behind the bar. She’ll hook you up, no worries. (www.21cmuseumhotel.com)
Crushed ice at the Monkey Wrench
It’s funny to be mentioning ice when talking about heaven (seeing as they probably need it more in hell), but that’s just geography. If heaven had an ice machine, it would discharge the sweet, sweet phenom that is crushed ice, or “White Castle Ice” as someone clarified. Margaritas never tasted as good, bourbon never sweeter. Thank you, beloved Monkey Wrench, for putting beer on the shelf for me. It’s soft yet crunchy. Melts in your mouth as well as your hands. Tastes great and is less filling. (www.myspace.com/monkeywrench1)
Smoking ordinance = more patios
Even fish drink outside. (Think about it.) When the smoking ban passed last year, bar owners first threw a fit, then bitched about it, then formed a coalition to overturn it, then called a truce. If customers weren’t allowed to inhale inside, where were they going to go? Home? Mall parking lots? Southern Indiana? No, we learned, they’re just going to step outside — so build ’em a deck already! Drinking outside has never been better or more readily available. Hell, even Freddie’s invested in a plastic table and chairs. It’s a win-win … now let’s invest in some heat lamps for the winter.
The influx of bison burgers
Bison is leaner. Bison is local. The bison burger is quite the rage around these here parts — quite possibly the trendiest thing to have on a menu since fried green tomatoes or white chili. Most local eateries get their bison from the Kentucky Bison Company. At a mere dollar or two more than the old-school cow burger, the bison burger, it seems, is here to stay. And you thought we settlers killed them off … (www.kybisonco.com)
The influx of wi-fi spots
What would we have done without wi-fi during the recent city twister? I couldn’t possibly go more than four hours without MySpace stalking or making a move on Facebook’s WordScraper. Metro government is big on keeping this Mecca plugged in, which actually means less plugging in and more free Internet for all. On the city’s hotspot page (www.louisvillehotspot.com), the mayor proclaims, “Our goal is to make it easy for you to find or become a wireless hotspot.” The site lists, by region, all businesses that offer free wireless to customers. I could be using it right now — you’ll never know.
MAT HERRON, music editor
Grab Your Heine
We like coffee in this town as much as we like bourbon (the former follows the latter, weekend after weekend). The formidable coffee operation that is Heine Bros. is in full boom (a page from the Starbucks playbook?). With a new location at Gardiner Lane Shopping Center making Heine No. 5, Java Brewing Co. not too far behind with three, and Nimbus Couzin’s operation Ray’s Monkey House debuting on Bardstown Road, a culture of caffeine is thriving — sans ’bucks. (www.heinebroscoffee.com)
Ten years later, Noise Pollution founders Brandon Skipworth and Nathan Smallwood are proving that documenting Louisville’s closeknit independent rock scene is the rule, not the exception. In September alone, the label dropped three distinct releases in our fickle paws: Minnow, Lucky Pineapple and Venus Trap. Louisville Lip founder Shawn Severs celebrated the label’s fifth anniversary recently, throwing a triple-record release show for Rude Weirdo, Trophy Wives and Boxmaker. Known for breadth and eclecticism, these two labels, through no small amount of elbow grease, ensure that our reputation for off-kilter original music doesn’t deteriorate anytime soon. (www.louisvillenoise.com)
Since its splash with Slint’s reunion show in 2005, the locally owned and operated Production Simple Concerts & Events hasn’t looked back, often assuming great risk by bringing the hippest bands to town: Arcade Fire, LCD Soundsystem, Okkervil River, The Decemberists, oh, and engineering the 10,000-strong My Morning Jacket Waterfront Park concert. (www.productionsimple.com)
Jamie Prott’s all-ages operation Skull Alley has established itself, in short order, as another venue for cathartic, live rock shows. Brothers & Sisters, Ben Nichols of Lucero, and Thao With The Get Down Stay Down have graced the stage, with plenty more to come. For all you showgoers who espouse the pervasive myth that rock and booze absolutely must go together, they’re getting their alcohol license in a few months. (www.skullalley.net)
Off the record
DJ Marion Dries’ show asks those involved with the music scene here what their favorite songs are, and offers a conversational platform on which to discuss them. Right right, right right. (www.wfpk.org)
Round and round
Kinda corporate, yes, but when it’s Friday night an hour before the gig, and you need picks, drumsticks, strings and other minutiae, it’s nice to know Music Go Round is open until 8 p.m. A few gems lie in the PA and sound departments, and the fact that you can sell any number of old instruments is a plus. Fair warning: The good gear at this place is usually snatched up as quickly as it’s dropped off. (www.musicgoround.com)
Would you have the balls to host a festival that might not be here next year? I didn’t think so. Although its financial success was debatable, Terrastock’s experimental vibe showed that Erica Rucker and her pals were not willing to insult her audience, giving eclectic, uncompromising and even unnoticed talent a place to shine. (www.terrascope.co.uk)
During the week, this is a fast-action dining room trading in Italian fare, but Pesto’s really flexes its culinary chops on weekends. If there is a heaven, it’s got a plate of soltani waiting for me to inhale. I used to work for owner Essie Chitsez and have consumed his plates of Persian paradise on Friday nights, Saturday afternoons and Saturday evenings for years. The portions are substantial, and, hovering around $12-$18 a plate, worth every penny. His basmati rice is the best in the city, and guaranteed to cancel your afternoon productivity while your insides marinate in bliss. (www.pestositalian.com)
Folk you, too
Retail might struggle at the Mellwood Arts & Entertainment Center, but Scott Scarboro’s Good Folk Fest threw a coup in landing Daniel Johnston as this year’s headliner, possibly elevating this new festival, taking place Nov. 22, to a new level. (www.mellwoodartcenter.com)
“Everyone Always Thinks They Are Right” exhibit
These monstrosities in west downtown near the Waterfront are a lot more cerebral than you think. Ideas are more than two-sided, y’know. Go and ponder.
Phillip M. Bailey, staff writer
The quest to revitalize West Louisville with economic pipedreams has seen many failed ventures — remember Broadway Cinemas? This might be different. NewBridge Crossing is the new name for the 23-acre lot at 18th and Broadway (former home to Philip Morris), to be filled with a mixed development of retail, dining, business offices and condominiums, and nestled between the California and Russell neighborhoods. The new project is no panacea to West Louisville’s myriad problems, but a welcome and needed part of the solution nonetheless.
The St. James Un-Fair
For over a decade, The Un-Fair has gained notoriety for giving lesser-known, less commercial local artists with edge a venue during the annual St. James Art Fair. That’s impressive longevity in Louisville, considering how being the alternative really hits and misses in this sleepy town. For instance, LEO Weekly has settled nicely into this community, whereas Derby Cruising remained a bastard child until the city shut it down. The Un-Fair is affordable, unique and novel, something critics of St. James say that festival is losing by the year.
Once upon a time, the Parkland neighborhood featured one of Louisville’s worst open sores, the Cotter and Lang housing projects. Besides the crime, drugs and poverty, when it rained heavily the complexes would flood enough to create small swimming pools of mud and garbage. Today it is Park DuValle, one of West Louisville’s best secrets. It’s impolite and politically incorrect to say so, but sometimes gentrification works. On this occasion, scattering former residents after demolishing Cotter and Lang to create a mixed-income neighborhood was well worth it. According to data from the Kentucky State Data Center, Park DuValle showed some of the highest property value increases from 2000 to 2006.
Center for the Study of Crime and Justice in Black Communities
Homicide in Louisville’s black communities has created a response model, which thus far has been a failed mixture of prayer vigils, airbrushed T-shirts and media-savvy activists. Very little public analysis has been conducted to approach solutions to these systemic problems. Established in 2007 by U of L Pan-African Studies professor Ricky L. Jones, the Center for the Study of Crime and Justice in Black Communities (CSCJBC) plans to develop and support research projects that will examine the multifaceted causes and issues involving crime, justice and punishment. Hoping to go beyond building a community center or funding more after-school programs, the Center seeks to partner on community planning and development of public policy initiatives. (www.rickyljones.com/cscjbc.html)
Waterfront Park (east)
Hail the Large Hadron Collider for giving us the wisdom to build Waterfront Park. It’s hard to remember the days when our side of the river was a garbage dump of rusted steel and other industrial detritus, mostly because this little addition has been the ribbon our skyline needed. With new development planned for the east end of Waterfront, which will include a walkway for pedestrians to cross the Ohio River, the frisbee teams, concert promoters and hopeless romantics have something more to look forward to. Now, if we can only settle on what to do about I-64. (www.louisvillewaterfront.com)
Simmons College of Kentucky
Along with Central High School and Western Library, Simmons College, founded in 1879, is one of those great historically black institutions sitting in our backyard. For decades it was a relic, but with the Rev. Kevin Cosby at the helm as part fundraiser and part cheerleader, Simmons has crawled its way back up the academic ladder as a serious institution. During Cosby’s tenure the college has added faculty, increased enrollment and expanded courses. Given how serious the Afro-Saxons at St. Stephen Baptist Church can be about institution-building, it shouldn’t be long before this once-forgotten college returns to its former glory. (www.simmonscollegeky.edu)
Corner Store Initiative — get healthy
Food is paramount. And farmers markets, while important, are just a part of the food justice movement here in Louisville. That movement includes a number of social justice groups, like Community Farm Alliance, Urban Fresh and Grasshoppers. Earlier this year, the Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness’ Center for Health Equity enacted the first phase of its Corner Store Initiative, which hopes to encourage local small-shop owners to carry fresher, healthier foods. One of the basic lessons during our mild blackout last week was the need for fresh, locally produced food. When grocers and neighborhood corner stores were closed along West Broadway, fast food restaurants overflowed. Shouldn’t this bother us?
African-American Heritage Center
“There are black people in Kentucky?” It’s a question I often get when traveling outside the Bluegrass. It was during Gov. Paul Patton’s term when plans were first announced to build a center that would trace and highlight the erased history of black Kentuckians. Since then, it has been a sad saga in which the project has switched off again, on again, off again. This year is the best hope for the project, now that the state’s audit has vindicated the center’s management. Gov. Steve Beshear said $5.5 million has been secured to finish the project. Someday. Maybe. Hopefully? (www.kcaah.org)
On occasion, thinking is appreciated. Annually, we in Louisville pause to talk about innovative ideas for a week with thinkers from around the globe. It should be a more common practice in a city that desperately needs to think outside itself — whether it’s bridges or graffiti walls. It hasn’t gotten the attention of last week’s Ryder Cup or the Kentucky Derby — it’s going on right now — but one can see this becoming an important gathering. Someday. Maybe. Hopefully? (www.ideafestival.com)
Expressions of You
The fury and creativity of spoken word poetry may have dimmed on the East Coast, but it still burns bright on Saturday nights at the little coffeehouse that could. For over five years on an illuminated corner of 18th & Muhammad Ali, Expressions of You, founded by James and Camille Linton, has been a small pepper of culture in the Russell neighborhood. Their noted guests are eclectic – Mike Tyson and Cornel West both packed the house. It can be difficult for a venue to simultaneously appeal to families, house Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and entertain young adults uninterested in nightclubs, Fourth Street Live or Bardstown/Baxter. Somehow, the Lintons keep it going.