New bar opens in site of former Penguin piano bar

The Penguin Dueling Piano Bar in downtown Lexington has been sold to local ownership and has reopened as Paulie's Toasted Barrel.

The piano bar opened in 2008 and was known for flying in piano players from around the country to take requests and play from memory rather than from sheet music.

It was the first Penguin location outside of Columbia, Mo., where the bar's trio of owners started the first while studying at the University of Missouri.

"We just felt like it had run its course," co-owner Craig Hays said. "None of us live there anymore. We would get back and forth as much as we could and were still very involved.

"But when there was an offer to sell, we moved forward with it."

The bars were no longer the top focus for the owners. Hays works for a commodities brokerage in Chicago and said the other owners work as a farmer and a software engineer.

The trio have also sold a bar in Dallas and maintain only the Columbia bar and another in Cincinnati.

"Let's just say they're for sale, but we're in no hurry," Hays said.

The Lexington site is now Paulie's Toasted Barrel and is being operated by Paul Nierzwicki, a former Penguin customer, and former Penguin general manager Harrison Miller.

Nierzwicki's daughter Erica said her father lives above the bar and would often come down and have a couple of drinks at the Penguin.

"My dad and I have always wanted to own a bar together and run it," she said.

The Penguin closed Oct. 6 and underwent renovations, said Cody Wheeler, director of services for Paulie's Toasted Barrel.

The bar opened late last month and features hardwood floors recovered from tobacco warehouses, barrel tables and a new stage. Live music is offered Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and the owners plan to continue hosting piano players on the third weekend of each month. The other weeks will see a variety of musical genres, including rock, country and bluegrass.

The upstairs has been designed as a bourbon lounge, Wheeler said, and several large televisions have been added for sports fans.