Lexington has a new venue to celebrate cocktail culture.
Belle's Cocktail House on Market Street focuses more on the drinks than on drinking.
Bartenders will pour signature drinks like The Belle Brezing, a refreshing lemony vodka drink with an sultry deep pink hue that is a nod to the city's most famous madam.
Or try Gatewood's Manhattan, a smoky sweet twist on the classic made with Buffalo Trace bourbon and Sombra Mezcal, a nod to the late Gatewood Galbraith's penchant for smoking all sorts of things.
The menu of $9 craft cocktails was created for Belle's by Louisville bartender Jared Schubert. But Belle's also will have plenty of straight bourbon — they have about 50 bourbons now and eventually want to have more than 100 on the regular play list — and more than a dozen craft beers on tap.
"It's a bartender's bar," said Justin Thompson, co-owner of the bar along with the rest of the Bourbon Review team — brother Seth Thompson and Bob Eidson — and restaurateur Larry Redmon. "We want to be known as one of the premier places for cocktails and whiskey in Lexington."
Belle's is a departure from the normal bar scene in two ways: they serve no food and there are only two TVs. Instead, the focus is on you and your drink.
"Lexington doesn't really understand the cocktail movement, so we'll have patience and get more innovative as we grow that taste for the fresh ingredients and the well-prepared drink," Thompson said.
They set a welcoming stage: Behind the 60-foot copper bar, backlit onyx glows and highlights the bourbon collection. A modern portrait of Brezing hangs over a ventless fireplace, all under crystal chandeliers and reflected by antique mirrors.
Upstairs, in lounge space that can be rented for private parties, chesterfield sofas and steamer trunks sit on wood floors reclaimed from a tobacco barn in Winchester, under the glassy gaze of mounted African kudu, wildebeest and water buffalo heads.
The goal is to up the game of Lexington's bar scene, in small but significant ways. Such as the ice: instead of bourbon on the rocks, Belle's has bourbon on "the rock" — a molded, high-density ball of ice that chills the liquor without watering it down too much.
Thompson said they believe that with the renaissance of culinary arts taking place in Central Kentucky, Lexington is ready embrace something new in the bar scene too, just as Louisville and Nashville have.
With their background in bourbon, Thompson and his partners plan to host special tasting events, such as bourbon and cheese pairings.
"We're going to encourage educating and exploring the palate," he said.
But no whiskey snobbery: "Some of the cocktail movement is a little too pretentious," Thompson said. "If folks come in and want a bourbon and Coke, we'll give them a bourbon and Coke. But it will the best bourbon and Coke we can make."
And as for the Herakut mural on the side of the building, Thompson said they plan to leave it.
"People ask all the time," Thompson said. "I like it because it isn't just a big horse. It's different. We're very proud of it."
The Belle Brezing
Cointreau and a dash of Herbsaint
Buffalo Trace Bourbon
Dolin Sweet Vermouth
Hickory liquid smoke
Luxardo Maraschino cherry
If you go
Belle's Cocktail House
Where: 156 Market St.
Open: 8 p.m.-2:30 a.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday; happy hour 4-8 p.m. on Friday.