Buster's to reopen, add music venue

Buster's, the beer-only pool hall that closed in June to make way for the planned CentrePointe high-rise project, is scheduled to re-open in mid-August in the Old Tarr Distillery.

New owners Jessica Case and her husband Clark said they signed a contract Monday to lease the entire original portion of the distillery at 899 Manchester Street.

"The front part of the building will be Buster's, pretty much the same as ever with pool tables and a jukebox. No cover," said Jessica Case,

The back area will become a music venue with a capacity for 1,000 people standing, filling what they say is a hole in Lexington's music scene for a mid-size venue. In comparison, The Dame's new location on Main Street can hold about 500 for live music.

"Between Chicago and Atlanta, there's no place big enough for a lot of bands except Rupp Arena," Case said. "We hope to fill that gap and pick up a lot of talent that way."

For patrons who want to hear music, the back will be separately ticketed.

Case and her husband, both 31 and lawyers, bought the business from John Bower, who opened Buster's in 1992 at 164 West Main Street as a punk music bar with a jukebox, pool tables, dart boards and bottle beer. Occasionally, live music was featured.

Buster's and its former next-door-neighbor The Dame helped formed the nucleus of downtown nightlife in Lexington.

Both bars closed in June as developers prepared to demolish the block to make way for the proposed hotel and condominium high rise.

The Cases must wait until May 17 to take possession of Old Tarr because of 20 events scheduled there through the spring.

Old Tarr is part of the proposed Distillery District, an arts and entertainment district seeking approval for state increment financing from the Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority board. The Distillery District's tax application will be voted on by the board at 10 a.m. Thursday in Frankfort.

The vote "really is the turning point as far as the TIF is concerned at the state level," said developer Barry McNees, adding,"That's the gold standard we've been going for, state approval."

The Cases are working with a bank to secure financing for their venture, Jessica Case said. Outfitting the building to function as an entertainment center will cost an estimated $400,000 to $500,000. Plans call for building a stage, green rooms and bathrooms.

"We feel strongly if Lexington is to realize its potential as an exciting, vibrant city that adaptive re-use of historic structures is an essential component," she said.

Gene Williams, owner of Natasha's Bistro & Bar on the Esplanade, called it "exciting when a landmark business is able to stay in business and navigate around development."

Williams said he was excited about plans for developing the Manchester Street corridor. "It's in keeping with the way some of us think downtown needs to develop, in small niches and neighborhoods."