As of last weekend, Buster had yet to move into his new digs. He wasn't, in fact, expected for a few more days. Just as well. There was work to be done.
Earlier in the afternoon, speakers arrived that will make what once was the Old Tarr Distillery on Manchester Street come alive Friday night as one of Lexington's largest club-size venues. The previous Thursday, the pool tables — mainstay utensils of the home that Buster occupied downtown at the corner of Main and Upper — were set up.
Along the front of the bar was a newly arranged collage of posters. Some harked back to shows that the Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Jesus and Mary Chain gave at the University of Kentucky nearly two decades ago. Others promoted those nights when Buster let local musicians into his former abode.
"No, we don't have Buster here yet," Jessica Case said. "We'll have him here by Monday, though. We brought him with us, but he weighs about 100 pounds."
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Buster, in this instance, is a concrete Doberman. He sat at the entrance of Buster's, the downtown bar, pool hall and occasional music venue, to silently greet everyone who stopped by for a beer, a game of billiards or simply some conversation with friends. When Buster's was demolished last summer to make way for the stalled CentrePointe project, it seemed that another slice of Lexington nightlife fell with it. That's where Case and her husband, Clark, stepped in.
As undergraduates at UK, they had made Buster's their local hangout. Sensing that the club's previous owners had little interest in carrying the business to a new location, the Cases — both of whom are now lawyers — stepped in to map out a new location that would take Buster and his pals to the heart of Lexington's Distillery District. Only this time, Buster's was going to be bigger — about 11,000 square feet.
That meant there was room for billiards, as in the old place. But there was also a veritable playground that could be used as a music club. So a stage was built. And dressing rooms. And a new electrical system to help ignite the music and plumbing system for, well, the essentials.
So when Buster's Billiards and Backroom opens Friday night, with Buster again as the Doberman doorman, Lexington will have a club that can accommodate roughly 1,000 patrons.
"We were involved in the movement to help save the block where the old Buster's was," Jessica Case said. "I was really involved with Preserve Lexington, and we did everything we could to try and save the block. As part of that effort, we just didn't want to see Buster's disappear."
Initially, the Cases scouted around for a smaller building. But the dream of opening a "mid-size" venue — meaning one that could accommodate acts too large for past Lexington nightspots including The Dame and Lynagh's Music Club — also persisted. That's when they called on an old friend, Jon Bodine. He would be given the task of booking bands. But could a healthy run be made with a proposed music venue of this size?
"I unrolled a set of plans," Clark Case said. "I showed them to Jon and said, 'Do you think we could book an 11,000-square-foot venue?' Jon said, 'You would be making my job so much easier.'"
"I found a lot of acts were responsive to the idea of Lexington having a venue big enough to where they could route through here," Bodine said. "Once I got talking to people about it, shows really started to unfold."
The new Buster's wound up with a packed performance calendar weeks ago. A triple bill of local favorite Chico Fellini, the Lexington/Washington, D.C., band These United States and Louisville's Wax Fang gets Buster's roaring Friday night.
In the coming weeks will be concerts by the Derek Trucks Band, Blues Traveler and another triple bill of Silversun Pickups, Manchester Orchestra and Cage the Elephant.
Another plus of the new Buster's will be the ability to admit patrons ages 18 to 21 on nights of concerts. They won't be able to partake of alcoholic libations, of course. But they will be able to take in the music.
"The rule is if there are pre-sold tickets to a concert event and those 18 and up have tickets, they can be admitted to a premises serving alcohol," Clark Case said. "Of course, we have taken a lot of precautions on how to do set this up, how to do it right and how to do it safe."
In opening a new Buster's in the Distillery District, the Cases also are following through on what they wished would have happened to the old Buster's: to use the existing structure of a historic building to create a new one. It's a lead they hope that others setting eyes on the revitalized Manchester Street will follow.
"I really believe the more people come down here, the more they will realize the potential," Jessica Case said. "This is us supporting what we think is responsible development and the direction we really would like Lexington to go in.
"This is more than us just saving our college hangout. It's proof that this kind of development can work. Lexington can be progressive. It just takes effort."