Kentucky is more than horses and bourbon. Yes, horses and bourbon fall at the top of the list of reasons to love the state, followed by basketball and bluegrass, but Kentucky has so much more. If you want more from your Kentucky visit than the Bourbon Trail or collecting your winnings at Keeneland, might we suggest you check out Lexington? Explore its many offerings in history, culture, beer and cuisine (okay, and a bit of bourbon and horses). Here’s an itinerary for a fun-filled weekend that will expose you to the city’s finest.
48 Hours in Lexington, Kentucky
Lunch at Smithtown Seafood
Ouita Michel’s is a well-known name around the Bluegrass. She first garnered fame for her Southern cooking at Holly Hill Inn in Midway, Kentucky, and she has since expanded her reach through four additional eateries: Wallace Station Deli, The Midway Bakery, Glenn’s Creek Café at Woodford Reserve Distillery and Smithtown Seafood (with one more on the way). Each spot is different and delicious, but all focus on sourcing local ingredients. Smithtown Seafood has an added focus on seafood. Try fish dipped in the neighboring brewery’s beer, a burger topped with Kenny’s Barren County Bleu Cheese or a salad with microgreens from FoodChain, a local nonprofit with an aquaponics farm, which is located right next door. Order at the counter and grab a spot at West Sixth Brewing, where they will deliver your lunch.
Beers at West Sixth Brewing
Formerly home to the Old Rainbo Bread, this 90,000-square-foot space, known as The Bread Box, houses Smithtown Seafood, FoodChain, Bluegrass Distillers, Broke Spoke, The Plantory, Bread Box Studio Artists, Magic Beans Coffee Roasters, the practice space for the Rollergirls of Central Kentucky and West Sixth Brewing. The four-man team behind West Sixth purchased the space for their brewing venture, have welcomed new tenants and seen the neighborhood’s growth firsthand. They are fostering a community of Lexington that is now one of the most popular for locals and visitors. You will see runners from the brewery’s running club, bikers from Pedals for a Purpose and yogis from the brewery’s weekly yoga class sipping beers alongside each other in the taproom. Join them and order a beer to wash down your lunch.
Check in to 21C Museum and Hotel
Now that you have filled up on catfish and beer, it’s time to settle into your home away from home for the next day or two. The 21C Museum and Hotel Lexington opened in early 2017, and the 88-room hotel is housed in the Fayette National Bank Building, Lexington’s first skyscraper. The space was transformed for the boutique hotel and contemporary art museum, but the history of the building was preserved.
There are six 21c Museum Hotels across the country (with two more coming soon), and each uses contemporary art to anchor the space and create a center for culture, community, hospitality and artistic expression. In addition to art installations, you will notice a few penguins (in Lexington they are blue). Head to your room, where you’ll notice the remains of the original structure and new contemporary features. Unpack, freshen up and prepare for the night ahead!
Stroll the Museum
Before heading out for the evening, check out the museum’s art collection. The galleries have rotating curated exhibits that fall under the contemporary category. Through July of this year, Hybridity: The Supernatural will be on display. The art explores “the environmental, economic and technological conditions shaping the earth and its inhabitants today.” Paintings, moving images, taxidermy and fabricated figures, photographs and sculptures fill the walls. Learn more here.
Grab a drink at The Village Idiot
A quick jaunt around the corner and down the block will land you at The Village Idiot. Although great for dinner and brunch, we recommend a drink and a quick snack, in particular, crawfish hushpuppies. Lexington’s first gastropub is housed in the city’s oldest surviving post office building and serves up everything from quality cocktails and curry to local beer, duck and waffles. Snag a seat at the bar downstairs or head upstairs for a spot by the window.
Dinner at Dudley’s on Short
Dudley’s recently made its way onto Southerners’ radar by being included in Southern Living‘s “The Best Restaurants in Every Southern State 2017,” but for locals, it has been a staple since opening in 1981. Located in the Downtown Cheapside District in the historic Northern Bank Building, Dudley’s interior offers a glimpse at what we understand to be classic Kentucky (red walls, white table clothes and photos of horses), but the food is anything but. You might not be shocked to find buttermilk fried chicken skin on the menu, but the smoked Kentucky trout deviled eggs, braised octopus and chamomile tea poached sea bass should come as a surprise. Chef Mark Richardson knows his way around the kitchen, and whether it’s for brunch, lunch or dinner, he will cook up something tasty — something that goes beyond Hot Browns and fried chicken.
Drink at Belle’s Cocktail House
We promised bourbon, and it’s time we delivered. Opened by the guys behind The Bourbon Review, Belle’s Cocktail House’s focus is just that: bourbon. You won’t find rowdy college kids or sports fans as this is a classic cocktail joint. With nearly 100 different varieties of bourbon available (and the fact that your in the heart of bourbon country), you’d be silly to for one of the few dozen beers they offer, but it is an option. As recently as last fall, Belle’s expanded by opening their rooftop bar. Head up there with your cocktail for views of Lexington’s downtown. Enjoy your cocktails before heading back to the hotel for the evening!
Breakfast at Doodles
This morning, it’s time for the comfort food for which the South is known. Start your day off right with a heaping plate of biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits smothered in tomato gravy, huevos rancheros or bacon-topped beignets at Doodles. With a New Orleans influence and organic and locally sourced ingredients, each dish is as delicious as the next. This is one of the most popular breakfast spots in town, so be prepared to spend a few minutes waiting in line. Once you make it to the front, place your order and settle in for a comforting meal.
Stroll to Gratz Park Historic District and NoLi
Doodles is located in (or near, depending on who you ask) the North Limestone (NoLi) District, which sits adjacent to Gratz Park Historic District. With a small park and stunning historic homes, Gratz Park is an area you will want to visit. Stroll around this neighborhood bound by West Third (and Transylvania University) and West Second Streets on the north and south, and by the buildings that line Mill and Market streets on the west and east. If it is historical architecture you are interested in, visit one of the homes that are open to the public during the downtown walking tour.
From Gratz Park, explore the exploding NoLi District. Head down North Limestone and stop in the neighborhood’s many dynamic businesses: Lexington Beerworks, North Limestone Coffee and Donuts, Kentucky for Kentucky, Paper on Stone, Bodega, Third Street Stuff & Coffee and Vintage Creations on Lime (to mention a few).
Lunch at Corto Lima
Where North Limestone meets West Short, you will find your lunch destination. New to the neighborhood, Corto Lima serves up Latin-inspired cuisine by Chef Jonathan Lundy. The restaurant can serve up to 61 people when packed full (which it usually is), and you will find patrons enjoying guacamole, tamales, chicken chicharron, street-size tacos and chimchurri steak. Wash down your lunch with a margarita de casa. You are on vacation, after all!
Alltech Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co. is a must-visit along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail as it differs greatly from the others on the list. You will not find old brick warehouses filled with floors upon floors of aging barrels at this brewery and distillery. Instead, you will find sleek equipment, as it’s the first new Lexington distillery built in the last 100 years. Alltech founder and president Dr. Pearse Lyons is an Irishman with a formal degree in malting and brewing. This knowledge has elevated his status as a brewer and distiller. We won’t give away all the fun facts that you will learn during the tour, but we can promise that the joint brewery and distillery tour offers a one-of-a-kind experience.
Back to the Hotel
It is likely that you are full and a hair tipsy from the tastings, which means it is time for a quick reset. Head back to the hotel to rest, because you still have the evening to go!
Head to the Distillery District
In this small pocket neighborhood, historic buildings have been transformed for craft breweries, bars, restaurants and ice cream shops. When first approaching the district, you will spot one of Lexington’s many murals, signs of the growing art scene. Inside the old James E. Pepper campus, you will see signs of the growing culinary and beverage scene. It has been a few hours since you last had a drink, so start your evening off at Ethereal Brewing Co., a brewery with a focus on Belgian farmhouse and American craft beers.
Dinner at Middle Fork or Goodfellas Pizzeria
After sipping brews and discussing the events of the day, dig into an early dinner. The Distillery District offers two fantastic options, so we will let you decide which tickles your fancy. Middle Fork Kitchen Bar is working to revitalize the area, one dish at a time. The menu is designed around shareable plates, veggie options, toasts, pancakes and pasta, and meats. A few highlights from our recent visit include beef tartar, charcuterie plate, the seasonal salad and spätzle cacio e pepe.
If you are looking for something more casual, try Goodfellas Pizzeria. With three other locations across town, it is a local favorite. The New York-style slices are the biggest we have ever seen, and the flavors are larger than life. They like to pair the pizza with handcrafted cocktails (many of which are crafted with bourbon) and craft beers. In addition to a 4,500-square-foot main floor and 3,000-square-foot patio, there is a second floor lounge, called the Wiseguy Lounge, which embodies a Prohibition Era atmosphere, where you can kickback and enjoy a cocktail and a game of pool.
Drink at Break Room at Pepper
Why stop now? Head across the way to Break Room at Pepper, a bar overlooking Town Branch (the city’s waterway). The bar fills the space that was once the distillery’s old machine shop and employee break room (hence the name). In addition to the smaller interior, the bar has a patio, beer garden and outdoor games.
Night Cap at Crank & Boom Ice Cream Lounge
You’ve likely met your alcohol quota, so instead of wrapping up your night at a bar, we suggest you end it at the local ice cream lounge (which just so happens to serve alcohol). Crank & Boom started making ice cream in 2013 and demand grew quickly. The ice cream lounge was opened in summer of 2015 but you can still find the sweet cream at 40+ retail partners. Might we suggest you top your flavor of choose with premium toppings (such as peanut butter sauce, homemade marshmallows, bourbon caramel or local bacon). If you would like to keep drinking, get a scoop spiked with a shot of bourbon.
Breakfast at Lockbox
Start your day early with breakfast at the hotel’s restaurant. Lockbox is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner and drinks, and its convenience, décor and delicious eats make it worthy of a visit. You will find the original marble floors of the historic banking hall juxtaposed with contemporary art and furnishings. The breakfast menu boasts house-made breakfast sausage, cast-iron baked eggs and some of the best granola we have had. Fuel up for the last few hours of your weekend getaway!
Visit the Kentucky Horse Park
Horse and history lovers alike will appreciate the Kentucky Horse Park. The park’s world-renowned International Museum of the Horse, an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, details the history of horses and their impact on human civilization. From imperial China to modern-day Kentucky, the museum takes you on a journey through a dozen exhibits. To fully understand the equine culture in Kentucky, a visit to the museum is a must. After your self-guided tour, explore the grounds and lay your eyes on some actual horses. Meet big wig thoroughbreds at the Hall of Champions, see a variety of breeds at the Parade of Breeds Show, and explore the grounds via horseback. This is a great attraction for families and folks of all ages.
A farewell beer at Country Boy Brewing
Bid the city a sweet farewell with a cold glass of local beer. Country Boy Brewing was one of the first breweries in the area and has a loyal local following. Their Lexington taproom has 24 beers on tap, with a selection that ranges from a jalapeño smoked porter to Cougar Bait, an American blonde ale. “The best beer, the best people and good atmosphere,” regular Adam Mitchell says of why he returns to the taproom again and again. Join the locals in sipping beer and grab lunch from one of the city’s food trucks parked out front.
For more information on Lexington and travel tips, head to visitlex.com.
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