When a block of historic buildings was razed in 2008 to make way for the CentrePointe project, live-music enthusiasts mourned the loss of The Dame, a popular downtown music venue at the center of an emerging entertainment district.
Some fans feared the demise of downtown nightlife as The Dame and other bars and restaurants on the block disappeared. But two years later, the music scene is thriving despite being more dispersed, say prominent players in the local nightlife industry.
"One major player closed and 10 bars have replaced it," said J.D. McHargue, who has been involved for 30 years in the local club scene with well-known spots like Breeding's, Crazy Jack's and Blue Moon. He's now a consultant for the Bar Lex complex on East Main Street.
In particular, McHargue said the city's decision to close Cheapside Street to traffic and to open the Fifth Third Pavilion in Cheapside Park was a major boon to downtown entertainment.
"You have essentially one huge patio party going on down there, with stronger nightlife than when there were just a few small bars," he said.
The bustling nightlife extends a few blocks from Cheapside in each direction, including to South Limestone between Avenue of Champions and Vine.
The street opened last week after a yearlong construction project that buried utility lines, widened sidewalks and added bike lanes, rain gardens and new street lights.
"You've had people make a big investment in the Two Keys (Tavern), the Sound Bar, and a huge investment by people from out of town in the Tin Roof," McHargue said.
"South Lime is going to explode," he said.
Of the businesses on the block that were razed to make way for CentrePointe, several closed for good. But a handful moved to other spots downtown and seem to be doing well.
The Dame moved to East Main Street in 2008 but closed less than a year later.
"Part of the mystique of The Dame was its location in the middle of a clump of bars," McHargue said. "When it moved, the magic disappeared."
The Dame manager Nick Sprouse launched Sprouse House Productions, booking entertainment at venues around Lexington.
Buster's, a small bar and billiards establishment next door to The Dame, was sold to two of its longtime supporters, Jessica and Clark Case, who moved the business to the historic Old Tarr Distillery, an 11,000-square-foot building on Manchester Street in the Distillery District. The name was changed to Buster's Billiards and Backroom.
Buster's has evolved into a mid-range music venue that can accommodate 1,000 people.
"We have music three or four nights a week, and big shows four or five times a month," Jessica Case said.
The Cases were part of the failed effort to stop demolition of the historic block.
"We found opportunity in the way the events turned out," Case said. "You're handed lemons, you make lemonade. So something good has come from that block."
Mia's restaurant moved to the corner of Short and Limestone, and it added Sunday brunch, Monday karaoke night and a poetry slam every other Tuesday.
The combination of bad weather and challenging economic times made the past winter "really hard," owner Maribeth Tolson said.
With warmer weather, "it seems like we're coming out of it OK," she said. "We're busier than ever."
Rent is triple what she paid in her former "hole in the wall" on South Upper Street. But the trade-off is "a beautiful location that is extremely visible" and attracts walk-in customers, Tolson said.
The Triple Crown Lounge closed permanently. Club 141, a nightclub that became Club Z-1, a gay club, had closed before the block was demolished.
Marcus Howard, son of the late Mark Wilson, who owned Club 141 and Club Z-1, said recently he would "really like to get back in the business" but has moved on to do other things.
Rite Aid closed, leaving downtown without a drugstore. But CVS drugstore is working to get design approval for a new store planned on East Main Street.
Terry Grossman, owner of the Mad Hatter hat shop, closed the shop in 2007 and sold his building to developer Dudley Webb for $800,000. At the time, Grossman had expressed plans to reopen elsewhere, but that hasn't happened. Grossman was arrested in December on voyeurism and stalking charges.
Joe Rosenberg Jewelers
Joe Rosenberg Jewelers was in the oldest continuously operated commercial building in downtown. Rosenberg moved his business to an East Main Street building that he and partners bought.
"We're loving it," he said Friday.
Sam's Hot Dog Stand
Gary Maslyn and Stephanie Norman moved Sam's Hot Dog Stand to North Limestone, across from the Robert F. Stephens Courthouse Complex, before the block was torn down.
"It turned out good for us," Maslyn said Friday. "We're very pleased."