Meet Laura Petrie, an LGBTQ+ advocate in Paducah
Laura Petrie was born and raised in Western Kentucky, growing up on a horse farm about 20 minutes from Paducah. She went to college on a basketball scholarship and became a teacher, then later moved on to be a television producer and, eventually, a real estate professional.
She has been an LGBTQ+ advocate and activist her entire adult life, serving on the Kentucky Fairness Alliance (KFA) inaugural statewide Steering Committee and helping found the first “gay church” known as the Metropolitan Community Church of Paducah. She also produced “A Common Thread,” a monthly gay newsletter to help keep the local community abreast of LGBTQ+ happenings in and around the area.
In 2016, Laura founded the Cinema Systers Film Festival, the only all-lesbian film festival in the United States, which has since grown into a four-day event.
We recently caught up with Laura to talk about Paducah, her love of Kentucky and what LGBTQ+ people can expect when visiting.
For first-timers, what can they expect when they get to Paducah? Can you tell us a bit about what makes the city so special?
When you arrive in Paducah for the first time, you’ll be delighted to explore our quaint and historic downtown, which is situated at the confluence of the Tennessee and Ohio rivers. Adjacent to downtown is the historic Lower Town Arts District. Both of these areas offer unique shops, art galleries, restaurants, breweries and distilleries, gorgeous architecture and more.
What can an LGBTQ+ person expect when they come to Paducah? Will they be safe and welcomed?
In the years I have lived in Paducah, I've seen gay bars come and go, but there has always been a presence of the LGBTQ community. At one time, there were three gay bars on Broadway, the main artery of our lovely downtown. Now, there are more than just gay bars. You’ll find gay-owned restaurants, bars, hotels, B&Bs and enchanting shops sprinkled around town. The merchants and artists welcome LGBTQ folks with open hearts.
Paducah has been a safe place for our community since I became a full-time resident in the late 1980s. There have been two large-scale Pride events in the heart of downtown Paducah in recent years, bringing in thousands of participants. And the Cinema Systers Film Festival brings hundreds of lesbians to town every Memorial Day Weekend.
As a traveler, what would be your favorite accommodations when exploring Paducah?
There are many great places to stay overnight in Paducah. The 1857 Hotel is a gay-owned boutique hotel in the heart of it all. Many bed-and-breakfasts and Airbnbs are scattered around, too. If you want a more traditional stay, Holiday Inn Paducah Riverfront is one of Paducah’s newest hotels, with both river-view and city-view rooms.
Let's talk about food! What are three must-eat places in Paducah or Kentucky when we're visiting?
Artisan Kitchen in Murray, Branch Out for vegan food in Paducah and Kirchoff’s Deli & Bakery in Paducah.
Can you take us through your perfect Kentucky day?
Wake up and smell the coffee! Have a fresh brew or specialty drink at one of our local coffee shops (ETC Coffee, the 505 or ETC 2) and then have breakfast or brunch at lesbian-owned Café de Fae in historic Lower Town.
If it’s Saturday, check out the Paducah Farmer’s Market. After filling your tummy, have a walk around the wonderful art galleries in Lower Town Arts District, the oldest part of Paducah. For lunch, go to Kirchoff’s Deli for a scrumptious soup and sandwich, then go next door to Kirchoff’s Bakery for dessert.
The afternoon is a great time to visit the National Quilt Museum, a treasure of fiber art and award-winning quilts from around the globe. Paducah Beer Werks is close by and features a host of craft beers brewed on site. After a beer (or two) check out Off the Corner Art at 209 Broadway for one-of-a-kind treasures made by owner/artist Cathy McElya.
Take in the sights and sounds of the Tennessee and Ohio rivers coming together as you stroll the riverside parks. The riverfront and the floodwall murals, which feature the history of Paducah in huge paintings along the river, are beautiful ways to learn about the city. You may even see a major riverboat docked at the water’s edge. Paducah is a favorite stop for passengers on voyages up and down the river. After a rest, have dinner at any of Paducah’s fine restaurants.
The farm-to-table Freight House restaurant is owned by Top Chef runner-up Sara Bradley. Sara offers a menu of traditional Southern flavors with a modern twist. For after-dinner drinks, you will have many choices. Barrel and Bond is a bourbon-centric lounge/bar next to the riverfront, while Paducah Axe features axe-throwing as well as an outdoor bar and restaurant.
What is your absolute favorite brunch spot in Paducah?
Cafe’ de Fae!
What about your favorite hidden gem? The place or activity you do that you rarely see written or spoken about?
Hotel Metropolitan is Paducah’s hidden gem! This 100+ year-old hotel was built by an African American woman in 1909 to make a space for traveling Black musicians and celebrities on the Chitlin’ Circuit. The hotel also serves as an African American Museum. Tours are by appointment only by calling (270) 443-7918. This is one of my favorites! There is so much rich history and herstory inside those walls.
What is your favorite distillery in the state?
Silent Brigade Distillery on Broadway in Paducah.
Describe your perfect romantic date in Kentucky. Where would you go and what would you do?
Let’s start with a hot or iced Chai Latte and a fresh pastry at ETC Coffee in Lower Town, then take in a museum. We’ll stroll the streets of downtown and shop for treasures along the way. The River Discovery Center is a fun place to visit if you are interested in inland waterways. You can even “steer a riverboat” in the boating simulator.
It’s time for lunch at Kirchoff’s Deli, but we’ll take the boxed lunch to the riverfront for a picnic as we listen to the natural sounds of birds and water, while watching barges and boats go by. We'll stroll along the floodwall murals filled with huge paintings of Paducah’s rich history on our way to the Farmer’s Market.
Afterwards, we’ll visit the amazing National Quilt Museum. Paducah Beer Werks is just around the corner, so let’s have a flight of their finest craft beers. There’s a huge antique store on Jefferson Street with tons of treasures a block away. If she’s up for more shopping, we can explore the historic Lower Town Arts District, Paducah’s oldest neighborhood full of art galleries, shops and grand architecture.
Then let’s grab some vegan food from Branch Out to fuel up for the evening. There may be a concert or Broadway show playing at the Carson Center or we can catch a film at Maiden Alley Cinema. The Market House Theatre is an award-winning regional theatre with live shows, too. Or let’s go for some axe-throwing at Paducah Axe.
Finally, we’ll just pick any of our local bars for a nightcap!