Some places are so stylish that you might feel as if you've left our laid-back town for a sophisticated big city. Here are bars that get extra points for style.
Azur Restaurant and Patio
3070 Lakecrest Cir. (859) 296-1007. Azurrestaurant.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 5-10:30 p.m. Sun.
Azur's owners knew what they were doing when they put the word "patio" in the restaurant's name. The al fresco dining and drinking spot is smack in the middle of a bustling Beaumont Centre strip mall, but despite that, it's quite lovely. (Inside, the décor is contemporary but not as impressive as the patio.) The drink menu is sizeable, with an array of bourbons and wines and a more modest list of specialty martinis. Still, now that the weather is cooling (we hope!), there are few better places to have a drink and enjoy the breeze.
Noteworthy: Instead of dinner here, try lunch and a midday drink. Weekender's restaurant critic, Wendy Miller, recently declared Azur her favorite lunch spot in town.
115 W. Main St. (859) 388-9583. Bellinislexington.com. Hours: 5-10 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 5 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Fri.-Sat.
This sophisticated, sexy, standalone bar next to the fine-dining restaurant of the same name sits smack in the middle of Lexington's rejuvenated and happening downtown. Among the $9 cocktails is the namesake Bellini, featuring prosecco and peach purée. (The bartender admitted the peaches were frozen, even in midsummer.) There's plenty of sidewalk seating, with a front-row view of the faux horse farm occupying the CentrePointe block. Valet parking is available.
Noteworthy: The wait staff is classy and nicely turned out. Maybe it's the little black dresses.
Bigg Blue Martini
369 W. Vine St., in lobby of Hilton Lexington/Downtown. (859) 231-9000. Thebiggbluemartini.com. Hours: 3 p.m.-1 a.m. daily.
Sip your favorite martini in the heart of downtown, overlooking Triangle Park (which is currently a construction zone but promises great things soon). Bartenders say that whatever kind of martini a customer wants, they can oblige — there are at least 100 flavors. The watermelon fizz martini is a summertime favorite — or try a bikini martini for something with a little more kick. Not just a hotel bar, Bigg Blue is a favorite gathering spot for University of Kentucky basketball fans before games at nearby Rupp Arena. An expansive menu of appetizers, sandwiches and entrees is served until midnight.
Noteworthy: Blues, jazz, piano and soft-rock groups are featured Friday and Saturday nights.
Blue Agave Cantina and Tequila Bar
410 W. Short St. (859) 797-3112. Hours: noon-10 p.m. Sun.; 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon., Wed.; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Tue., Thu.; 11 a.m.-3 a.m. Fri., Sat., with a street-service taco bar serving until 5 a.m.
All margaritas at Blue Agave are made from 100 percent blue agave tequila, as opposed to the "mixto" tequilas commonly found at most bars and Mexican restaurants. But it is the hand-squeezed fresh lime-sour mix with agave nectar that makes the specialty margaritas stand tall. The el jefé ($12), with Cointreau and a Grand Marnier float, and the top shelf ($8), with Patrón Citronge, can be had at half-price from 6 to 7 p.m. daily. Get the attention of the bartender to request your favorite premium tequila.
Noteworthy: The guacamole ($6) is the best in town. It is prepared to order (so pick your ingredients) from fresh avocados, tomatoes, onions, cilantro and lime, perfect with chips and salsas ($2).
199 N. Limestone. (859) 246-0999. Ledeauvilleresto.com. Bar: 5:30 p.m.-midnight Mon.-Thu.; 5:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. Fri., Sat. Dinner: 5:30-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu.; 5:30-11 p.m. Fri., Sat.
A bar and restaurant serving French fare, Le Deauville is a beautiful place to relax with a glass of wine and people-watch. Tuesday night's all-you-can-eat mussels and French fries are available for $16.50. The menu includes a variety of foreign and domestic wines, with just a few offered by the glass for $8 to $10. The bar is fully stocked, and even on a Tuesday night it was packed by 8 p.m., with people standing and chatting, sitting at café tables and dining at the bar. It's one of the more pricey evenings you'll spend at a Lexington bar, but it's also one of the most stylish spots in town.
Noteworthy: The bar and restaurant are housed in a historical building with lovely worn tiled floors, tin ceilings, smoky mirrors and wood-paneled walls. When the friendly staff gets busy, you might have to wait a while for your order, so sit back and enjoy the view.
438 S. Ashland Ave. (859) 317-8438. Thedishlexington.com. Bar hours: 4 p.m.-close Mon.-Sat. Kitchen hours: 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu.; 5-11 p.m. Fri., Sat.
Why aren't there lines of people waiting to get into this place? Maybe because it's in a lightly trafficked section of town or maybe because it's small. From a top-notch selection of wines and specialty drinks to some of the best seasonal food in town, it's apparent that The Dish's team put great thought into its offerings. The bar is tiny (only six seats), so grab a table inside or, weather permitting, on the patio.
Noteworthy: "Melissa's favorite mojito" is a scrumptious version of the limey Cuban classic with the summery addition of watermelon and, quite unexpectedly, jalapeño.
The Julep Cup and Seahorse Lounge
111 Woodland Ave., in The Woodlands. (859) 226-0300. Thejulepcup.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon.-Wed., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Thu.-Sat.; patio open same hours.
Equestrian enthusiasts can find a home at Seahorse Lounge, as the bar inside The Julep Cup restaurant is known. The art on the colorful walls completes a Thoroughbred theme, and the signature drink is the — what else? — mint julep. So, maybe the atmosphere got stuck back in that first weekend in May, but who doesn't enjoy the Kentucky Derby? Catch live pop and rock music Friday evenings, and classical on Saturdays. And don't forget to try the Kentucky Bourbon Barrel beer cheese or deviled eggs.
Noteworthy: The owners are a mother/daughter duo, and the daughter has a superior cuisine degree from the Cordon Bleu in France. All recipes are her own, and all are made in the kitchen of the independent restaurant.
Nick Ryan's Saloon
157 W. Jefferson St. (859) 233-7900. Nickryans.com. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 11:30 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri-Sat.
Nick Ryan's Saloon is part of Jefferson Street's emerging restaurant scene, and it has only one problem: Sometimes it's hard to get a table to enjoy the restaurant's inventive and moderately priced menu. In warm weather, the porch offers stools and tables overlooking the busy street. Happy hour, 4 to 6:30 p.m. weekdays, is predictably popular. The drinks menu is less expansive than the dinner offerings, but it offers some specialty cocktails at the high price of $10 each. There is a restrained wine list but a good assortment of domestic and imported beers, including seven on tap.
Noteworthy: The pear gimlet, with spiced pear vodka, lemon juice and lemon bitters, will give you a summer pucker.
1060 Chinoe Rd., Suite 104, in Chinoe Center. (859) 335-8788. Rossis-restaurant.com. Hours: 5-10 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 5-11 p.m. Fri., Sat.; brunch 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sun.
Tucked away in a neighborhood shopping center is this contemporary-looking space, with its dimly lit interior, light-wood panels, gauzy curtains and cloistered patio. Up front is the huge zigzag-shaped bar, with its expansive selection of wines and spirits (including 14 bourbons, 18 vodkas and 25 cordials) and a more modest list of beers. The giant TVs on the bar's back wall are a distraction, but this stylish place is worth a visit if you find yourself near Chinoe Center.
Noteworthy: The garden party martini is pricey ($12) but worth the refreshing combo of muddled cucumber, Hendrick's gin, Thatcher's cucumber organic liqueur, basil and soda.
162 Old Todds Rd., Suite 110. (859) 269-0677. Schoolrestaurantlex.com. Hours: 5:30-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 5:30-11 p.m. Fri., Sat.
The restaurant is known primarily for its locally unique sushi conveyor system, in which patrons can just pick up what looks tasty. It does offer a small bar area with what the employees deem "culinary cocktails." A popular one is the lemon southside, which includes gin, locally grown mint and a secret twist that turns it blue. The employees won't say what it is.
Noteworthy: A private karaoke room, which costs $25 an hour and holds as many as 50 people, offers songs in Japanese and English. It's booked several times a week, so it has been suggested to call two to three weeks in advance.
Table Three Ten
310 W. Short St. (859) 309-3901. Table310.com. Hours: 5-11 p.m. Mon-Sat.
Table Three Ten might be Lexington's hippest new watering hole, really best described as a wine bar with a wide array of delectable nibbles. Owners Andrea Sims and Krim Boughalem combine backgrounds in art and restaurants to create a minimalist yet warm atmosphere where you can combine exquisite food and wine from around the world. Compare Spanish hams to Kentucky's while sampling wines in four serving sizes (sample, glass, carafe or bottle). Traditionalists can find some beer and cocktails, plus daily specials from the kitchen. A microbrewery is in the works.
Noteworthy: The interior of Table Three Ten is stunning. Housed in a former law office, the restaurant recently won an adaptive re-use award from Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation.
Yamaguchi's Sake and Tapas
125 Codell Dr. Sakeandtapas.com. Hours: 8 p.m.-midnight Mon.-Thu.; 8 p.m.-2 a.m. Fri., Sat.
A quiet, cozy, upscale but casual hideaway specializing in small dishes, Yamaguchi's is the only place in town where you can experience a sake tasting ($2-$4). A chart explaining the type, region and even the polished rice ratio helps you choose from six brands of quality Japanese sake that is served cold or warm. Domestic and imported beers and wines are available. The chef suggests three tasting menus paired with sake, beer or wine, or you can order a la carte.
Noteworthy: Try a distilled beverage native to Japan called shouchu (similar to vodka) on the rocks or diluted with water ($6-$15), or Umeshu, a Japanese plum liqueur ($8-$9).