When a new version of Al's Bar opened at Sixth and North Limestone in 2007, few saw it as the leap toward making North Limestone the next booming Lexington corridor.
That chunk of North Limestone had struggled for years with a reputation as "The Stroll," an area populated with prostitutes and drug dealers.
Other places on North Limestone, closer to the downtown center, had been renovated and were thriving. Third Street Stuff had become a funky gift shop and destination for all manner of meetings over coffee and a light meal. Atomic Café had one of the city's most crowded patios during the summer, and Mulberry & Lime, which sells fine linens and housewares, operated out of a historic home in which the owner grew up.
But North Limestone at Sixth Street and farther north was largely untouched.
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If you take a walk there now, you'll see a raft of new developments among the gorgeous old buildings in an area neglected by the urban renewal movement of the '60s and '70s, and, as northside resident Griffin VanMeter sees it, all the better for it because many vintage buildings were not leveled.
VanMeter is a partner in Bullhorn Marketing, a company making some noise — literally — at 804 North Limestone. As he talks about area's revitalization in his loft office, saws and drills punctuate his conversation as the building is being renovated.
John Lackey's mesmerizing stop-motion movie of Chad Needham's renovation of a North Limestone liquor store.
For VanMeter, the formula for revitalizing the area, in which he has been working for years, centers around food, music, business and living nearby, as his family does.
Urban County Council member Chris Ford said the North Limestone area has "an energy that is drawing people to this area of our community. I think it's exciting."
To see how North Limestone's resurgence is extending, start around Sixth Street and take a walk toward New Circle Road.
Artist John Lackey works in the former Spalding's bakery at Sixth and Lime, one of the buildings redone by Chad Needham, a graduate of Bryan Station High School and Transylvania University.
"I'm about as northside as it gets. I feel very comfortable investing in this area and seeing it grow," said Needham.
Lackey attended Sayre, so working in his downtown studio "feels like being back at home."
Needham is now working on a home across from Duncan Park, "a beautiful historic three-story" intended for a Lexmark engineer and his wife who want to move downtown.
Nearby, Marty Clifford, president of the North Limestone Neighborhood Association and a neighborhood developer, points to the shotgun-style houses on York Street, just off North Limestone, painted in jewel tones and housing local artists and musicians.
Charlie Campbell, of the artists collective at 754 North Limestone, lives and works in the area, which he thinks is essential to making the street a 24/7 destination.
"It's part of being a good neighbor to put your passion into the area," said Campbell, a Transylvania graduate who can commute to the storefront collective on his orange scooter.
The artists collective, now in the process of being renamed, provides space for artists to work in an environment where they may trade ideas and be in the flow of urban life.
Next door, at 758 North Limestone, is Fleet Street hair salon, where the entryway is paved with thousands of pennies that gleam in the afternoon light.
Fleet Street proprietor Candace Reichbach said she first considered moving into the Jefferson Street area but ultimately decided to locate on Limestone, which she describes as "creative and artistic."
"I was looking to be downtown-ish," she said of her upscale salon. "I'm really not a suburbs kind of girl. Over the next six months to couple of years, this area is really going to start booming."
At 760 North Limestone is a soon-to-open 12-seat restaurant, Café 760, being started by Clifford with John Schremly, former manager of the now-closed Metropol.
A bit farther north, restaurateur Lucie Meyers is planning a casual eatery on Limestone at Loudon Avenue, near the v-intersection with Bryan Avenue. Already, one side of the building is adorned with an elaborate mosaic that glimmers in the light and features various small glass treasures, such as a fried egg adorned with a crown of carrots and a pancake with a pat of butter.
Nearby on Bryan Avenue is the pie slice-shaped building of The Lexington Rescue Mission Thrift Store and the Bazaar at the Gathering Place, which offers artists' and craftsmen's booths and meeting spaces for groups in the North Limestone community.
"The vision of the community is to be walkable," Clifford said as he and Shremly took a jaunt from Café 760 to the thrift store.
The revitalized neighborhood spirit extends up to Embrace Church at 1015 North Limestone — across the street from the newly renovated Arlington Elementary School — where Rosario Picardo has opened the church to artists and musicians, and Ide Bouldin, an art consultant who has worked at the artists collective, volunteers with neighborhood arts and crafts.
"We're trying to tear down any walls that exist between the community and the church," Picardo said.
He and his wife are planning to move to the neighborhood in the summer.
"This area is going to turn around," Picardo said. "It's already come a long way."
Longtime northside resident Rona Roberts, who lives on Campsie Place between North Martin Luther King Boulevard and Elm Tree Lane, credits pioneers from earlier decades with laying the groundwork for extending the street's development, including Meyers, who opened a la Lucie restaurant at 159 North Limestone in 1985, and Sayre School at 194 North Limestone, which has been open since 1854 and has maintained and updated its campus.
And then there's Al's, which, with its arts offerings and community center environment, quickly became a signpost of how far north Limestone's revitalization could extend.
"The first several times we walked from Campsie to Al's and back, I kept saying, 'This is so great! I just can't believe this,'" Roberts said. "'We're walking up North Limestone. At night. I can't believe this.'"