Somewhat arbitrarily, Tony and I decided that the five-year anniversary of our podcast, The Vice Lounge Online, fell in April 2016. We started regularly podcasting (i.e., a weekly 30-minute show) in April 2011, but we had been recording intermittently since August 2010. For a while, in those earliest days, we released a show every three weeks or so, but after 4/2011, we went weekly and never looked back.
In January, Tony had the bright idea of doing some sort of group event. Other podcasts do it — there’s the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic every autumn in Las Vegas, and 360Vegas does a springtime 360Vegas Vacation. Those events are, as they say, hella fun. So we scheduled a weekend in Louisville, KY to get the best of all worlds — a bit of casino gaming, a bit of premium cigars and a bit of fine adult beverages.
I don’t know if Tony and I will do something like this regularly, or if maybe we’ll do something in partnership with other groups (lookin’ at you, Denton Dallas and Beyond). But what I do know is that we had a ton of fun this year in Louisville and we’re extremely grateful to all the folks who turned out:
- Roux, Edwin, Sparkles and Ryan from Texas
- Alastair from the U.K.
- Ryan and Becky from California
- Andrew from Indiana
- Bogan from South Carolina
- Mark from Tennessee
- Jason, Tony, Jen and Jeff from Michigan
My trip diary follows.
Thursday, March 31
I didn’t leave Grand Rapids until 4 p.m. — I left the office later than I hoped and I also desperately needed to stop for an oil change. For the most part, the drive was fine. OnStar routed me somewhat oddly, sending me all the way to Lansing on I-96E to catch I-69S to Indianapolis then I-65E to Louisville. By the time I hit Indy, torrential rains with lightning had swept into the area. At times, traffic slowed to less than 50 mph and I had to use the fast setting on my wipers. I half-expected to be pelted with frogs and locusts at some point.
By 11 p.m., I arrived in Elizabeth, IN at the Horseshoe Southern Indiana casino. I’ve been at HSI before; this “”riverboat”” on the Ohio River was my first major destination casino trip with Tony. My first time out, I hit a royal flush at video poker. This time, I managed to lose only $60. Not bad, all things considered. I think we were engaging in not-quite-subdued revelry until around 2 a.m., mostly just ambling around the casino. At one point, we (me, Tony, Alastair, Jeff, Mark and Andrew) settled around a $5 blackjack table for a while. I bought in for just $40 but managed to last long enough that the pit boss wrote each of us a comp for the casino cafe — my first ever table-game comp slip!
Friday, April 1
We left HSI and decamped directly for the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, KY. The incursion into central Kentucky lasted a full 90 minutes — lots of driving on this trip. We took the hour-long tour, seeing such things as the vats of fermenting mash, one of the barrel houses and the tasting room. We got to sample some stuff, and I ended up buying a bottle of Maker’s 46 Cask Strength, which you can only buy at the distillery at present. (It’s not on the open market.)
On the way from Loretto to Louisville, we stopped twice in Bardstown — once at the Willett Distillery (I bought the Willett Pot Still Reserve, a well-regarded bourbon), and again at Mammy’s Kitchen for a tasty Hot Brown. Bardstown looks like a lovely little town that would be worth spending the night at, just to take in the local sights.
When we sauntered into Louisville proper, I bee-lined it for Galt House. I checked in, then most of the party assembled at Jocky Silk’s Bourbon Bar (or, as Tony memorably put it, “”Silky Jocks””).
After a cocktail or two there — I sampled the Noah’s Mill, a small batch bourbon made at Willett — we ambled over to Doc Crow’s for dinner. The food was mostly good (I had a beef chili that was awesome, but my brisket sandwich was not well-prepared, according to Lord Roux of House Brisket) yet the service was horrible. Everything was slow and no one’s bill was 100-percent correct. Frustrating. In fact, the commentary throughout the trip was the slow and uneven quality of service at bars and restaurants in the downtown Louisville area.
Dinner having been consumed, we went to Down One Bourbon Bar, where service was also hideously slow. After a single cocktail, the group split up. I went with the Texas Delegation (sans Sparkles, who retired for the evening) to Bourbon Raw, a bourbon-bar-slash-restaurant on Fourth Street Live. (FSL is kind of like a mini version of the Fremont Street Experience in Las Vegas — a blocked-off stretch of road with music and a canopy.) Whilst at Bourbon Raw, we enjoyed lovely cigars; I’m grateful to the Texans for providing me with a Diesel Uncut. We had drinks and smoked under the canopy until 1 a.m.
Saturday, April 2
Wake up. Get showered. Run like a demon to get checked out an on the road, because we had an 11 a.m. tour at Woodford Reserve scheduled and the location was an hour away from Louisville. I wolfed down a McGriddle on the road.
The tour of Woodford Reserve, however, was quite nice. We had headphones and a shuttle bus. The highlights of the tour were similar to Maker’s Mark, although at WR, we got to see the copper stills (they’re the only U.S. bourbon producer doing triple-distilled whiskey in copper pot stills) and also the barrel run. The facility is old; parts of it date from the early 19th century. This tour was a bit more “”corporate”” than Maker’s Mark, but it was no less enjoyable for it. And the last five miles of the journey to the distillery snaked us through working stud farms. Foaling season!
After the tour we returned to Louisville. The group enjoyed a late brunch at Bourbon Raw — and despite the friendly-but-slow service, the “”chicken”” part of my “”chicken and waffles”” was the best-prepared poultry I think I’ve ever enjoyed. Paired it with a Manhattan as well as a dram of Hirsch bourbon.
I chatted with the Texans again, outside. They enjoyed cigars while I nursed my Hirsch. The breeze had picked up, though, and temps began to fall. After a while, I said goodbyes and at 4 p.m. on the nose, I drove away from Louisville, with just a single stop around Muncie for fuel.
Two things of note on the return drive: First, the wind was horrid and on I-69, just south of Ft. Wayne, a truck had blown over and blocked both southbound lanes, causing the northbound lanes to back up from all the rubbernecking. Then, we had pockets of snow. Wasn’t bad until I hit Coldwater, MI and experienced white-out conditions with visibility less than 200 feet in places. OnStar had routed me from I-69 to I-94 to US-131. The stretch of I-94 between I-69 and the eastern approaches of Kalamazoo were treacherous, with probably a dozen spin-outs and accidents in a 25-mile span of highway. I arrived home around 10:15 p.m. The cats were delighted.
This was a fun trip. It’s really quite humbling to have made so many friends through podcasting that you can get 14 people from all across the northern hemisphere into a little town in the central U.S. for a vacation weekend. When I think about it, the fact that we have so many listeners (our show earns several thousand downloads per week from our server alone) and a vibrant social-media community on Twitter and Facebook is something remarkable.
And to get people to congregate in Louisville just for the heck of it? Wow.
We started VLO a half-decade ago on something of a whim. Tony had started listening to podcasts and became enamored with Five Hundy by Midnight. We figured we could try a podcast, too. And although it took a while for things to take off, we’re now reaping the rewards: Deeper knowledge of cigars, a more refined palate for premium spirits, comfort at knowing the right things to do at the casino. Our show isn’t going to resonate for everyone, but the fact that we have made so many friends through this podcast — well, again. Humbling.
Thanks to everyone who turned out in Louisville, and to the many others on social media who joined us in spirit. Your support and friendship mean the world to us.