Trip Report – Louisville for #VLO5

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.

Here and There and Everywhere

Sundry items of note …
Viva Lost Wages! Last month I spent three nights in Las Vegas for a little trip to celebrate the 35th birthday of Tony’s brother in law. I was comped three nights at Main Street Station and the four of us (Tony, his wife, his B-I-L and I) were occasionally joined by our friend Alasdair, a jolly chap from London. Tony and I also, finally, had the chance to enjoy a lovely aged cigar and microbrews with our friend Ted, a denizen of Sin City. The trip was a lot of fun. I flew Delta via Minneapolis and had better-than-average luck … with the airport shuttles. Gambling was a disappointment; I didn’t lose terribly much, but that’s because we spent more time playing blackjack and craps than video poker. Which, for the record: Not once the entire trip did I hit quads at VP, despite probably a dozen total hours of play and Tony’s wife hitting a royal flush and enough quads to put the Duggars to shame. Balls! But we did enjoy tasty food (Andiamo’s, Le Thai), scrumptious drinks (Laundry Room, Park on Fremont) and enjoyable sights (Mob Museum, Container Park). Most of our gaming was done at Main Street Station (3:2 pitch blackjack) or El Cortez (craps) or The D (video poker), but Tony’s coupon run meant we dropped into pretty much every casino in the vicinity of the Fremont Street Experience, including the just-closed Gold Spike and the newly opened Downtown Grand. That said, as much as downtown Las Vegas has its charms, I’m itching to return to the Strip on my next trek to The Happiest Place on Earth.
Jimmy Swap.  Three weeks ago, I had a bit of rough riding with my 1998 GMC Jimmy. Slight vibration, especially on braking. Then — bam! It suddenly started clunking like a jackhammer. The pinion in the rear differential shattered, and repairs would clock in above $1,600, which was more than I wanted to pay given I just put $900 into it in January for a starter and full inspection. Anyway, last weekend, I bought a 2000 Jimmy — black, 4WD — from a young lady and sold the old Jimmy for $450 to a mechanic. I need to get the new vehicle checked out (there’s what seems like a fuel-sensor problem that needs to be fixed) but otherwise it’s a better-than-fair trade for the net price.
On the Bus! For three days, while Old Jimmy was in the shop being diagnosed, I took the bus to work. It wasn’t a bad trek; I live close enough to the bus line that runs near my office building that I could hoof it a tiny bit and not mess around with transfers. A few co-workers saw me walking the quarter-mile stretch between work and the bus stop and asked me if I walk to work. When I mentioned that I took the bus, they reacted as if I told them I have Ebola and would like to French kiss. Granted, I’m not the kind of guy who lionizes public transportation: It takes four times longer to get anywhere and you’re at the mercy of bus schedules and you must adapt to an ever-unpredictable mix of folks who happen to be on any given coach. But still, the snobbery that disdains the occasional use of public transportation did disappoint. Everyone should know the basics of the local bus or train system within their community, even if you only need to use it once every year or so. The $3 round-trip from home to office each day was a heck of a lot more prudent than a $60 round-trip cab ride (which is what I did in January when the starter got replaced) or the daily expense of a rental car.
Publishing House. My local tribe of fellow writers is exploring whether we want to establish a micropublishing house. We got the idea from a presentation at last month’s writer’s conference. The proposal I drafted goes before the gang this Friday, so we’ll see what happens.
Isle Royale. I’m now questioning whether I’ll do the Memorial Day trip back to the island. The U.P. is still covered in dense blankets of snow and Lake Superior between Houghton and the park is pretty much solid ice; National Weather Service says “wetter and colder than normal for the foreseeable future.” That gives a northern latitude a mere month to warm up enough to make a four-night backpacking trip enjoyable. Magic Eight Ball says: Not Gonna Happen, Wouldn’t Be Prudent. I’ve been invited to Louisville for a birthday casino trip with Tony and his wife. Might do that, instead, and consider an IRNP trip later in June. They promised to take me to Churchill Downs as long as I bring my “man satchel” so Jen can fill it with empty Stella chalices. Hmm.
Easter. The Easter Vigil at St. Robert went well. Fr. Len had the whole thing wrapped up in 1:47. Rob did well — he was nervous, but he had a lot of friends and family cheering him on. I didn’t even let him fall into the baptismal font! Now that Rob’s one of Us, we’ll work on getting his voting patterns into alignment. Fascinating to see the cultural difference between St. Robert and St. Anthony; the former church is very laid back while the latter spends a lot of time on prep and rehearsal.
Cats.  The boy cat, as of last week, decided he wants to sleep on my lap, too, just like his sister. In addition to being a parrot who gets pony rides around the house while balancing on my shoulders. Silly beast.
Illness. Two weeks ago, I had the Death Flu. Not fun. I think it’s the first time I had the flu since the 1990s — thank you, mandatory healthcare-worker vaccination.
Bonaire? On Tuesday I had tasty BBQ with Jen, Dave and Tawnya. It looks like we’ve got a week in October slated for a trek to Bonaire for a diving vacation. Looking forward to it! I think we’re going to rent a condo for a week and split the rooms accordingly.

A Wee Bit of Catch-Up

Wow. Six weeks without a post? Where does the time go?
Oh, wait. I know. I goes into the giant pile of crap I have to work on — a pile that’s grown so large that even my ironclad weekly routines fell by the wayside. At least Abbi noticed.
Here’s a quick recap, in no particular order.

  • It’s October 27. That means we’re a scant five days away from the start of National Novel Writing Month. I’m really looking forward to it. I’m working on a murder-mystery set in Grand Rapids. With cults, even. (Er, um, affinity groups … sorry, Lianne.) I’m hosting a weekly Saturday morning write-in in lovely downtown G-Rap. If you join NaNoWriMo and click on the Ottawa County/Grand Rapids forums, you can get the details.
  • Last week was spent in Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. Exclusively downtown, this time. Tony and I flew out of DTW on the 17th and returned on the 20th. Our major adventure: The Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic, an annual community event hosted by the VegasTripping crowd and the Five Hundy by Midnight and Vegas Gang podcasts. We had a great time — stayed at The D Las Vegas and never even ventured onto the Strip. It helped that our good friends from Denton, Texas, were present to enliven the festivities. And we finally connected with some folks we heretofore had only known through The Twitter.
  • In early October I trekked to Louisville, Kentucky, for the annual educational conference of the National Association for Healthcare Quality. The conference was pretty good, and I networked with a lot of leaders in the industry. Met up with the Michigan delegation and spent some time getting a different take on how other organizations implement clinical improvement programs.
  • I do feel like the grim reaper at work. Dominoes three and four have fallen since my arrival. One guy is transferring to the I.T. department and another left to pursue a solo entrepreneurial project. Good for them both. Last week I had my annual review and it went well — best review I’ve had in 13 years with the company.
  • A contract client has been sending me several small but urgent projects that have thrown my schedule out of whack. I’m happy to do the work but, geez. Now y’all know why it’s been six weeks since my last blog entry.
  • I’m eagerly anticipating the coming holiday season. I’m taking two full weeks off at the Christmas holiday and I have a four-day weekend for Thanksgiving. Already planning the list of projects I’ll undertake on my 16 consecutive days off in December. Yay.
  • Looks like my dear PPQ is hosting a Halloween party next Saturday. I am already planning my costume.
  • One of my cats has taken to napping on me. It’s sweet, and fuzzy warm, but she only does it when I’m in my office, trying to type. Your words-per-minute plummet sharply when you have a pudgy orange ninja laying across your forearms.
  • I’m digging the cooler autumn air. It’s been getting into the 30s at night, so the blankets have come out.

OK, all for now. I’ll try to get back on the blogging wagon.