From the ninth floor of the historic Court Square Building (circa 1905), Skybar offers glowing sunset vistas on Lexington's southwest horizon. As darkness falls, picture windows frame silhouettes of buildings, and a blanket of twinkling city and suburban lights.
This aesthetic potential apparently attracted owner Vince Carlucci. After a walk-around of this former office space and relatively little internal dialog, he woke up on New Year's Day 2009 and said, "I'm gonna do it."
"It" meant reinvent the downtown lounge concept.
The penthouse bar targets a well-traveled crowd already past college and out in the world. Its design, drinks and downtown energy evoke Lexington but cater to an international clientele. Feedback from patrons suggests his vision's success.
"I've had people compare us to similar venues in Dubai, London and Japan," Carlucci says.
Main Street boasts several rooms with a view, but Skybar perhaps has the most intimate feel. Architect Jack Stewart and interior designer Keith McCollum have removed any hint of the workplace. There are warm wood panels, low cocktail tables and chairs, and plush sofa seats. An alcove serves as a stage for Pauly Zarb's live piano music and combo. Small parties can rent one of three private rooms outfitted with high-definition plasma televisions and virtually soundproof doors.
Carlucci admires this creative reuse. "They really utilized every square inch of the space," he says.
The lovely backlit bar is strong on fine bourbons, fun martinis, good sake and great champagnes (some, like Perrier-Jouet, by the glass) but it also stocks rarities like Fernet Branca, the classic Italian digestivo that is making a comeback. A signature drink for Skybar was in the works as of press time.
And then there is a separate wine list. Skybar currently emphasizes New World wines, but manager Brian Flynn is updating the list with bottles that will interest local oenophiles, horse farm owners from other countries and the many other foreign visitors attending the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games this fall.
To go with the wine (and comply with licensing regulations), food is served from lunchtime on. The sushi bar prepares the cooked and the raw — there is a signature "Kentucky Roll" featuring beer cheese — while the kitchen, on the eighth floor, turns out small bites such as beef and lamb carpaccio, a selection of cheeses and a mini-portion of duck confit.
If there is food and drink to suit just about everyone, one might say the same about the Skybar atmosphere, or should I say "atmospheres"? Thus far, I have seen three.
The subdued persona at the start of happy hour is low-key, just a few people talking softly and mellowing out after a day at the office. Another face shows up about 8 p.m., as everyone gears up for serious fun. The later Saturday-night crowd, spirited and loud, is anything but subdued, standing elbow to elbow wherever there is a free spot.
Finally, Skybar has selling points that elude categorization: Where else in Lexington does the doorman speak five languages? How great is it that Skybar encourages responsible drinking by providing limousine service at no charge to pick people up and take them home?
Skybar's grand opening is not scheduled until later this month, but almost everyone knows since the soft opening last November that there is a hot new spot downtown.
Carlucci is glad to be part of the city center's general revitalization.
"One person's success benefits everybody. Even if you don't go to Skybar one night, you will eventually find it," he says. "We all benefit from each other bringing people downtown."