When Victorian Square added three new bars this year, it gave downtown Lexington a new lease on nightlife.
And although the Fusion Lounge closed recently, that left five bars in Victorian Square alone, and the Penguin Piano Bar opened just down the street.
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With so many bars so close together, the mission was clear:
Belly up to the bars, boys; it's time for a pub crawl.
Here is how it went:
Horse & Barrel
101 N. Broadway, beside deSha's. 5 p.m.-midnight Mon.-Wed., 5 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Thu.-Sat. (859) 259-3771. www.tavernrestaurantgroup.com.
It started out with three of us at the Horse & Barrel, getting there about 9:15 on a Friday night, just in time to see the tail end of a University of Kentucky basketball game across the street in Rupp Arena. The place was about half full before the end of the game, but it filled up fast with UK fans.
There are about 10 seats at the bar, which has the feel of an old-school English pub, and we had one of the five small tables across from it. Then there are larger tables around a fireplace toward the back and down a few steps.
A sign over the bar declares that it has “the world's largest ultra-premium bourbon collection,” and it has more than 70 bourbon labels. Some patrons were partaking in a pour of Pappy Van Winkle's.
The Horse & Barrel is the pub sidekick to deSha's Restaurant and Bar. Both are part of the Tavern Restaurant Group, which also owns The Pub by Fayette Mall. The H&B has a menu of its own that includes such British pub fare as fish and chips, shepherd's pie and bangers (spicy sausages).
We meant to hit deSha's also, but this was as close as we got. Anyway, deSha's is a little too upscale for a real pub crawl, not that the H&B is a dive.
The post-game rush filled the place and our group, now up to five, had to squeeze our way out the back door and go in search of the Lower 48.
The Lower 48
401 W. Short St., on lower floor of Victorian Square (enter from Short St. or through atrium). 7 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Tue.-Sat., but sometimes earlier for occasions such as a UK game. Live music. www.lower48bar.com
Snaking through Victorian Square's atrium, we found the Lower 48 in a kind of stone-walled cellar. It's like spelunking into a beer cave.
The first smallish room holds the bar and some good ol' drinking buddies who love their new hangout.
Behind the bar, a big-screen TV was taking a video feed from the music area that's down the hall and first door on the left, across from the bathrooms.
On this night, it was playing some techno sounds even though it was still a little early for dancing. Sometimes it's rockabilly and sometimes it's an '80s cover band — who knows you'll hear.
We spelunked down the corridor and lounged in the Willie Nelson grotto — his face in a photo hangs above some metal chairs, a glass coffee table and a red leather sofa. It's kind of an odd mix but the whole is kind of an odd mix — and it works.
Brooklyn Sports Grille and Pizzeria
415 W. Short St. 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-11 p.m. Sun. Live music. www.myspace.com/brooklynsportsgrille.
We weaved through the people on the stoop on Short Street who were trying to stay out of the drizzle and paid $3 to get in about 10:45.
In the front room, there were some UK fans polishing off a pie. But there are no TVs in the first room of the bar. In the main part of the place there are big screens, but most of the patrons were more tuned in to the band than to the TVs.
Our group headed out to the balcony and were joined by some people who had hit the Brooklyn right after the UK game. Then there were 11 of us at two tables overlooking the atrium. No TVs there, either.
The drink menu included something called “bong water.” “This one's sure to be a ‘hit,'” the menu said. It wasn't. The drink of choice seemed to be the 24-ounce can of Pabst Blue Ribbon, especially by those hanging with the alt-rock band, which was pretty good, but out of place if you are expecting a sports bar.
It would work better as a place to gather for some dinner (food report: The calzones are better than the pizza) and serve as a launching pad for the other stops on the crawl.
The Chase Tap Room
135 N. Broadway, at Short St. 2:30 p.m.-2:30 a.m. daily. Live music, art exhibits. www.chasetaproom.com.
It was a Short Street crawl to the next pub, The Chase Tap Room. Plenty of beers on tap (12), not much room by the time we rolled in shortly before midnight. The former Hutchinson's Drug Store, at the corner of Broadway and Short, has been stripped down, retrofitted and turned into a party emporium that was dominated by the college crowd. If you were looking to meet that special someone for the evening, this place offered the best odds.
It was packed, too packed for most of our party — now down to 10. Next time we will have to hit it a little earlier. A few people ordered drinks, but most decided not to even try to sample from the beer selection — which includes Dogfish Head, Flying Dog and Breckenridge — and we slipped out the back door and back into the atrium.
401 W. Main St., facing Triangle Park. Live music. (859) 455-9139. www.devassa.net.
On the opposite side of the Square from The Chase, DeVassa offers a very different vibe. Easygoing but festive, busy but not too busy, two beers on tap instead of 12, small but not too small. There is food on the menu and outdoor seating along Main Street that would be a great place to hang if it were warmer.
In front of the DJ (there even was vinyl on the turntables), there was a little space for dancing that wasn't being used until our group arrived.
It's working for a Brazilian vibe and serves the caipirinha, a traditional Brazilian drink. And though I have never been to Brazil, the bar with pillars festooned with palm leaves worked for most of my group, especially the women, getting several votes as their favorite stop on the tour.
The Penguin Piano Bar
517 W. Main St., in The 500s on Main complex. Open Thu.-Sat. (doors at 8 p.m., music at 9 p.m.); CLOSED Nov. 28-Dec. 1 for Thanksgiving. Live music. www.penguinpianobar.com.
Down Main Street and around a little construction barrier, in the 500s on Main condo complex, is The Penguin. It was a short wait in the drizzle to pay a $5 cover.
A quaint little piano bar it is not. It's huge, with a second, balcony-level bar looking down on the stage. It was crowded (we got a couple of chairs, but no table), and because it was almost 1 a.m. when we rolled in, it was rowdy.
The piano players (three rotating between two pianos and a drum set) were fine on the keyboards, their singing was no worse than mine, and they put on a good show. The songs were radio standards that everybody could sing along with, as people danced around them. The lyrics were sometimes altered for a laugh or frequently to work in the line “no drinks on the stage.” “Joy to the world, no drinks on the stage now …”
There was joy. There were drinks on the stage. There were piano players taking drinks from people with drinks on the stage.
It's a fun bar, a great place to finish off a crawl. Just don't bring your drinks on the stage.