Old fashioned at Bluegrass Tavern
How much bourbon is too much bourbon? The answer is “never enough” at one Lexington bar, which has amassed a staggering collection of 916 bourbons (and counting.)
This labyrinth of liquor at Bluegrass Tavern, an unassuming bourbon bar nestled on Cheapside Park, is one of the largest bourbon collections in the country.
Opened by local serial bar owner Larry Redmon in 2007, Bluegrass Tavern is currently under the guidance of Sean Ebbitt. Born in California, Ebbitt worked in bars owned by his father growing up. They moved to Lexington when he was 10 and he later worked at O’Neill’s in Lexington. After graduating from Eastern Kentucky University in 2009 with a degree in psychology, Ebbitt moved to New York City where he worked JPMorgan Chase and then Nielsen before relocating to London and Oxford, England, to manage Nielsen’s liquor division, providing analytics for industry giants such as Heineken.
The work, although well-compensating, became grueling, with awkward and demanding hours. In late 2017, Ebbitt decided to begin a career working for himself; he moved back to Lexington, striking a deal with Redmon to buy on the bar in March 2018.
Ebbitt uses his analytical background to increase sales margins while sticking to what works behind the bar and updating the interior and exterior aesthetics to make the space more open and inviting. With a grant from the Downtown Lexington Partnership, he added a sliding door and patio area at the front of the bar, which opens to the Cheapside Park.
Ebbitt leans on the expertise of bartenders Jason Bartlett and Bobby Wray, each with nearly a decade of experience each behind the Bluegrass Tavern bar, back to when the watering hole’s bourbon collection had a meager 100 options. The duo know the bar’s bourbon collection like the backs of their hands, from 1950s vintage rarities to the latest addition to their collection, a barrel pick from Old Forester. And they are always at the ready to wield that knowledge to find the customer the bourbon best suited for their palate.
“I would say that between the two of them, if it’s opened and on the shelf, they’ve tried it,” said Ebbitt.
Their most expensive bourbon is the Col. E.H. Taylor Warehouse C Tornado Surviving Bourbon, which is $300 a shot. The oldest is Special Old Reserve from 1916, but it isn’t for sale.
The next project for Ebbitt is to incorporate artwork and other pieces commemorating bourbon’s history, from pictures of distilleries from the present and yesteryear to copies of the original bourbon barrel patent and an archived list of Kentucky distilleries past and present and their fates suffered, from mergers to death by prohibition.
“I’m just trying to take the torch from Larry and what he built here,” said Ebbitt. “It’s like a boat moving ... full steam ahead. I’m just hopping on and doing my best to keep pace and not slow anything down.”
With an enviable bourbon selection, even in Kentucky, Bluegrass Tavern has earned the nickname from some as “the 19th hole on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.”
What: Bourbon bar with 916 different bourbons, 16 beers on tap and a variety of other spirits
Where: 115 Cheapside, Lexington, Ky
Hours: 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Tuesdays and 5 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Wednesday-Saturday