The Jefferson Davis Inn, an affectionately remembered Lexington night spot from yesteryear, is back.
Area developer Jeff Morgan and his family have opened a new restaurant and bar, the JDI Grille and Tavern, on South Broadway near the South Hill neighborhood.
For Morgan, who also has built apartment complexes around the city, it was an opportunity to pay tribute to the well-known Lexington bar once in the space at High Street and South Limestone. It was there that Morgan performed in bands while studying at Transylvania University in the 1990s.
His time there was part of the second version of JDI, which first made its name in the 1970s. It was named because Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy, lived there for a time while attending Transylvania in the 19th century. The building is now the home to Bombay Bar and Grill.
"It can't ever be the same, but it can be a tribute," Morgan said of the new restaurant, which will be next to 20 townhomes that he is building.
The three-story restaurant and bar is already open but will have its grand opening Friday. The kitchen is in the basement, with a dumbwaiter system installed to transport food to customers on the floors above, general manager Dave Soulis said. The third floor, which has a pool table and lounge atmosphere, is reserved for private events.
The building prominently features brick and woodwork, with fireplaces, and it includes an elevator in addition to stairs.
"I do a lot of brickwork, and people just don't spend the money for it anymore," Morgan said. "I just wanted it to feel warm.
"I want people to walk in and feel warm with the fireplace and the mahogany wood."
Reviving the JDI has involved the entire Morgan family. Jeff developed and built the structure; his mother, Karen, and identical twin brother, Jason, own the restaurant and will operate it. The pair previously operated two Louisville-area restaurants — Maier's Tavern and The Good Times Pub — which they eventually sold. Jeff and Jason's father, Ken, who is known locally for his barbecue, is helping out with the food.
"We are a local family who wanted to bring back the good times of the JDI coupled with great food," Jason Morgan said.
The food is another aspect that he said will set the JDI apart among Lexington's other restaurants.
"We like to call it Southern 'gastrofare,'" he said. "It's pub-grub food to the 10th degree, with large portions."
Among the dishes offered will be the family's pulled pork barbecue, smoked on site daily, homemade beer cheese and guacamole, hand-battered fish and chips, burgers with hand-dipped onion rings and freshly grilled jalapeños, sweet potato fries and hand-rubbed steaks. Desserts include a bananas Foster waffle and funnel-cake fries.
Because the restaurant has a small parking lot, the Morgans have partnered with a neighboring car wash to offer evening parking beyond the street parking available nearby.
Construction continues around on 20 nearby townhomes that Jeff Morgan is building. The 2,100-square-foot homes are priced at $299,000 and are expected to be finished beginning in August, he said.
Lee Thomas, president of the Historic South Hill Neighborhood Association, said the restaurant is going to be "a good asset to the neighborhood."
"Personally, I think the structure far surpasses what I expected. The brickwork is very beautiful. It's a very attractive building," he said. "I'm looking forward to trying it myself.
"You have to really congratulate them on taking a risk right in the middle of the recession ... ."
If you go
JDI Grille and Tavern
What: A new three-story restaurant and bar specializing in Southern-style pub food named in honor of the former Jefferson Davis Inn night spot. The bar has 12 beers on tap.
Where: 319 Cedar St., off South Broadway between Bolivar and Maxwell Sts.
Hours: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily
Learn more: (859) 246-0202, Jeffersondavisinn.com
Scott Sloan: (859) 231-1447. Twitter: @HeraldLeaderBiz.Scott Sloan: (859) 231-1447. Twitter: @heraldleaderbiz