Mention the name "Kentucky" to a Corvette aficionado, and the first things that usually come to mind are the factory and museum in Bowling Green. But mention that name to somebody who plays the ponies, and you'll probably hear back, "Derby"--or, from a whiskey drinker, "bourbon." All are entirely fitting responses, but on a recent visit to the museum and assembly plant, we came across several other appealing features of the Bluegrass State.
Good reason, then, to delve into them, so Corvette owners can make the most out of their pilgrimages to Bowling Green. In previous features we've touched on the National Corvette Museum's 70 or so rotating displays, most of which are on private loan--except for the permanent interment of Zora's ashes, of course. So rather than doing a retread, we'll expand our perspective a bit and highlight the surroundings. Turns out that's a common object of interest for visitors, whose ranks include about 30 Corvette clubs per year, along with numerous other car and school groups.
"When people visit the museum, one of the first things they want to do is go on a driving tour through the countryside around Bowling Green," says Roc Linkov, NCM Events Manager, who oversees the facility's "Museum in Motion" driving- tour program all over the country. (Look for a follow-up feature on an MiM drive in a future issue.) As proof, he took us out in his personal Z06 for a few brisk runs on some scenic area roads with folksy names such as Iron Bridge Lane. (Linkov has done some track instruction, so this wasn't just a walk in the park.)
Along the way, we spotted several "old Kentucky homes" that could easily have served as the subject of Stephen Foster's famous song. Proving that it's more than just a repository of static displays, the museum also rolled out a veteran '62 convertible for some top-down motoring in the area, with the NCM's Adam Boca showing the way. He relates that one of the more common happenings on a visit to the NCM is a marriage proposal--though not to him, of course. But he did follow suit when he met his future wife there, and found out she owned a '69 Corvette. "The car won me over--and then so did she," he laughs.
Rolling ribbons of smooth pavement wind through intensely blue-green pastureland, and tree-lined lanes lead over a landmark wooden-plank bridge. Bowling Green is a pleasant place to stay, with an old-time town square, craft shops, an antique district, and plenty of good eateries. A few of note include the Lodge at Barren River and the Waba barbecue, where you can grille your own choice of meat. And what Corvette cruise would be complete without a stop at the local Sonic drive-in, staffed with perky servers on roller skates who serve up rich milkshakes?
We encountered a beverage of a different sort, though, while heading northeast on the way to Louisville on I-65. After passing by cave attractions and Elizabethtown, you'll come upon signs for the Bourbon Trail. The colorful name refers not to a specific road, but rather to a list of popular distilleries, and it would require several days of driving to hit them all. (We've already put in a special requisition to our editor to make such a trip, but have yet to hear back--we suspect that he's onto our scheme.)
So we had to make do with an abbreviated route, savoring smaller amounts of this tasty caramel-colored ethanol along the way. The Jim Beam facility is fairly close to I-65, but in the interest of editorial diligence, we also went the extra distance to Heaven Hill Distilleries in Bardstown, which is said to have one of the best tours in the state (not to mention some really well-aged spirits, such as the Elijah Craig 18-Year-Old Single Barrel).
Conducting the tour was a gracious and knowledgeable, silver-haired matron who admits to an occasional morning nip to "start the day off right." She shared several interesting factoids, such as when about half of aging bourbon evaporates in the barrel over time, that's called "the angels' portion." (With some gentle prodding, she agreed to pour another free sample of Elijah Craig for the group, so that was our "angels' portion.")
Nearby, in the little burg of Bardstown, there's a rustic stone bed-and-breakfast called The Old Talbott Tavern. There could very well be a picture of this place in the dictionary next to the word "quaint." And the comely barmaid there has more than a casual acquaintance with various brands of bourbon. The town has a quiet charm as well, and makes for a pleasant stopover when throttling down after a long, dusty drive.
But if city life is more to your liking, Louisville, located about an hour or so north, is a happenin' place--and not just for Bluegrass music. Adjacent to the waterfront, where you can board paddle-wheelers, there are all sorts of pubs and eateries, and a thriving indie music scene that plays out on a mall called "Fourth Street Live!"
The city has a calendar chock-full of events. Every July there's a three-day Forecastle Festival of music and art held at the Louisville Waterfront Park. Prior to that, in late April and early May, is the Kentucky Derby Festival, called "the biggest party in the South." Festivals are also held to celebrate the Beatles, hot-air balloons, and, you guessed it, bourbon, among many others.
Baseball fans won't want to miss the home of the Louisville Slugger. There, you can take a few practice swings in a cage, see the wooden bats being milled by hand, and get a souvenir-sized Slugger with your name on it.
Bardstown Road in the heart of the Highlands area is another cool hangout, lined with coffee shops, clothing stores, and art galleries--all locally owned and operated. Though only about a mile or so long, this strip constitutes much of the city's culture and diverse lifestyle.
Looking back on this brief-yet-savory taste of Kentucky, no visit to the Bowling Green area would be complete without a detour south of the border to Nashville--and maybe even as far west as Graceland. But we simply ran out of time on this trip, so we'll give them a shot as well on our next visit to our old Kentucky home.