Fayette County

Apprehensive and excited, regulars line up to see the new Tolly-Ho

Taylor Hollingsworth served customer Donna Graves at Tolly-Ho's new home on South Broadway. Brittany Norton totaled up the bill.
Taylor Hollingsworth served customer Donna Graves at Tolly-Ho's new home on South Broadway. Brittany Norton totaled up the bill.

John O'Shea said he showed up at Tolly-Ho on Thursday morning at 4 so he could be one of the first in line.

Joe Walters and his son Jay made sure they were there as well to eat lunch at Lexington's legendary 24/7 diner.

They and many others were in line to experience the grand opening of the new Tolly-Ho on South Broadway — the third location for the popular University of Kentucky hangout since it opened in 1971.

The opening of a new location didn't come without a mix of emotions from people, both excited and apprehensive.

After a place has been around for 40 years, many were worried that the color and atmosphere of the old building on South Limestone wouldn't transfer to the new location.

"We knew how special that was," restaurant manager Matt Salyer said. "We were caretakers of that. From what we've heard, we did a good job of that."

Joe Walters said he came to know Tolly-Ho as his go-to spot on late nights when he was a UK student in the 1970s.

He said on nights when he was tired of studying and just wanted some food, he could roll over to Tolly-Ho.

But it was what happened inside Tolly-Ho that gave it its identity.

"At the old location, and especially the first location (on Euclid), there was always a hint of danger — that something terrible was going to happen at Tolly-Ho," he said, laughing. "But it was great to go there because you never knew what was going to happen. It was dinner and a show.

"When they moved to the new location it was a lot cleaner and a lot nicer, and there wasn't that hint of danger. Maybe some day there will be that hint of danger here."

And when his son Jay was born in 1987, Joe said he brought him along — even as an infant — so he could immerse him in the Tolly-Ho atmosphere early in his life. Jay continued to go to Tolly-Ho until he graduated from UK in December.

And much like his father, he said he wasn't sure what to expect when he walked into the new location.

"The first thing I said to my dad when we walked in was that it's a lot cleaner," he said. "It doesn't have 30 years of fights or partying."

But the apprehension was quickly replaced by excitement for most people, who said they see the bigger location as a welcome improvement. Aside from more space, Salyer said, the new location also offers more parking and better access to the building.

And despite taking over the space from what used to be a dry-cleaning store, Salyer said they went "beyond actual standards" to make sure it was clean.

He said the old location will be turned into a convenience store and ice cream shop within a few weeks and said that, too, will foster the same "comfy" feel that Tolly-Ho has.

Even though the new location is farther from campus, Jay Walters said, UK students will still flock to Tolly-Ho just as they always have.

"It's synonymous with UK," he said. "When kids come here on visits, the first thing their friends tell them is to go to Tolly-Ho and get a Ho burger. It's bigger, so it will be more accommodating."

But the biggest thing that customers wanted was for the same Tolly-Ho to be there.

Jacob Workman, a student at Bluegrass Community and Technical College, said the restaurant used the same grills to cook the food, so everything tastes the same.

Joe Walters said he noticed that the owners also kept many of the same novelties, such as wooden paddles and black-and-white pictures that decorated the walls, and moved them to the new location to keep the same look and feel as the old one.

Salyer said the owners even kept the same interior with wood paneling and call out customer's names when their food is ready, just like at the old location.

"It's enough like the old restaurant that it's kind of comforting," Jay Walters said.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader