Being the burger lover that I am, I love to try different local burger places when I’m in other cities, so when I saw a local chain called Home Run Burgers on my Yelp app while in Louisville, I made a point of trying it. As one might expect, Home Run Burgers has a baseball theme, perhaps reflecting on Louisville’s history of producing the Louisville Slugger baseball bats, but the menu greatly resembles Five Guys, both in offerings and in price. Burgers come with two patties standard, and the one-patty burgers are smaller “juniors”. But there are more menu options at Home Run, and I liked my burger better. The patties seemed thicker and juicier, and the prices weren’t bad either. Altogether satisfying.
At a time when record stores seem to close every other day (including the high-profile end of Louisville’s Ear-X-Tacy), it’s always thrilling when a new store opens, so the reopening of Better Days Records on Bardstown Road truly was one of the city’s better days indeed. Of course the more rap, blues and soul oriented Better Days West in the West End had remained open all along, but the new store in Bardstown features a good selection of vinyl and used CD’s, as well as local releases. Both locations are definitely worth a visit.
Cincinnati’s Sugar N Spice Restaurant is not a place you can easily ignore as you drive past. Brilliant, tropical colors and unusual statues and decorations suggest a sort of bizarre food-themed amusement park, and in that regard, the place reminds me of Louisville’s Lynn Paradise Cafe. But, Sugar N Spice has been around for 70 years, satisfying Cincinnati’s desire for great breakfasts and their signature wispy-thin pancakes. Although the place seems crowded, there wasn’t much of a wait the day I went, and service was attentive. I didn’t try the wispy-thin pancakes, but my bacon-cheese omelette was delicious, and so big that it was almost too much to eat. Definitely recommended.
I checked out of the Kingsgate Resort, and ate breakfast at a First Watch near Florence, Kentucky so I would already be on that side of the river to head out for Louisville.
I arrived at the Coconuts Music at the Summit in Louisville a little too early, and they weren’t open yet, but there were already people waiting for the store to open so that they could buy Michael Jackson CDs because he had died yesterday. People couldn’t seem to talk of anything else.
At Ear X-Tacy, one of the local TV stations had set up cameras and was interviewing customers and store employes. Better Days Records had experienced a run on Michael Jackson albums and had completely run out. After a stop by the FYE in Jefferson Mall, I headed east toward Lexington.
The promotional runs to record stores there took longer than I had intended, so it was about 7 PM before I was able to head out toward Cincinnati. I decided to go straight to my hotel, The Westin, and get parked and checked in, which all went much easier than I had feared. The hotel sat directly across from Fountain Square, and there was some sort of festival going on in the square with food vendors, beer and a live band on stage. I walked over there and checked out the happenings for a minute, then ventured into the Rock Bottom Brewery for a late dinner. The hot weather had brought a large crowd into the nearby Graeter’s Ice Cream, but I decided I really didn’t want ice cream, so I walked around downtown for a bit, passing the Contemporary Art center and a trendy bar called Nada, stumbling upon a new restaurant called Bootsy’s, named for Bootsy Collins and featuring a cool exhibit of King Records and Bootsy Collins memorabilia. They were a sushi place however, and didn’t seem to have much of a dessert menu, so I kept walking until I came to a Starbucks that was still open, where I got a latte.
The bands were still playing in the square, and I thought about going to the Blue Wisp Jazz Club, but decided not to, and went upstairs to my room and to bed instead.
Headed to breakfast at Wild Eggs, which always has a waiting line, no matter what day or time, and then went by Ear X-Tacy, where they were playing a CD that sounded like a Motown reissue, but which proved to be Raphael Saadiq’s most recent album The Way I See It. I was so impressed with it that I had to buy it. I didn’t find anything this time at Underground Sounds, and after that, I headed back to Memphis.
Tucker’s Restaurant was in a rough-and-tumble ‘hood called Over The Rhine, and the endless blocks of vacant board-ups was anything but reassuring as I parked my car on a nearby side street and walked to the restaurant. Inside, though, the place was a bustle of activity, with yuppies and street entrepreneurs alike starting a bright, blue Sunday morning with coffee, bacon, eggs and pancakes. After breakfast, I got in touch with Abdullah, who agreed to meet me at Sitwell’s Coffee Bar near the University of Cincinnati campus. Always a fan of Edith Sitwell’s Facade, I was somewhat amazed and thrilled to be sitting in a coffeehouse named for her. Abdullah met me there with another partner of his, and we hung out there talking for awhile, and then I headed over to Shake It Records again, where I bought the Jamie Liddell album that contained the song I had heard the night before in Rookwood Pavilion, and a King Records retrospective CD. The weather was anything but pretty when I headed out from Cincinnati toward Louisville, but the trip only took and hour and a half. I checked into the Hampton Inn where my room was, and then walked a couple of blocks down to the conference, which was being held at a nightclub. After the panel discussion I was on had ended, I drove across the bridge to Jeffersonville, Indiana to the Longhorn Steakhouse for a late dinner, and then stopped by the Highland Coffee Company on Bardstown Road for a coffee before heading back to the room.
On the internet, much had been made of a trendy spot called Wild Eggs on Dutchman’s Lane in Louisville, so I drove out there after checking out of the hotel, and ate breakfast there, noticing the dramatic glass case full of eggs of various sizes, shapes and colors. The restaurant was very crowded, but I managed to park and find a table, and the breakfast was quite good. I then drove out to the West End to leave Haystak posters at Better Days Records on Broadway, and from there I drove back to the east side to visit Exclusive Wear and, I thought, Q-Ball’s. The latter store had closed, however, and I was quite sad to see it gone. My last stop was in Jeffersonville, Indiana at LB’s Music & More, but they weren’t open yet, so I left some promotional items in their mailbox. I got a fairly early start out of Louisville heading toward Lexington, and with no record stores between the two cities, I saw no reason to stop. My hotel in Lexington was actually the Marriott Griffin Gate Resort, and was by far the most impressive and luxurious of the hotels on my trip so far. There was a golf course, a restaurant in a 19th-century house, an indoor pool, an outdoor pool, tennis courts and a basketball court. After checking in, I headed through downtown to The Album, where I was surprised to find a lot of African LPs and Black gospel LPs, which I purchased. Practically next door to The Album was CD Central, which doesn’t always carry rap but does carry Haystak, so I left them some posters and postcards. After I visited the two Muzic Shoppe locations with materials, I headed out to Lexington Green, but there I learned that the Disc Jockey store, the last in that once-venerable Owensboro chain, was now closed. I had discovered that there was a restaurant and marina called Riptide on the Kentucky River south of Lexington, so I drove out Old Richmond Road to the spot, and it was on a lovely spot between two bridges on the riverfront. However, I was soon concerned when I learned that the restaurant was out of filet mignon. I had to settle for the New York Strip, but it was very good. I learned that the restaurant was more of a bar and club at night, and while I ate, employes were stringing up lights outside over a sandy beach area in front of the outdoor stage where a duo was playing and singing country music. There was an outdoor bar as well directly beside the river. After I drove the 20 miles back into Lexington, I stopped at Common Grounds Coffee House on High Street and had a dessert and coffee. Despite being a college town, Lexington can be boring at night, as I had learned on a previous trip. There were no rap clubs, no jazz clubs, and my hotel was the type of place where a lot of rich retired people were vacationing, so I checked the iPhone to see what was going on in Cincinnati, only an hour to the north, and found that there was a Reds game, with tickets as inexpensive as $20. I had not been to a major league baseball game since I was little, so I decided to make the hour drive north on I-75 to Cincinnati. As I expected there was plenty of parking, but, after parking, I found myself somewhat confused, for there was some sort of football game going on in Paul Brown Stadium, a high-school game or jamboree, probably, although it seemed early in the month for high school sports. I was tempted to go there instead for a minute, but finally, I walked the opposite direction toward the Great American Ballpark, which is exactly that, bought a ticket and headed into the very crowded game. Unfortunately, the Reds didn’t do very well, but I soon learned that the game was to be followed by a fireworks display over the stadium and the Ohio River. Long before the game was over, I could hear and catch glimpses of another fireworks show coming from over on the Kentucky side, Covington perhaps. The fireworks on our side of the river were dazzling as well, and then I walked out into the street to head back toward my car, listening to the hypnotic cadence funk of several young Black marching band drummers, mixed with the boom of nearby African drumming, all playing for tips from the sports fans walking past on their way home. I thought about cities like Cincinnati, how they have a soul, culture and personality all their own, and, looking up at the dazzling skyline, I wondered if there was something to get into. I debated heading over to the Blue Wisp Jazz Club, but the last time I had been there, the musicians quit playing at midnight, and it was nearly midnight now, so I drove back across the bridge into Kentucky. At Florence, with some difficulty, I found a Starbucks that was still open, and I drank a latte to keep myself awake on the 70 minute drive back to my hotel. Although I turned the lights out and went to bed, I was amazed to hear voices and the pounding of a basketball from outside my window. Looking out, I saw that a pickup game was in full action out on the court at about 1 AM, and it still was when I awakened at about 2AM. I don’t know when it broke up, but the next time I awakened, the court was dark and silent. The Griffin Gate is known as a golf resort, but it’s a streetballers dream as well.