Doug Breeding and J. D. McHargue, two veterans of the nightclub scene in Lexington, have opened the newest downtown watering hole, the Henry Clay Public House in a historical building built in 1805 by the American statesman.
"We've always been in the nightclub business, but we wanted a bar, and we wanted to be downtown," Breeding said.
The Henry Clay Public House at 112 North Upper is one of five eating establishments and bars that have opened, or soon will open, around Cheapside Park, bolstering that area's identity as an entertainment district.
Breeding and McHargue's venture faces the old courthouse and is next door to the building where the 21C Museum Hotel is scheduled to go.
"This is the best place to be," Breeding said of the location. The partners said hotel guests "will want to come over and see where Henry Clay practiced law," Breeding said.
In turn, Breeding said, the Public House "will bring life to this side of the courthouse."
"The more concentration of dining and drinking places, the more Short Street and Cheapside become a destination," said Renee Jackson, president of the Downtown Lexington Corp.
With Colt trollies now running on Short Street between Jefferson and Limestone streets, "People can start at one end of Short and work their way down," she said. "I think it's great to have all that energy so close together."
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With the dozens of bars and restaurants in the west end of downtown, some might ask whether a saturation point has been reached.
Jeff Fugate, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, sees it as the "cluster theory of economics."
"Restaurants do better when there are other restaurants around them," Fugate said.
A few years ago, "Some people would have told you three restaurants is all downtown Lexington could support. But 300,000 people live in Lexington. It has become a destination as well as a neighborhood," he said.
"Each concept is different," said Andrew Suthers, executive chef at The Village Idiot, 307 West Short Street. The British gastro-pub is scheduled to open Aug. 1. "Everyone brings something different to the table," he said.
Part of what makes Short Street attractive is the scale of the street, Fugate said. "It's a two-lane street where traffic moves at a moderate pace, not speeding. It's very pedestrian-friendly. And it has a certain quaintness with all the old buildings."
Short Street has become the kind of showpiece that is good to take visitors to, Fugate said. "The image people take home with them is a street that is vibrant and has people on it after 5 p.m."
Bob Estes, owner of Parlay Social bar and restaurant, 257 West Short, and president of the Cheapside Entertainment District Association, said people from throughout Central Kentucky, and Louisville and Cincinnati, "want to check out Short Street and the Cheapside area and see what's going on. It's become a destination."
Once people are in the area, "It's nice to be able to walk to five or six restaurants," he said.
However, Estes said, if downtown continues to pull from a larger geographic area, the city has to provide more parking and install way-finding signs to help people get around downtown.
The city transferred ownership of three downtown parking garages to the Lexington Parking Authority earlier this year, so Estes said he is optimistic that parking and signs will be tackled.
Gary Means, executive director of the parking authority, said in an email that the parking garages need to be clean and safe. "We are working on that already," he said.
The next step will be making the garages easy to find and use. Perpendicular, lighted signs saying "parking" in large letters will be mounted on the garages early next year, Means said.
Also, the Parking Authority is working on technology to let drivers know the number of parking spots available in each garage. The information will be posted on the Parking Authority's Web site and available as an app for smartphones.
"We are excited about the new technology," he said. "We hope to use all the enhancements available to boost people's confidence that there is space available downtown, it's easy to find, easy to use and reasonably priced."
Several bars and restaurants around Short Street between Broadway and North Limestone have recently opened or are scheduled to open later this summer. Here is a closer look at those establishments:
Shakespeare and Co., an ornately appointed restaurant and bar in two adjoining buildings at 367 West Short Street, opened May 20.
Owner Edward Saad, a Dubai businessman who earned a doctorate in chemical engineering at the University of Kentucky, said, "Part of me is a Kentuckian."
He and his wife, Aline, who has a background in fashion design, opened the first Shakespeare in 2001 in Dubai, and they now have 15 restaurants in the United Arab Emirates. Lexington's Shakespeare will be the U.S. flagship location as the restaurant begins to franchise in the United States.
"I chose Lexington because it is such a charming town," he said. "We wanted our presence to be smack in the middle of downtown."
Saad described Shakespeare as "not fine dining but fun, casual dining, and top quality." Sidewalk dining is available, with comfortable cushioned chairs and small sofas. There also is an interior courtyard, and banquet space on the second floor.
The restaurant opens daily for breakfast at 7:30 a.m. "If you want smoked salmon for breakfast and eggs Benedict at 4 p.m., we can do that," Saad said.
The restaurant closes at 11 p.m., the bar at 1 a.m. The Saads also own Georgia's Kitchen cafe and Georgette's & Chiffons boutique, both at 900 North Broadway.
Rosetta, at Short Street and North Limestone, is a full-service restaurant with sidewalk tables and comfy outdoor sofas. Office manager Sarah Kays described the restaurant, which opened May 8, as having "a very nice business atmosphere, but it's speedy and competitively priced with other downtown restaurants."
The interior is sleek, white and contemporary, with lots of glass, large mirrors and a crystal chandelier that's spectacular at night. "I think we're becoming the hub of where great food and drink is," owner and chef Brandon Owens said.
Owens described Rosetta's food as having Southern roots with a French influence. "Our menu is not large. It's precise and it changes every day. Whatever's fresh. We're going for the local meat, herbs, greens, vegetables. Farmers pull up with these things fresh from the farm, and that's what inspires us," Owens said.
The restaurant is developing a following with people who stop by after an event at the Lexington Opera House or a party.
"We're like an after-party place. After Thursday Night Live, a lot of people come here," she said.
On Thursday, Friday and Saturday, the restaurant stops serving entrees at 11 p.m., but short plates (similar to appetizers) are served until about 1:30 a.m.
Rosetta, named for Owens' grandmother Rosetta Napier, is open daily for lunch, dinner and Sunday dinner from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. More than 25 wines are available by the glass and range in price from $8 to $18.
Limestone Blue, next door to Rosetta at 133 North Limestone, is described on its Web site as a café, wine and beer bar, and art gallery. A giant banner hung on the front says "coming soon."
The Village Idiot, styled as an upscale British gastro pub, at 307 West Short, was scheduled to open May 1. A few days earlier, the building was damaged by an arsonist's fire.
"We lost all the front of the house. The damage turned out to be more extensive that it looked like at first," executive chef Andrew Suthers said. Opening is now set for Aug. 1.
The pub will have 24 beers on tap, a selection of 80 to 90 beers in bottles and "food without pretense," Suthers said. "Nothing on the menu over $20."
Suthers said he and general manager Brett Behr want The Village Idiot to be the kind of place customers come to several times a week.