Restaurant News & Reviews

Where's the action now?

For several years, the area around Upper and Main streets was the core of Lexington's nightlife.

The Dame was center stage at 156 West Main, drawing hundreds of people for live music. Buster's pool hall was next door, and Mia's was just around the corner on South Upper Street.

People circulated among those establishments, as well as McCarthy's Irish Bar on South Upper and Harvey's bar and Hugo's nightclub on Main.

"It just kind of worked," said Seth Bennett, general manager at McCarthy's. "There was something for everybody."

But The Dame, Buster's and Mia's have moved on to new locations after being displaced last summer when their block was demolished to make way for the planned CentrePointe development, for which construction still hasn't begun.

Now, McCarthy's, Harvey's and Hugo's are holding their own, but their operators and patrons say things aren't quite the same.

"The crowd is still good on the weekends. That hasn't changed much at all," said Avena Kiely, who owns Harvey's and Hugo's with her husband.

She said Hugo's is only open on weekends, so it hasn't been affected. Harvey's, however, is open during the week.

"The weeknights, I think, are a little slower," Kiely said.

Bennett, of McCarthy's, also acknowledged the difference.

"There's not the same kind of buzz around town, especially around this block, that there used to be," Bennett said.

Kiely said she thinks the poor economy, as well as cold weather, could be contributing to the slowdown as well.

"People will be a lot more likely to walk around in the summer," Kiely said.

There's little street parking in the area, and sidewalks have been closed off in front of the block where Buster's and The Dame used to be.

"It's difficult for people to get here right now," Bennett said. "The sidewalks are closed. You really have to want to go here."

Julie Archbold, who was hanging out with two pals at Hugo's on a recent Saturday night, misses the way things were.

"I don't like to come out downtown anymore because I don't have the variety right here," she said. "There needs to be some sort of strip where there is more of a group of bars."

Her friend Erica Jones agreed.

Before The Dame, Buster's and Mia's moved, Jones said, "We could say, 'I'm bored, let's go across the street.' And now it's like, 'I'm bored. Well, let's just go home.'"

She said the cold sometimes even deterred her from walking from McCarthy's to Harvey's or Hugo's.

But still, on a recent night the dance floor was packed with gyrating revelers at Hugo's, every table was filled at Harvey's and McCarthy's was crowded with customers.

Some customers said they haven't even noticed a change.

"I don't think it's affected the business here at all," said April Noble, who was visiting Hugo's with Archbold and Jones. "It's kind of like it gets flooded. A few people come in early and then 11, or 11:30, you can't walk around. Forget about finding a seat."

Patrick Kelley, who was next door at Harvey's, said new nightspots, such as The Penguin Dueling Piano Bar down Main Street in The 500s building, are also popping up and helping make downtown vibrant.

"It seems like people will still walk from here to there," he said. "I really don't think that it's hurt business at all."

Brendan Shevlin, who was part of a group at McCarthy's after a University of Kentucky basketball game, said he supported the decision to tear down the block where The Dame was located, but he still misses the atmosphere it brought to the area.

"The nightlife has just gravitated to other spots," he said.

But he still enjoys McCarthy's.

"You're not going to scuff anybody's Prada here," he said.

Bennett, the general manager, said he's focused on McCarthy's and hasn't even looked at the plans for CentrePointe.

"We definitely have a positive outlook on this thing," he said. "It'll come back. I know it will."