After being closed five months, Dudley's restaurant has re-opened in Lexington's burgeoning Cheapside entertainment district, across from the popular Cheapside Bar & Grill and next door to Pulse Nightlife.
Nearby are Metropol, The Rosebud Bar, Bluegrass Tavern, Courtyard Deli, Redmon's and SkyBar on the penthouse floor of the Court Square Building.
Dudley's owner Debbie Long renovated a historic building at 267 West Short Street. Floor-to-ceiling doors and windows across the front look out on the soon-to-be completed Fifth Third Bank Pavilion and the redesigned Cheapside Park.
"Everyone has been so awesome and received us so well," Long said. "It's so fun to see all my old friends and customers. They're like family."
She closed her former restaurant in Dudley Square, at Maxwell and Mill streets, on Oct. 31, after 28 years. The new location opened last weekend.
It's only four blocks, down the hill, from Dudley Square to Short Street. "But the energy seems so different," Long said. And it feels comfortable. "It feels like I've come home."
Several nearby business owners expressed pleasure at seeing the iconic Dudley's move into the growing entertainment district.
"Having an established, popular restaurant move down here gives this area added credibility," said Len Cox, owner of Graves Cox in Triangle Center.
"She's made a big financial commitment in that building. This was an important step for this end of Main Street."
Krissy Fraser, owner of The Courtyard Deli, said, "Bars feed off each other. The more the merrier, that's what I say."
She and husband, David, are extending their deli hours to stay open each Thursday for Thursday Night Live and all day Friday and Friday night.
Vince Carlucci, owner of SkyBar, predicts that Dudley's will attract people "who've never been down here. Once they know where to park, see this beautiful park where they can walk around, I think lots more people will come."
Gary Means, executive director of the Lexington Parking Authority, said there are more than 1,800 parking spaces — in garages, surface lots and on-street spaces — within a two-block radius of the Cheapside area. All parking meters are free after 5 p.m.
About a year ago, the Cheapside Entertainment District Association was formed by Bob Estes, who owns 259 West Short, next door to Dudley's.
The district is generally bounded by North Limestone, West Short, North Broadway and Vine streets.
But, Estes said, "Anybody can be involved. We don't have hard and fast boundaries."
The group meets monthly, Estes said: "We recognize this as a district within the city. We all look out for each other," he said."It doesn't feel competitive. It's very encouraging to small businesses."
Long said she never considered any location besides downtown. "I just love the people. I enjoy the vibrancy. The energy is fabulous."
Dudley's on Short features 16-foot ceilings upstairs and down, and an elegant staircase that leads to two private dining rooms on the second floor. A rooftop garden is under construction.
"The greatest thing is we're two steps from the kitchen to the dining room," Long said. The kitchen at Dudley Square was in the basement.
The menu has been simplified. Long said she directed her chef Jonathon Gossett to "buy the best and freshest product we can buy. Don't do a lot to it. Let it stand on its own. The flavors of those items will come through."
The restaurant occupies the first two floors of the 1890's building. Offices are on the third floor. Five people own the building. Long, Lynn Parrish and Stuart Vance are majority owners; Josh Morrillia and Todd Skaggs, the minority partners.
Long would not say how much the renovation cost.
Bolstering the restaurant row that's developing along Short Street, Metropol restaurant tripled its size a few months ago.
Two more restaurants will open in that same block later this year.
Krim Boughalem and Andrea Sims have begun renovating a historic building at 310 West Short where they plan a restaurant, plus wine and oyster bar. Table 310 will specialize in fresh, seasonal foods served in a casual atmosphere. "Much more inexpensive than a lot of things around here," Boughalem said. The couple also own Wine + Market at Second and Jefferson.
Edward Saad, a resident of Dubai, bought two buildings at the corner of Short and North Broadway. In one he will open Shakespeare and Co., a restaurant serving breakfast and lunch; in the second, a French pastry shop with chocolates, cakes and ice cream. Saad owns several locations of Shakespeare and Co. in Dubai and the Gulf region, according to the restaurant's Web site.
A native of Lebanon, Saad came to the United States to go to Massachusetts Institute of Technology for his undergraduate and master's degree. He received his Ph.D in chemical engineering at the University of Kentucky and retained an affection for Lexington, said his nephew Abraham Saad, a lawyer in Huntington, W.Va.
Also in the entertainment district, Tarea Ellala will open a sub shop next door to his LA Gourmet Pizza in Triangle Center. "We are working on the menu and choosing our bread," Ellala said.
Earlier this week, Peter Kageyama, founder and producer of the Creative Cities Summit that opens Wednesday at the Lexington Center, was having lunch with downtown developer Phil Holoubek at Dudley's, sitting at a table that looked out on Short Street.
Kageyama said the area developing in the vicinity of Cheapside Park "is a valuable asset to downtown, not just for economics, but for the social capital it creates."
Social capital, he explained, "is all the relationships we have. That inner connectedness among people and the value that has." As he watched the bustle outdoors, Kageyama said, "This is where Lexington comes to meet itself."