On a recent beautiful sunny day a friend and I drove to the lovely city of Lexington, Kentucky. I had not visited Lexington in several years. What a vibrant city!
Horse lovers agree: this is THE place. Whether you are an experienced equestrian, a racing fan or just appreciate the beauty of horses, prepare to be thrilled at the stunning landscape they inhabit in the Bluegrass Region of Kentucky. If your schedule permits, be sure to take a country drive and explore the Horse Country back roads. Head out in any direction from the center of town, and soon you’ll be surrounded by the rolling bluegrass pastureland that you’ve heard so much about. Neatly mowed fields trimmed with black or white fences stretch to the horizon. Pick up a “Bluegrass Country Driving Tour” at the Visitors Center downtown.
I arrived in downtown Lexington mid-afternoon just in time for the last tour of the day at the new James E. Pepper Distillery located in the popular Distillery District downtown. This historic distillery offers guided tours that tell the lost story of an iconic American brand and included a tasting of their award-winning whiskey. The Pepper family brand is an iconic Kentucky bourbon produced from the American Revolution through 1958. Out of production for decades, it was relaunched in 2017 at the site of the original Lexington distillery of 1879. What a story and it is a really interesting tour that concludes with whiskey and chocolate! www.JamesEPepper.com
After this tour I stopped by Ethereal Brewing next door to James E. Pepper. Ethereal has set its sights on perfecting Belgian farmhouse and American craft beers. With a philosophy of “making the best possible beer we can, sparing no expense on ingredients of our process,” you may expect both traditional craft staples and ambitious out-of-the-norm brews exploring the “funkier side of farmhouse brewing.” It is the only brewery in town with a dedicated yeast lab. www.etherealbrew.com Note: Inquire at the Lexington Visitors Center about A Brewgrass Trail passport in Lexington, KY.
Nearby I spied a Crank & Boom Craft Ice Cream shop located at 1210 Manchester Street in the downtown Distillery District. I ordered a scoop of yummy Bourbon Ball ice cream. This creative ice cream shop even offers ice cream cocktails!
After a long day of traveling and touring, I was ready to check into my hotel—21c Museum Hotel in downtown Lexington. More than a hotel, 21c Lexington welcomes both visitors and locals to experience rotating exhibitions, participate in programming and enjoy culinary offerings in the Lockbox. The hotel features contemporary art exhibition spaces that are open free of charge to the public. Guest rooms also feature unique art.
A former 1920s bank, the 88-room boutique hotel is very contemporary and sleek. My corner guest room which overlooked downtown, was spacious and attractively appointed.
At 7 pm a friend and I enjoyed an excellent and creative dinner at Lockbox in the hotel. I love the convenience of dining in my hotel after a long road trip. Lockbox offers fresh farm to table options from acclaimed chef, Jonathan Searle, and an accommodating staff. While you’re there, notice “Tomorrow’s Weather,” a multimedia work of art that hangs from the ceiling.
After a light cocktail creatively named Temper Tantrum, we shared an excellent appetizer of warm ricotta and summer squash, slow roasted tomato, basil and grilled bread. My entrée consisted of scallops, creamed corn, country ham, crispy okra and mint, and my friend ordered a chicken dish. For dessert we shared a Berry Peach Cobbler with creamy corn black raspberry ice cream served in a cast iron skillet. Note: See recipe for Clearance, Clarence beverage in this article. (Of course, it contains bourbon!) www.lockboxlex.com
The following day I was up early as I had a full itinerary. A few blocks from the 21c Museum Hotel is Doodle’s. “Comfort food with a conscience” is its slogan. This remodeled gas station has become a trendy spot for breakfast and lunch, specializing in local and organic ingredients when possible. Get breakfast a la carte, including fresh buttermilk biscuits and beignets or try any of their signature items from the “dirty” shrimp and grits to the often limited-quantity strata casserole. Address: 262 North Limestone Street. www.doodleslex.com
Next came a quick tour of the very large University of Kentucky campus and stadium. Over 30,000 students were busy moving into their dorm rooms and walking or biking to classes. I drove by Kroger Field Stadium, which is huge.
Guy Ramsey, Director of Strategic Communications for UK Athletics had this to say: “From UK’s first All-American, Clyde Johnson, to its most recent, Jon Toh; from Professor A.M. Miller to Coach Mark Stops; from old Stoll Field to Commonwealth Stadium to Kroger Field; and from the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association to the Southeastern Conference, Kentucky football holds a unique and storied tradition that began in 1881. That tradition is supported by a fan base known far and wide for its passion and loyalty. The Big Blue Nation loves its “Caturdays,” turning the area surrounding Kroger Field into an all-day celebration of Kentucky football. Kentucky fans are friendly and welcoming to visitors, at least until their Wildcats step between the lines.”
Make time to tour Mill Ridge Farm near iconic Keeneland Racetrack, and experience a farm renowned for raising and selling first class Thoroughbreds. Owner Alice Headley Chandler’s father, Hal Price Headley, was the main force in the founding of Keeneland, and the first President of what is considered one of the greatest racetracks in the world! It was said of him that “every brick and stone at Keeneland has a drop of Hal Price Headley’s blood on it” After his death in a Keeneland barn in 1962, Alice inherited the land that would become Mill Ridge Farm. Just six years later she became the first woman to breed an Epsom Derby winner in SIR IVOR, and since 2000, Mill Ridge has raised and/or sold 34 Grade 1 winners including 7 Breeders’ Cup winners, 5 Horse of the Year Titleholders, 1 Kentucky Derby winner, 1 Santa Anita Derby winner, and 1 Bluegrass Stakes winner. Visitors are encouraged to see the land that inspired the heart of the Headley family in the late 1800s.
Named for its location atop the highest point of Bowman Mill Road, your Mill Ridge tour begins in the Breeding Shed where you will gain an understanding of why this land is so uniquely suited for the Thoroughbred and participate in the storytelling of the Headley family involvement in the industry. Contact Horse Country, Inc. Address: 2800 Bowman Mill Rd, Lexington, KY 40513.
My last stop on this busy itinerary was lunch at Honeywood, joining acclaimed chef/owner Ouita Michel’s family of local restaurants. Honeywood is dedicated to using as much locally-grown meat and produce as possible in its menu items. This attractive restaurant offers an extensive menu featuring everything from sweet potato beignets (which I sampled) to a duck-fat basted New York Strip.
I ordered a light cocktail called Pamplemousse consisting of gin, grapefruit, St. Germain (love it!), lemon, mint and soda. Then I had a Fried Green Tomato BLT served with herb-salted fries. My lunch partner ordered an entree called Florida Fishing Cottage featuring wild-caught grouper over a Southern casserole of creamy sliced potatoes, tomatoes, red pepper, onion and spinach, topped with lemon butter sauce. Chef Josh presents daily specials and offers a special brunch menu on Sundays.
Honeywood is located at 110 Summit at Fritz Farm, Suite 140. The Summit at Fritz Farm is located at the corner of Nicholasville Road and Man-O-War Boulevard. It is a one-of-a-kind finely curated mixed-used destination that blends retail, office space, a boutique hotel and a residential component. Honeywood is a first-class destination for visitors looking for a unique shopping and dining experience. Website: honeywoodrestaurant.com
Phone: (859) 469-8234. Tip: Pick up a Visitors Guide (with a Calendar of Events) and a Dining Guide entitled “Beyond Grits” at the downtown Visitors Center.
All too soon it was time to head home. There is so much see and do in the vibrant city of Lexington, Kentucky.
“Visiting teams love coming to Lexington in the fall, especially when their games fall during an October weekend when Lexington’s Keeneland Race Course is conducting their fall race meet. It is really popular for fans to take in all the Thoroughbred racing action at Keeneland during the afternoon and then head over to Kroger Field for an evening football game.” —Niki Heichelbech-Goldey, Director of Communications, www.VisitLEX.com.
WHAT TO KNOW
The Lexington Visitors Center is open 7 days a week.
215 West Main St./Lexington, KY 40507
Phone: (800) 845-3959 or (859) 233-7299