Dog Friendly Travel for Whisky Lovers
May 24, 2023 –––––– Larry Olmsted
Some people love whisky, but most everyone loves dogs, and when vacation time comes, nowadays people are increasingly inclined to bring along the family pooch. Indeed, demand for dog travel is so high these days that many hotels, restaurants, and attractions that once catered only to humans have opened their doors to pets. The trend fueled the recent record use of private jets, and NetJets now even provides its staff with canine training. But you don’t need a private jet to have a great vacation with your best buddy in Kentucky, where the nation’s richest whiskey culture offers an extraordinary level of dog-friendly amenities. Call it Southern hospitality, canine-style.
Welcome to Louisville! Start your trip in Kentucky’s biggest city with a visit to something few other cities boast: a “dog park bar.” PG&J is a full-blown, indoor/outdoor off-leash dog park and bar, and like all the best fur-friendly spots, it’s named for dogs (Paco, Ginnie, and J Roddy). It’s huge, with an open pavilion, covered and uncovered picnic tables, and high tops made of old bourbon barrels. There’s an actual dog park with an agility course and kiddie pools, but dogs are allowed everywhere, even bellying up to the bar. The focus is craft beers, with a dozen on tap, but they have a basic selection of local bourbons, Tennessee, and Irish whiskeys, and all the signature “pup-tails” are named for canine regulars. Hank’s Good Boy Old Fashioned uses Four Roses bourbon with simple syrup and orange and chocolate bitters (day passes are $10, and since they require proof of your pup’s vaccinations, out-of-town visitors have to pre-register online). If that were the only dog park bar in town it would be impressive, but there’s also Club K9 Dog Bar, with a 1½ acre fenced run, separate small-dog play area, splash pool, human food trucks, 7,000-square feet of leash-free indoor space, and of course, a full-service bar (same day pass and vaccination policies as PG&J).
But you don’t need to go off-leashing to enjoy whiskey with your pup. Louisville has many options, and the best are clustered around downtown’s historic Whiskey Row, the touristic heart of the city, home to distilleries or visitor centers from Rabbit Hole, Angel’s Envy, Kentucky Peerless, Evan Williams, Michter’s, and Old Forester. Whiskey Row also has the two year old Hotel Distil, part of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, boutique properties that don’t fit cookie-cutter brands. Check-in with your dog, who gets a stuffed bourbon bottle dog toy and dog bed crafted out of a barrel. Distil has a great open-air second-floor patio bar, and while its standout restaurant, Repeal Oak Fired Steakhouse, won’t accommodate your dog, it’s worth ordering room service. It’s a place where meat is cooked over a fire of bourbon barrel staves, and while that sounds gimmicky, the steaks are amazing and accompanied by a lengthy whiskey list.
Frank’s Whiskey Place is another recent addition to downtown, just a two-minute walk from Hotel Distil. It looks like a regular neighborhood bar in the middle of a block of storefronts, but there’s a cartoon dog in its logo—always a good sign—and it’s named for the owner’s puppy. The weekly highlight is Tail Wagging Tuesday, a local shelter fundraiser with a dog food truck, drink specials, and giveaways (human and canine), but dogs are always welcome and Frank’s has live music and likes to showcase distilleries within walking distance. There’s a more extensive whiskey selection at Down One Bourbon Bar, also two minutes away. Down One allows dogs, has indoor and outdoor seating, and is a modern full-service restaurant featuring tacos and Southern-influenced bar comfort foods. Behind the bar is floor-to-ceiling whiskey, with rarities displayed on chalkboards. The list has 120-plus choices, including all the local bourbons and lots of harder-to-find pours like King of Kentucky, Weller Craft Your Perfect Bourbon, and George T. Stagg. Its draft Old Fashioned uses Four Roses, and there are also several tasting flights and private barrel bottlings.
If you want to shop for a bottle with your pup by your side, Vines Wine Bar & Spirits Shop is wildly popular with locals because it welcomes dogs, inside and out—their Facebook name is @vinesandcanines. Wines are available to enjoy by the glass or bottle, as well as a small but nicely curated slate of bourbons by the glass, cocktails, and retail sales.
By this point you’ll be hungry, and the city’s latest dog-friendly hotspot just opened late last year in the Paristown arts & entertainment district not far from downtown. The Village Market Food Hall has four lunch and dinner restaurant concepts, craft donuts for breakfast, and a large bar servicing inside and outdoor spaces, often accompanied by live music. It’s open seven days a week, welcomes pets (outdoor seating abuts a public garden), and dining options are all satellites of popular area eateries including Bunz Burgerz, beloved for grilled smashed burgers; Ramble, a modern fried chicken sandwich spot with global flavors; Sarap Filipino Eatery, Louisville’s only Filipino restaurant and parent of the city’s award-winning, number- one rated food truck; and Tacorito, featuring tacos, burritos, and bowls. If you prefer a more traditional sit-down, full-service dinner, check out the pet-friendly patio at North of Bourbon, a mashup of Kentucky and New Orleans cuisine with nearly 150 Kentucky bourbons, a couple of dozen “Not Kentucky” bourbons, around 50 ryes, and several barrel picks. The list tops out with Willet Barrel 1562 19 year old at $200 an ounce, but there are dozens of $5-6 options.
Fuel up at Morning Fork, a local hotspot with a dog-friendly patio that serves “Sunday brunch” Wednesday through Sunday, with all of your brunch favorites like crepes and eggs benedict. Then hit the Kentucky Bourbon Trail’s mapped routes of distillery visits. There are options in every corner of the state, but the heart of it all is the 76-mile stretch between Louisville and Lexington.
Most distilleries with tours allow dogs on the grounds and in the gift shop. Woodford Reserve in Versailles is popular and even sells logo dog collars, while Wild Turkey in Lawrenceburg has extensive grounds that dogs can enjoy. But the all-star canine highlight is Buffalo Trace in Frankfort, one of the few distilleries where dogs can join you on guided tours—in this case, the Trace Tour (though they have to skip the stop in the Blanton’s Bottling Hall). The Welcome Center staff hands out dog treats, and leashes, collars, and dog toys are available in the gift shop, along with a book showcasing Kentucky’s distillery dogs called “Bourbon Tails.”
In Bardstown, Heaven Hill allows leashed dogs on its expansive property, as does Maker’s Mark in Loretto. And while Bardstown is most famous for bourbon, it is also home to the 16,140-acre Bernheim Research Forest & Arboretum, a non-profit forest dedicated to conservation and education, best known for its enormous “Forest Giants in a Giant Forest” sculptures. It contains more than 40 miles of beautiful well-marked trails, open to leashed dogs (suggested $10 per car donation).
When you get to Lexington, head straight to the Distillery District, a 25-acre dog-friendly campus on the location of the 1879 James E. Pepper Distillery. Closed in 1958, the industrial site lay abandoned for half a century before a massive 2008 renovation project. It now has two working distilleries, bars, restaurants, shops, and outdoor niceties like bocce courts. The Pepper distillery is back in business, alongside Barrel House Distilling, and both have tours (humans only), while most of the dining and drinking spots have pet-friendly outdoor seating. Both the on-site craft brewery, Ethereal, and cidery, Wise Bird Cider, welcome dogs. The plant’s old train station has been turned into a live music venue surrounded by food trucks and fire pits, and there are two doggy daycare and grooming facilities.
Another good Lexington food and drink option is West Sixth Brewing, a local taproom that welcomes dogs in its spacious beer garden and serves food from next-door neighbor Smithtown Seafood—think fish and chips and Southern specialties like shrimp and grits, Kentucky catfish, Gulf oysters and fried shrimp.
Tonight, splurge with a stay at Lexington’s best—and most pet-friendly—lodging, 21c Museum Hotel, filled with art and home to a deep bourbon list. Its Lockbox restaurant is excellent, with locally sourced gourmet Southern-inspired cuisine and 24-hour room service. The bar has one of the city’s most popular Old Fashioneds—using Old Forester and secret ingredient parsley syrup—as well as flights, including one of its four private barrel selections (Woodford, Maker’s, Rebel, and New Riff ).
If you can, make it a three-day weekend. Before leaving town, make a quick stop at the famous Keeneland Racetrack, a National Historic Landmark, one of the most iconic classic horse racing venues in the world and 2022 Breeder’s Cup host. Lexington is the world epicenter of thoroughbred breeding, and Keeneland its crown jewel, opened in 1936 and akin to Wrigley Field for baseball fans. Dogs are not welcome at race time, but they are in the morning, a time absolutely beloved by locals. Self-guided walking tours of the vast grounds are open to the public and their pets daily, even when there is no racing.
If you have time to get closer to Kentucky’s borders, there are two farther-flung highlights for fans of dogs and whiskey: Covington, to the north, on the Ohio border near Cincinnati, and Paducah, in the southwest near the Illinois border and Tennessee.
Boone County Distilling outside Covington is among Kentucky’s most welcoming and allows dogs on tours, in the tasting bar, and basically, if your dog is well behaved, they have free rein of the distillery. Two Covington specialty bars welcome dogs: Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar (dogs on patio only, over 700 bourbons and 200 other American whiskeys, plus bottle shop) and Bourbon Haus 1841 (dogs are permitted inside and out, 150 bourbons, tasting flights). Libby’s Southern Comfort welcomes dogs on its patio and serves soul-satisfying gourmet versions of many traditional Southern delights, like fried chicken.
In Paducah, the unique Entertainment Destination Center is the perfect place to enjoy with your dog in tow. This 55-acre open-container area spans most of downtown and allows to-go alcohol. Dogs and their humans can stroll the streets full of local boutiques and art galleries, listen to live music, and view public art, all with an adult beverage in hand. Sixteen participating bars and restaurants serve to-go cups, including Barrel and Bond, which has one of the largest selections of bourbons and American whiskeys in the nation—over 1,400 of them.
If You Go
Dog Park Bars
Club K9 Dog Bar 9316 Taylorsville Rd., Louisville; louisvilledogbar.com
PG&J Dog Park Bar 800 Baxter Ave., Louisville; pgjdogbar.com
Bars & Restaurants
Barrel and Bond 100 Broadway, Paducah; barrelandbond.com
Bourbon Haus 1841 522 Main St., Covington; bourbonhaus1841.com
Down One Bourbon Bar 321 W. Main St., Louisville; downonebourbonbar.com
Frank’s Whiskey Place 3331 E. Market St., Louisville; (502)333-0738
Libby’s Southern Comfort 35 W. 8th St., Covington; libbyssoutherncomfort.com
Morning Fork 1722 Frankfort Ave., Louisville; morningforklouisville.com
North of Bourbon 935 Goss Ave., Louisville; northofbourbon.com
Old Kentucky Bourbon Bar 629 Main St., Covington; oldkybourbonbar.com
Smithtown Seafood at W. Sixth Brewing; smithtownseafood.com
Village Market Food Hall 712 Brent St., Louisville; villagemarketfoodhall.com
West Sixth Brewing 501 W. Sixth St., Lexington; westsixth.com/Lexington
Vines Wine Bar & Spirits Shop 1985 Douglass Blvd., Louisville; (502)409-5141
21c Museum Hotel 167 W. Main St., Lexington; 21cmuseumhotels.com
Hotel Distil 101 West Mian St., Louisville; hoteldistil.com
Boone County Distilling 10601 Toebben Dr., Boone County; boonedistilling.com
Buffalo Trace 113 Great Buffalo Trace, Frankfort; buffalotracedistillery.com
Bernheim Research Forest & Arboretum 2075 Clermont Rd., Clermont; bernheim.org
Distillery District 1170 Manchester St., Lexington; lexingtondistillerydistrict.com
Keeneland Racetrack 4201 Versailles Rd., Lexington; keeneland.com
Dog-Friendly Venues for Whisky-Lovers Across the U.S.
Inn By The Sea, Cape Elizabeth, Maine
The gold standard—This resort just outside Portland offers canine fine-dining options, waiter served treats (and cocktails) at Adirondack chairs on the lawn, and dogs are welcome at the indoor bar. A “house dog” adoption program has placed more than 150 shelter pets with guests. innbythesea.com
Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch, Avon, Colorado
The pioneer of the house “ambassadog” concept to greet visitors, this hotel at the Beaver Creek Resort has welcomed pets since it opened in 2002. Up to two pets are welcome in your room or suite, a local dog camp offers daily activities and grooming, and Beaver Creek is a very dog-centric village. ritzcarlton.com
Camp Long Creek at Big Cedar Lodge, Ridgedale, Missouri
Big Cedar Lodge is the fantasy project of billionaire Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, and this Ozarks wonderland features five golf courses, awesome fishing, and a private nature park, set on a 43,000-acre lake. Camp Long Creek is its glamping resort, right on the water, with a marina, cabins, luxury tents, and even a dog park. bigcedar.com
The Cottages, Nantucket, Massachusetts
An oasis of outdoor tranquility, Nantucket is an extremely dog-friendly island, with beaches, parks, and preserves allowing off-leash access, dog-focused stores, outdoor eateries—even the public buses allow dogs. The canine-welcoming Cottages at Nantucket Boat Basin sit on piers at the main waterfront, within walking distance from the ferries, with dog beds, bowls, turn-down treats, and personalized dog tags with hotel information for added safety. thecottagesnantucket.com
The Umstead Hotel & Spa, Raleigh, North Carolina
On a private lake with 12 acres of gardens just minutes from downtown Raleigh, The Umstead is an art-filled Southern escape with exceptional dining, spa, and Dog Woods, an enclosed dog park. theumstead.com
Montage Palmetto Bluff, Bluffton, South Carolina
Just off Hilton Head, four resident dogs anchor a Canine Ambassadors Program that includes a room service pet menu and custom-baked welcome treats (minty oat cookies and sweet potato chews), plus there are miles of dog-friendly trails on 20,000 acres. montagehotels.com
Cypress Inn, Carmel, California
Carmel is often rated America’s most dog-friendly town, and this inn is a legend once owned by a legend—Doris Day, Hollywood starlet turned lifelong pet advocate. You and your dog can enjoy the interior courtyard, featuring dining with a 1920s to 1940s classic cocktail specialty bar, outdoor showers for dogs coming from the beach, and easy access to streets lined with pet-friendly shops and galleries. cypress-inn.com
Kimpton Hotels & Resorts, Anywhere
Most hotel chains have varying pet policies by location or limit dogs by weight, but Kimpton is by far the most pet-friendly chain. Dogs can stay at all properties, from urban hotels to ski and beach resorts, with no extra fees and no size or quantity limits. Treats, dog beds, and toys are provided, and for road trips, there is no easier or more hassle-free way to plan vacation stays with pets. ihg.com/kimptonhotels/hotels
Wet Dog Tavern, Washington, D.C.
Named for the owner’s late golden retriever, this spot proudly claims to be D.C.’s first “pet-friendly bar garden.” It hosts a lot of canine-cause fundraisers, and it has a small but well-curated whisky list with everything from WhistlePig rye to Eagle Rare and Blanton’s; even Macallan Rare Cask. wetdogdc.com
The Tchoup Yard Patio Bar, New Orleans
Tchoup doesn’t have a great whisky list, but it’s in New Orleans, it has a huge outdoor area that welcomes dogs, and it’s fun and packed with locals, so choose hometown hero Sazerac rye or a premium standard like Maker’s, Knob Creek, or Buffalo Trace and find out why they call this “The City That Care Forgot.” tchoupyard.com
Ballyhoo, Buffalo, New York
Globally inspired house-made artisanal sausages (curried lamb shank, Korean short rib with kimchi, etc.) are on the sandwich menu; the drinks list is full of throwback whisky cocktails like Paper Plane, Lion’s Tail, Penicillin, and Sazerac, and there’s a very dog-friendly patio, complete with lots of Buffalo Bills gear. buffaloballyhoo.com
Whiskey Kitchen, Raleigh, North Carolina
Upscale classic Southern fare (fancy boiled peanuts, pork cracklin’ biscuits) and in addition to Irish, Scottish, Canadian, and Japanese labels, several hundred American whiskeys by category, like Kentucky bourbon, rye, corn, “deviant grainbill,” single malt, and no less than 25 North Carolina whiskeys. Oh, and a huge dog-welcoming outdoor picnic table area. whiskey.kitchen
Triple George Grill, Las Vegas
You and your pup can step back in time at this hidden gem old-school steakhouse at the Downtown Grand Hotel. Vegas has lots of classic steak joints, but only this one has outdoor sidewalk tables that allow dogs, plus daily happy hour and a throwback Rat Pack vibe. A list of several dozen whiskies is headlined by well-known scotches and bourbons, but also some surprises like Kavalan and Yellow Spot. triplegeorgegrill.com
Char Bar, Kansas City, Missouri
No food goes with whisky like barbecue, and many barbecue joints have dog-friendly outdoor seating. KC is the capital of smoked meat and Char Bar has its largest outdoor beer garden, with patio bar, bocce, cornhole, fire pits, every smoked meat imaginable, and dozens of whiskies including local options like KC’s own Westbottoms and J. Reiger, creative cocktails, and of course, picklebacks. charbarkc.com
Moontower Saloon, Austin, Texas
Like a dog park for humans—a 1950s ranch home and its lawn converted into a vast indoor/outdoor party, evoking a Caribbean beach bar. A plethora of offerings includes barbecue, nachos, burgers, food trucks, live music every weekend, and lots of adult beverages, especially on Whiskey Wednesday when all your favorites are discounted. moontowersaloon.com
The Colorado Room, Fort Collins, Colorado
A charming town, Fort Collins is wildly famous for craft beer, but this is one of many dog-friendly spots that also has whiskies and cocktails, with locals well represented—Downslope, Spring 44, and Breckenridge, among others. Serious bar food is on offer, like gourmet sliders, wings, and poutine, plus local arts and crafts for sale. thecoloradoroom.com
Still Austin, Austin, Texas
Featuring grain-to-glass distilling using Texas Hill Country grain, Still Austin makes two bourbons, a rye, and single barrels, with a dog-friendly tasting room, patio bar, food truck, and frequent live music. stillaustin.com
J.P. Trodden, Seattle
One of at least a half-dozen Seattle distilleries that allow dogs, Trodden goes the extra mile with water bowls, cookies, and the owner’s yellow lab on watch. All of its production is focused on bourbon and rye. jptrodden.com
Mad River Distillers, Burlington/Warren, Vermont
Vermont is about as dog-friendly as it gets, and Mad River allows dogs at both its Warren distillery and tasting room in Burlington, the state’s only “big” city, big being very relative. Both offer rye, bourbon, and American whiskey, and several bottled whiskey cocktails. madriverdistillers.com
Triple Eight Distillery, Nantucket, Massachusetts
Nantucket is crazy about dogs and this is its largest and most popular dog gathering venue. Triple Eight is the distillery offshoot of Cisco Brewery and Winery, all operating in one location with three separate outdoor bars featuring live music, food trucks, and daily tours. Triple Eight makes bourbon and single malt in addition to vodka, gin, and rum. ciscobrewers.com
Traverse City Whiskey Co., Traverse City, Michigan
Traverse City features bourbon, rye, and flavored whiskeys; barrel proof bourbon, rye, and wheat whiskey; and canned Highballs. The distillery dogs join tours, lots of dog gear is available in the gift shop, and there’s a dog-friendly patio. tcwhiskey.com
Rebecca Creek Distillery, San Antonio, Texas
The flagship is a Texas blended whiskey, and there are several flavored whiskeys, a pet-friendly indoor/outdoor saloon, and unique entertainment runs the gamut from live music to karaoke to bingo night. Another distillery rarity is the dog park. rebeccacreekdistillery.com
Moto Spirits, Brooklyn, New York
It’s about to get weird: Moto is adorned with antique motorcycles that makes it come across as an art gallery, welcomes dogs inside for semi-regular yappy hour events, and makes rice whiskey and a calvados-like apple spirit, both aged in bourbon barrels. motospirits.com
Ironton Distillery & Crafthouse, Denver, Colorado
The occasional dog yoga fundraisers held here for local rescues are evidence of the owners’ priorities, and its 10,000 square foot cocktail patio is “always dog-friendly.” There’s a wood-fired pizza oven, and the dough and artisan dog treats are made from spent distillery grain. Ironton produces bourbon, rye, and malt whiskeys. irontondistillery.com