This year was a roller coaster ride for Lexington foodies that seemed to accelerate as 2017 went on.
The year opened with the news that JDI Grille closed on New Year’s Day, and with Marikka’s beer garden on Southland was demolished in January.
By mid-year, the closures were hitting all over town, with at least four restaurants near the University of Kentucky campus closing: Smashburger and Firehouse Subs in the CenterCourt condo complex, the Fazoli’s on Winslow Street, and Street Craves and Freakin’ Unbelievable Burgers.
Perhaps no area was hit harder than downtown, which lost Enoteca on Jefferson Street, The Julep Cup on Woodland and Main, Chatham’s on Woodland, Wines on Vine on Old Vine, all in October, and Limestone Blue on Limestone in November. Cheapside, a downtown staple for more than 32 years, closed at least temporarily in November. And one restaurant, Real Hamburger at 310 Short, was open only a few months.
District Sport & Tap, which opened in mid-2016 off South Broadway, closed after a year; the Toll House Cafe/Red Mango cookie and smoothie place and Big Shake’s Hot Chicken, both also off South Broadway, didn’t make that even that long.
But longstanding Lexington restaurants weren’t immune either: Hunan Chinese, a classic on Southland for decades, closed in the fall.
The iconic original Logan’s Roadhouse on South Broadway and the first Fazoli’s on North Broadway both closed last summer, as did the Orange Leaf on Romany, despite a connection to University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari.
But every time a restaurant closed, something else took its place. In fact, more than 80 new restaurants opened all over town in 2017.
▪ Marikka’s is being built back bigger than ever, with a brewery and indoor volleyball courts. Buenos Nachos opened in August where the former Rincon Mexicano was, bringing Mexican food back to Euclid.
When Tom + Chee closed in January, it promptly became a Vinaigrette Salad Kitchen. And speaking of Vinaigrette, a fifth one opened in Palomar before the end of the year. The Madam opened, then closed on Vine and Lime, then Ipalapa’s moved in.
Off Broadway, DV8 Kitchen opened where Big Shake’s Hot Chicken was. Miyako’s Poke Bowl was scheduled to open where the chocolate chip cookies and smoothies used to be.
The star-crossed spot at 310 Short, which was Real Hamburger for a few months, reopened in November as the New Orleans-style bar Creaux, which plans to add creole food.
The Bridge closed on Waller Avenue but reopened on Romany Road with a menu that now includes Turkish and Mediterranean food as well as pizza and subs. And Alexander Bullitt’s Winery, Brewery and Bistro opened in the former JDI spot on Broadway and Cedar in December.
▪ Much of Lexington’s restaurant growth came with the opening of The Summit at Fritz Farm beginning in May, where about two dozen new restaurants opened in quick succession: Athenian Grill, Atomic Ramen, Babalu Tapas & Tacos, Blaze Pizza, Blue Sushi Sake Grill, CoreLife Eatery, Crank & Boom Craft Ice Cream, CRÚ Food & Wine Bar, Edley’s Bar-B-Que, Grimaldi’s Brick Oven Pizzeria, Honeywood by Ouita Michel, J. Alexander’s, Pasture by Marksbury Farms, Shake Shack, Smithtown Seafood, Starbucks, Steel City Pops, Ted’s Montana Grill, Texas de Brazil, The Deli, Whiskey Bear, Whole Foods Market and World of Beer all opened last summer.
▪ New chains came to town, with The Simple Greek opening in Tates Creek Centre Drive in June; The Casual Pint on Main on March with hundreds of different beers available; and Jason’s Deli on Malabu in October. At Hamburg, Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers, Double Dogs (with approval from the health department for a dog-friendly area), and a second Taziki’s all opened this year.
▪ Familiar chains made news, too: Bar Louie’s came back, this time to Fayette Mall, with craft burgers and cocktails. Another BurgerFi opened on Euclid and Rose in the newly renovated Coliseum Plaza, where Baskin Robbins once was. Bennigan’s returned, this time to the Richmond Road/I-75 area, inside a motel.
But local restaurant owners were busy as well, opening new places all year long.
▪ Downtown, Lucie Slone Meyers, who died in July, opened her last place, Lucie’s Red Light Kitchen and Lounge in February. Jonathan Lundy’s Corto Lima debuted on Short and Lime in February. School Sushi re-opened in May, this time on Short with elegant sushi and traditional Japanese specialties. Lussi Brown coffee shop and Bar Ona opened on Church Street in May; Mumbai Masala opened in March with a lunch buffet on High Street in the former Bombay Brazier spot.
▪ There was a blossoming on Main Street: West Main Crafting Co., a bar, opened in May, as did the Seltzer Club, another craft cocktail bar that opened in the former Bellini’s building. Bourbon on Rye, a cocktail bar with small plates, opened in October for evenings and weekends.
▪ Many local Lexington restaurants expanded: Pasta Bodega, from Lexington Pasta Garage, opened on Limestone; Chocolate Holler, from the owner of a Cup of Common Wealth, opened on Vine; and Bear and the Butcher, from the guys at The Village Idiot, Beer Trappe and Pazzo’s, opened in September. Barrel House Distillery opened Elkhorn Tavern on the Pepper campus, where other new restaurants and another distillery are supposed to be opening, too. The guys who opened NiceNPan across from the UK campus added Limestone Pizza next door in the fall.
▪ Others made changes: Bradford BBQ closed, but to move to Garrard County where they plan to open a new restaurant in a historic venue. Howlin’ Wolf Burgers opened a new location on Broadway then closed the original place (once known as the Meadowthorpe Cafe) on Leestown Road. Talley’s BBQ opened on Boardwalk, where Amici’s closed after a year.
▪ And there were newcomers: Nefertiti in Eastland Shopping Center on Winchester Road and became a popular place for those looking for a tasty meal on the cheap. Hayden’s Stockyard Eatery opened at the new Bluegrass Stockyards, on Ironworks Pike, serving breakfast and lunch from Lexington caterer DaRae Marcum. Mr. Brews Taphouse opened in December on Ruccio Way.
▪ There were new owners for Alfalfa on Main and Lynagh’s on Woodland, two longtime Lexington dining fixtures. Alfalfa was bought by Cameron and Kevin Heathcoat, who updated the menu and sped up service. Lynagh’s was purchased by UK professor Amy Messer, who pledged to bring back the original O’Round and other student favorites.
What will the new year bring for Lexington diners? Will anything go into the former National Provisions building on National Avenue? Or the big Coba Cocina building on Richmond Road. What about the vacant spot in Dudley Square where Sabio used to be? Will we see new signs soon on the Enoteca building on Jefferson, Chatham’s on Woodland or The Julep Cup on Main? And will Cheapside really reopen?
Stay tuned and stay hungry.