Just like a well-made cocktail, some bars have more style than others. These boîtes bring a little big-city sophistication to our laid-back burg.
Bigg Blue Martini
369 W. Vine St., inside Hilton Lexington/Downtown Hotel. (859) 231-9000. Thebiggbluemartini.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Mon.-Sat., noon-1 a.m. Sun.
Yes, there is a Bigg Blue Martini on the menu at the Bigg Blue Martini — two, in fact. But that's just the start for the central downtown bar specializing in its namesake libation. There are a few famous horse martinis, such as the Seattle Slew (with espresso and Starbucks liqueurs), the Secretariat (Maker's Mark and cranberry) and others, including the Georgia Peach (Absolut Peach) and the 007 (watch a James Bond movie if you don't know). Inside the downtown Hilton, it seems like a big draw for the hotel crowds. But with a friendly staff and appetizing menu — although the dessert menu was thin — it's worth a visit whether you like yours shaken or stirred.
Taste: The 007. You should taste what Bond's been drinking the past 60 years.
Rosebud and Silks Lounge
121 N. Mill St. (859) 254-1907. Rosebudbar.tripod.com. Hours: Rosebud is open 5 p.m.-2:30 a.m. daily; Silks is open 4 p.m.-2:30 a.m. daily.
If you like a touch of history with your martini, the sister bars Rosebud and Silks Lounge are two sides of the same Old Lexington coin. Both have horse-racing themes, although Rosebud (named for Derby winner Old Rosebud) has a pub atmosphere, and Silks Lounge (which features jockey memorabilia) is more upscale. Owner Sandy Fields says that the side of the bar that houses Silks is the oldest commercial building in Lexington, dating to 1837. Drinks are reasonably priced, and you can kick back at one of the sidewalk tables to catch a cool breeze.
See: Take a gander at the ceiling for an ornate classical fresco. Also, a giant stuffed swan.
RESTAURANTS WITH BARS
Bar Louie Lexington
161 Lexington Green Cir., on the lower level of The Mall at Lexington Green. (859) 273-7985. Barlouielexington.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Sun.-Thu., 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Fri.-Sat.
The menu assures that it's "OK to drink before noon, or alone, or alone before noon," but the plush semi-circular booths and beautiful bar running through the main room make it more likely you'll take a large group of friends there for fun. Even if you take 100 pals, you might not get all the way through the eccentric drink menu, from the "Ultimate Bloody Louie" to a mixed drink that tastes like s'mores.
Hear: The splash of the fountain at Lexington Green as you sip a syrupy sweet Louie's Cosmo on the patio.
115 W. Main St. (859) 388-9583. Bellinislexington.com. Hours: 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 5-11 p.m. Fri.-Sun.; bar open later depending on demand.
Try to go in here just to drink. Just try it. Bellini's is one of downtown Lexington's best restaurants, and the Italian aromas from the kitchen greet you as you walk through the door. But there also are two comfy bars. One runs inside the restaurant proper, allowing you to soak up that historic building atmosphere and the hustle of the restaurant as you imbibe. The other, set to the left of the restaurant's main entrance, has an old woody and burgundy feel, with a squared bar, several tall bar tables and a TV. And yes, you most certainly can order food from the bar.
Try: It's an Italian restaurant, so although there is an excellent bartending staff, a bottle of red or white would seem appropriate. They have a lot of them.
199 N. Limestone. (859) 246-0999. Hours: 5:30-11 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
Remember the last time you were in Paris? And that little restaurant with high ceilings, original tile floor that was chipped in places but who cared? Bistro music playing in the background? The French bistro Le Deauville re-creates the Parisian experience. At the bar, select wine or a high-end bourbon, perhaps Maker's Mark or Blanton's. It's not a cozy bar, but more of a place to be seen. It's also a favorite hangout of horse folks and local Francophiles.
Taste: Although it's a restaurant, you can sip your drink late: The bar sometimes stays open until 2 a.m. How French.
438 S. Ashland Ave. (859) 317-8438. Thedishlexington.com. Hours: 4 p.m.-close Mon.-Sat.; kitchen open 5-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 5-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.
If you want more than a predictable cosmo after work, head to The Dish. You'll find a distinctive martini list ($9) with eclectic names made for a variety of tastes, from sweet to spicy. A creative seasonal summer cocktail menu features six cocktails expertly prepared. Happy Hour (4 p.m.-close Mon.-Tue., 4-7 p.m. Wed.-Fri., 4-6 p.m. Sat.) features $5 well drinks and summer cocktails, $5 glasses of two or three wines from an extensive list, and $1 off all beers. With a talented chef, knowledgeable bartender and lovely atmosphere inside or on the patio, it's one very special place.
Taste: The Proud Mary Summer Cocktail has 12 fresh ingredients infused with vodka, dashed with tomato and served with a garlic pickle and pepperoncini.
The Julep Cup and Seahorse Lounge
111 Woodland Ave., in The Woodlands. (859) 226-0300. Thejulepcup.com. Hours: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Mon., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Tue.-Thu., 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Sun.
Tucked under the porch of the imposing, elegant Woodlands residential tower, the Seahorse Lounge is a hidden gem. The cozy bar is a bit aquarium-like (in a good way), with its turquoise walls, a big wall of front windows and a seashell-covered soffit above the bar. The clientele can be a bit sleepy, but sometimes a quiet, homey place is just right for having a drink. There's only one beer on tap (Kentucky Ale) but the wine list is sizeable and affordable. There's live music every Friday night.
Taste: How many other bars offer delicious deviled eggs (six for $5) on the appetizer menu?
307 W. Short St. (859) 381-9493. Metropolfinedining.com. Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tue-Sat. Dinner: 5:30-10 p.m. Tue-Thu., 5:30-11 p.m. Fri.-Sat.; will be open 5:30-9 p.m. Sun. during World Equestrian Games, Sept. 25-Oct. 10.
Sip a signature Horse's Neck (Makers Mark and ginger ale with a lemon twist) or a Perfect Margarita that lives up to its name in the heart of downtown's lively entertainment district. Recently expanded white-linen dining, smartly dressed and attentive staff, and Saturday night piano music add up to a sophisticated atmosphere. Drink on the streetside patio, or inside at Lexington's original Harry's Bar, which dates to 2001 but feels decidedly older.
See: Those celebrity caricatures lining the walls? They're the handiwork of the owner.
1060 Chinoe Rd., Suite 104. (859) 333-8788. Rossis-restaurant.com. Hours: 5-10 p.m. Mon-Sat.; 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Sun.
Its beautiful wood décor and warm tones give Rossi's a decidedly upscale atmosphere — and that comes through in its drink selections. A romantic couple looking to share a bottle of wine have plenty of options to choose from, whether they like full-bodied reds or a good riesling. Bourbon drinkers should be equally satisfied, and if you've never had a mint chocolate chip martini before, now you can. Service, however, can be spotty.
Taste: The Champagne Dreams martini is $2 off its normal $9 price during happy hour, 5 to 7 p.m. daily.
162 Old Todds Road, Suite 110. (859) 269-0677. Schoolrestaurantlex.com. Hours: 5:30-10 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 5:30-11 p.m. Fri.Sat., but the bar might stay open later based on demand.
Although primarily a restaurant specializing in Japanese cuisine, sushi and some French dishes, School offers what it calls Lexington's only "culinary cocktails" using the freshest ingredients. One sip of the peach cocktail, and you'll be hooked. But don't expect a hopping bar area in this upscale establishment marked by gleaming hardwoods and modern decor. It's a backdrop in what is otherwise a seemingly unique food offering in Lexington, with its sushi conveyor belt that lets you pick your own rolls.
Hear: On busy nights, you might find yourself in the audience for School's private karaoke room.
Yamaguchi's Sake and Tapas
125 Codell Dr. Sakeandtapas.com. 4 p.m.-midnight Mon.-Fri., 6 p.m.-midnight Sat.
Privacy is part of the experience at Yamaguchi's. This Japanese pub, hidden away in the back of the Richmond Woods shopping center, caters to parties of six and fewer and has an unlisted phone number. "The phone is turned off all the time to provide (a) cozy hideaway experience for our guests," it says on its Web site. But the food and drinks are quite accessible. Yamaguchi's specializes in tapas, the small-plates style of Spain, but with Japanese cuisine. And it goes out of its way to make customers comfortable with food that might be foreign (not every place in Lexington has fresh sea urchin on the menu). Drink specials include $1-off drafts Monday through Thursday, half-price sake on Tuesday and half-price bottles of wine or $2-off glasses of wine on Wednesday.
Taste: Try umesha, a Japanese liqueur made from the ume fruit, steeped in sake. It has a sweet and rich flavor.