Lexington Bar Guide 2012: Many recently opened establishments bring new life to historical buildings

August 22, 2012 

The new drinking establishments that have opened in the past year include temples of beer, super-stylish restaurants with admirable bars, a gastropub, an import from Dubai and a hole in the wall with a fun, eyebrow-raising name.

Here are capsule reviews of each of those places and more. All have opened since August 2011.

Country Boy Brewing

436 Chair Ave. (859) 554-6200. Countryboybrewing.com. Hours: 4-10 p.m. Mon.-Wed.; 4 p.m.-midnight Thu., Fri.; noon-midnight Sat., 1 p.m.-midnight Sun.

Country Boy Brewing is all about experimentation. "We brew the stuff we want to drink," says one of the bartenders. Sometimes that means a locally made India pale ale. Other times, it's a vanilla-infused offering. The made- on-site beers change frequently, so if you like something, pound a few. And by all means, make a suggestion. The bartenders love talking beer and brewing. Their locally produced variety, as well as a strong selection of tasty national and regional beers, makes up for a sparse interior that includes just a handful of tables in a warehouse setting. (Worth noting: That warehouse setting means the bar is essentially a wide-open room. Keep that in mind when you use the restroom, because everyone knows when you go in and out.) And if you get hungry, food trucks set up shop outside the bar in the evenings from Thursdays to Sundays.

Henry Clay's Public House

112 N. Upper St. (859) 368-7754. Henryclayspublichouse.com. Hours: 4:30 p.m.-"2-ish" a.m. Mon.-Sat.

The Henry Clay Public House, a new pub with a historic vibe, sits in the heart of the hip Cheapside Entertainment District. Soak up the charm of the 1805 building with a stacked-stone fireplace, dark beams and a portrait of Clay. The pub is dedicated to "ladies and gentlemen who make drinking one of the pleasures of life, not one of its evils." Enjoy a creative house concoction, say, a Southern-fried Manhattan. There's a good offering of bourbons, wine and imported beers behind the 60-foot bar. The stage at the end of the room features live music four nights a week (see the Web site for a schedule). Clay's bourbon of choice was Old Crow, which he bought by the barrel and had delivered to his congressional office during his terms in the Senate and the House of Representatives.

Lexington Beerworks

213 N. Limestone. (859) 359-6747. Lexingtonbeerworks.com. Hours: 3-11 p.m. Mon.-Wed., 1 p.m.-midnight Thu., 1 p.m.-1 a.m. Fri., noon-1 a.m. Sat., noon-11 p.m. Sun.

An upscale beer bar, Lexington Beerworks is the product of owners who love home brewing. They love it so much that classes are taught regularly on site. The bar doesn't produce its own beer, but Beerworks is a paradise for home brewers because just beyond the bar are shelves upon shelves of hops, kits and other necessities for making your own ale, whether it be nut brown or pumpkin spice. Some of Lexington's newest beer bars favor European brews, but Beerworks' dozen rotating taps trend toward American breweries including Michigan's Founders and California's Stone. With an elegant two-story wooden patio and modern furnishings, the bar is a perfect meeting place for sophisticated beer drinkers. If you feel peckish, food trucks set up outside the bar beginning about 6 p.m. from Thursdays through Saturdays.

Ole Hookers Bait 'n' Tackle Bar 'n' Grill

205 S. Limestone. (859) 552-6427. Hours: 4 p.m.-1 a.m. daily.

Folks who show up at the cheekily named Ole Hookers are like the bar: friendly, laid-back and lots of fun. Nestled among a fun little cluster of bars and restaurants, the teeny Ole Hookers is a dive bar in the best sense of the word: It's cozy and has a devout following. Want a drink but not sure what? If owner Maribeth Tolson is around, tell her your quandary. She'll whip up a concoction that will become your favorite. Her customers swear up and down that Tolson — formerly of Mia's and, before that, Regina's — is the best bartender in town. There's a limited food menu, but by the looks of what came out of the kitchen, it's all tasty.

Parlay Social Club

257 W. Short St. (859) 244-1932. Parlaysocial.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 3:30-11 p.m. Sat., Sun.

Located amid the lively Cheapside Entertainment District, Parlay Social Club is housed in the former Southern Mutual Trust building at the corner of Short and Market streets. With outdoor seating and expansive windows that look out onto Cheapside Park, it's a popular meeting place for crowds looking to hang out after free Thursday Night Live concerts at neighboring Cheapside Park. Inside, miniature chandeliers contrast with exposed brick and dark wood paneling for a relaxing space that features both bar seating and plenty of tables. For entertainment, there's a small stage for live music and big-screen TVs. The savvy sangria, a mix of red wine, peach juice, fresh orange juice and wine-infused fruit, is refreshingly fruity but not overly sweet. At $8 for a good-size glass filled to the rim, it was a bargain. Another signature drink, The Parlay ($10), includes pink grapefruit vodka and sparkling rosé. Parlay Social also is a restaurant, with offerings as varied as sandwiches, pizza and oysters on the half-shell.

Pulse

931 Winchester Rd. (859) 317-9007. Pulsenightlife.com. Hours: 5 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Sun.-Wed., 5 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Thu.-Sat.

If you don't mind its location on the edge of "Sexington," the strip of adult bookstores and strip clubs on Winchester Road, Pulse is a gay bar that's welcoming, low-key and knows how to put on a good show. It originally opened where Parlay is before moving to its current spot. The space is huge, the bar is well stocked, especially with vodkas, and a few pool tables occupy a back room. The focus of the club, however, is an expansive stage area, ringed by tables, that hosts regular drag shows, featuring not only queens but drag kings. Lexington's gay bars tend to focus on men, and Pulse is no different in that respect, but the bar has regular women's nights that attract a smattering of lesbians.

Rosetta

127 N. Limestone.(859) 255-1800. Rosettadining.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Mon.-Fri. 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Wed. 5-11 p.m. Thu.-Sat. Short plates menu available 11 p.m.-1 a.m. Fri., Sat.

Although upscale dining is the bread and butter of this sleek addition to downtown Lexington, in the former Mia's/Anna Belle's space, the drink menu takes a cue from the restaurant's crisp, white décor in its sophisticated and modern feel. The wine and beer list will satisfy most people, but the specialty drink concoctions are worth repeated trips to sample. Garnished with a rose petal and a rosemary sprig, the signature Rosetta cocktail is aesthetically pleasant and different in its tangy flavor; the gin-based Cucu-tini has the makings of a refreshing summer time favorite. Teetotallers need not be left out: The bartenders will make a virgin version of certain cocktails on request. Try the tangy Rhubarbarita, Rosetta's twist on the margarita and one of the menu's most popular sellers.

Sabio

380 S. Mill St. (859) 368-9901. Sabiodudleysquare.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Sun.

Located in the space formerly occupied by Lexington mainstay Dudley's, Sabio gives its bar area its own platform in which to shine, locating the hip-looking lounge across the hall from the main dining rooms. The "detention bar," as it is dubbed, boasts its own food menu, and whether you want a glass of moscato, a French pinot noir or a summer Sabio cocktail — made with white port — it is all housed between the cool gray walls. Better yet, tell the bartenders your flavor preference and let them whip something up on the fly, like a surprisingly good lemon/cucumber martini. Ask about the featured daily wines that might not be on the regular menu.

Shakespeare and Co.

367 W. Short St. (859) 367-0413. Shakespeareandco.us. Hours: 7:30 a.m.-11 or 11:30 p.m. Sun.-Wed., 7:30 a.m.-"closing" Thu.-Sat.

The latest establishment to make a go of it at the high-profile southeast corner of Broadway and West Short Street is the Dubai-based chain's local outpost, its first in the States. The result is a cozy place with décor that falls somewhere between a European veranda and a Southern patio. On a perfect summer night, the open setting of the bar can lull you into sidewalk seating, which can have its drawbacks if you're not a fan of sirens and car horns blown in your ear. Our waitress wasn't hip to specialties of the bar, but the atmosphere lent itself to wine or beer. Bell's Oberon is on tap, which is hard to pass up in a place with "Shakespeare" in the name. The menu is wide and varied, from economical pastas and appetizers to fine dining. The atmosphere is relaxed, whether on a midsummer night or whenever you choose to go.

T Bar

500 Euclid Ave. (859) 368-9404. Tbar500.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-2:30 a.m. Mon.-Sat.

T Bar, on the edge of the University of Kentucky campus in the spot that was formerly the Fish Tank, has an industrial feel, with stainless-steel-topped tall tables and garage doors that face Euclid Avenue. Happy hour, 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, offers great deals on food and drink. Moonshine specialty drinks (meaning fruity) feature Ole Smokey Moonshine. Craft and draft beers also are available. In a homey touch, all liquid is served in Mason jars. The food — sliders and wings mostly — are good. Whatever you do, don't leave without trying the fried peanut butter-and-jelly sliders.

Trust Lounge

123 W. Main St. (859) 317-9399. Trustlex.com. Hours: 5-11 p.m. Tue.-Thu.; 5 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Fri.; 9 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Sat.

A chic addition to downtown nightlife with a big selection of beer, wine, bourbon and good cocktails, Trust opened last fall after an elegant renovation of the century-old Beaux Arts bank building and now has top-notch sound and lighting. There's a long bar and tables in the main hall, plus private-party rooms. Live jazz has given way to DJs spinning a variety of music. Tuesday and Wednesday nights can be slow, but things pick up with college night specials on Thursdays and ladies' night specials on Fridays. Saturday is fancy, and the lounge opens four hours later. Look sharp: The doorman might enforce a dress code.

The Village Idiot

307 W. Short St. (859) 252-0099. Lexingtonvillageidiot.com. Hours: 4 p.m.-midnight Sun.-Wed., 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Thu.-Sat.

In the historical building that was formerly Metropol and was Lexington's first post office, The Village Idiot bills itself as "Lexington's first gastropub." But what does that mean? Think friendly, low-key pub-like atmosphere with fancy, admittedly pretentious-sounding, good food. It's the place for people who like beer but lament the end of Gourmet magazine and salivate over the dishes on Top Chef. Order one (or more) of the 20 rotating draft beers and pair it with a wild mushroom sloppy Joe, duck and waffles, or a scallop and foie gras Benedict. The interior is lovely, with lots of exposed brick, natural wood and industrial-chic touches. Worth noting: The restroom is weirdly one of the best-smelling loos I've ever been in.

Vue

15th floor of Chase Bank building, 201 E. Main St. (859) 523-0333. Vue-lex.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sun.-Thu., 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Fri., Sat. Nightclub open until 2:30 a.m. Fri., Sat.

Without a sidewalk presence, Vue is not the highest-profile establishment downtown. But it is one of the highest restaurants and nightclubs in town, well worth the elevator ride to the 15th floor of the Chase Bank building, the former Baker's 360 spot. To establish some signature drinks, the bartenders have come up with gems, including the sunset Vue, a smooth, pink concoction of four kinds of rum and fruit juices, and the Bluegrass Russian, a tasty coffee drink centered on Bluegrass Sundown, Alltech's bourbon and coffee spirit. At the bar, you can compliment your beverages with an appetizer such as Gyoza, pork pot stickers with a nice afterbite. Sushi is one of Vue's calling cards though, and you can watch the chefs put it together while sitting at the bar. But the real view to crow about here is Lexington from 15 stories up in a regal, contemporary atmosphere.

West Sixth Brewing Co.

501 W. Sixth St. (859) 951-6006, Westsixth.com. Hours: 3-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., noon-midnight Fri.-Sat., 1-6 p.m. Sun.

Everything about West Sixth Brewing is big. First, it was the owners' idea to renovate a huge former Rainbo bread factory to hold a brewery. Then it was their idea to recruit all sorts of other local organizations, from a roller derby team to an indoor urban farm, to fill out the space. But of most interest to beer fans is the big list of locally made beer. The company's four anchor beers on tap are wheat, amber, brown and an India pale ale, which is canned and sold in six-packs. But it's the rotating brews that are the best, including its double IPA. Building on the big ideas, the brewery's goal is to eventually serve tilapia grown in the urban farm portion of the Bread Box, as the site is called. For now, though, West Sixth serves locally made beer cheese, soft pretzels and kettle corn. Patrons are encouraged to bring in food or have it delivered.

Bar reviews were contributed by Herald-Leader staff members Rich Copley, Tom Eblen, Beverly Fortune, Harriett Hendren, Sally Scherer, Scott Shive and Alicia Wincze.

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