A photo essay from Hotel Distil in Louisville showcases the curated experiences of Autograph Collection Hotels.
Autograph Collection features boutique hotels with curated experiences and immersive design that leave a lasting impression. October 2019 brought the exciting opening of a new member in the collection: Hotel Distil, in Louisville, which channels a fascinating history to tell a compelling story.
We asked AFAR photographer Charissa Fay to travel to Louisville and capture the experiences and thoughtfully crafted details through her lens, in order to showcase the impact that the Autograph Collection leaves with every guest. Here’s her story, in words and images.
Located on historic Whiskey Row, Hotel Distil features a striking blend of historic architecture and modern Louisville lifestyle that makes a powerful impression even before checking in. Intricate, cast-iron building façades from the late 1800s line the street, evoking the spirit of a different era. But it was the façade of the hotel itself that truly transported me: It still stands from the era of the 1860s, when it served as the original location and barrel house for J.T.S. Brown and Sons. Be sure to check it out in the mornings, when the rising sun hits the street, bathing the Hotel Distil in a golden glow.
Once inside, I discovered the first of the Hotel Distil’s many intriguing juxtapositions: A very modern look and feel. Artwork and clean lines were at once surprising and soothing, while wood tones offered a subtle nod to the building’s past. I also found a harmonious symmetry in even the smallest objects, reflecting a thoughtfulness in design that made every corner of the hotel especially appealing.
The surprises continued on even the smallest journey, like from check-in desk to lobby. Here, too, subtle design elements like black metal accents and copper fixtures served as historical reminders, further elevated by a whimsical pre-Prohibition style globe chandelier. Sunlight fell on the sinuous lines of plush furniture, imbuing the room with a warming glow; even the shadows added an interesting dimension to the design, inspiring me to capture the moment. It was hard not to linger, but the intriguing blend drew me further in, calling me to explore more.
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While that warm, contemporary feel extends throughout the hotel, nods to the building’s fascinating history are always close at hand. One brilliant example: The Hotel Distil bourbon cart. Guests staying in one of Hotel Distil’s Connoisseur Suites can request a Bourbon Ambassador to bring a private cart to the room with an impressive assortment of premium bourbons. While pouring a neat bourbon or crafting one of the four signature Old Fashioned cocktails, the Bourbon Ambassador provides fun suggestions for new cocktails for you to try. (I recommend one of the hotel’s private single-barrel bourbons or a traditional Old Fashioned.) It’s a touch that, as I was discovering, truly embodies the ethos of the Hotel Distil—a nod to the past served in a modern room, with a service that’s highly personalized.
That ethos followed me wherever I traveled in the Hotel Distil: upstairs at Bitters End, which features an open-air rooftop bar, and at the Repeal bar, known for its wraparound, multi-level shelves of bourbons and whiskeys. I loved how the stunning, beautifully lit bottles created a warm glow in the room as I chatted with the bartender. The Old Fashioned he crafted for me was simply perfect.
That cocktail, however, was just the beginning of my experience with the hotel’s culinary prowess. I continued on to Repeal restaurant, Whiskey Row’s only oak-fired steakhouse. The blending of old and new in clever ways shines through here, too, starting with the wood-fired grill that’s stoked daily with reclaimed American Oak bourbon barrels. But before I got to the food, I took in the gorgeous, industrial-chic setting of the dining room—light and airy and filled with creative design details that hint at the hotel’s bourbon heritage. Among the warm subtlety of the dining room, I also discovered juxtaposition: By looking up through the skylight, I could take in the dramatic view of the building’s original façade.
I soon discovered that the oak-fired grill was not just a nod to history—it results in innovative flavors. Executive Chef Josh Carter and his team use that grill for their selectively sourced American Wagyu steaks, and it gives them and other dishes—like these diver scallops with miso-ginger cream, roasted trumpet mushrooms, and wilted spinach—a comforting, smoky appeal.
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I quickly recognized that Chef Carter’s food is as beautiful as it is delicious—plated with the same kind of craftsmanship that you’ll find everywhere in the Hotel Distil. I recommend his signature oak-fired heirloom carrots; the creamy tahini yogurt contrasts beautifully with the tangy red-wine vinaigrette and the crunch of the spicy seeds. Be sure to pair your dinner with one of Repeal’s 100+ curated bourbons.
Oak barrels aren’t just found in the kitchen, though—they make for a fully transportive experience in the hotel’s 15-person Barrel Room—a cozy, intimate space with a long communal dining table. I found myself imagining celebrating a special event with friends here or enjoying a private dinner with a bourbon tasting in the candlelit room. Its unique craftsmanship—a core signature attribute of Autograph Collection hotels—was complemented by its smart location, on an open mezzanine above Repeal restaurant. Here, you feel connected to the buzz and energy in the main dining area while indulging in a VIP setting.
Of all the creative touches I found at the Hotel Distil, though, my favorite was an event that happens every evening. I found myself back in the gorgeous lobby for a toast celebrating the end of Prohibition with (what else?) some fantastic bourbon. All guests are invited, and the gathering glows with a festive air as everyone gets to know each other. Even the timing of this mini-celebration is another example of how every detail at the Hotel Distil has been carefully thought out: Prohibition was repealed in 1933, and the toast happens nightly at 7:33…or, in military time, 19:33. Tonight, the countdown is on and excitement builds. Then everyone joins in and we toast the past while feeling grateful to be experiencing the present in such magnificent surroundings.
The moment was a perfect reflection of Hotel Distil: thoughtfully crafted and elegantly executed, while telling a story rich in history. It was a moment—and a hotel experience—I’ll never forget. Similar to my transformative experience at Hotel Distil, each of the properties in the Autograph Collection portfolio have their own expertly curated, inspiring experiences that are waiting to be uncovered.
—Photos and text by Charissa Fay
Now read an immersive tale from The Notary Hotel Autograph Collection and explore the possibilities that can come from staying at any of the Autograph Collection Hotels—where you’ll find experiences that are exactly like nothing else.
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