Arson suspected in fire at historical building being renovated for pub

A police officer spotted the fire while passing by on Short Street at 4:30 a.m. Monday.
A police officer spotted the fire while passing by on Short Street at 4:30 a.m. Monday. Herald-Leader

The grand opening of a restaurant and pub in one of Lexington's historic downtown buildings was delayed after someone apparently broke into the building and set it on fire Monday morning.

The Village Idiot, 307 West Short Street, was to open May 1 after extensive renovations. The building was once home to Lexington's oldest standing post office, dating to about 1825. For 10 years, it housed Lexington's Metropol restaurant, which closed last year.

After surveying damage from Monday's fire, Tom Behr, owner of The Village Idiot, estimated that repairs would take at least a month.

"We'll shoot for June 1" for the grand opening, he said. The Village Idiot is planned as a high-end British pub with a large beer selection.

Fire investigators ruled the case an arson, but no arrests had been made Monday. Investigators were at the pub for more than six hours.

Lexington fire department battalion chief Ed Davis said there was no sign that the arson was linked to another arson at an apartment complex near the UK campus later Monday.

A passing police officer first saw smoke and flames coming from the building about 4:30 a.m. and called the fire department, Davis said.

Damage to a front door indicated that the building had been broken into before the fire was set, he said.

The glass had been broken out of two doors facing West Short Street. Behr said one door was broken by the person who set the fire. Firefighters broke the other door when they arrived.

Behr said he thought the fire was "definitely personal."

"I don't get the impression that anything was taken," he said. "They were in there specifically to burn the building down."

He said it looked as if two fires were set: one upstairs and one downstairs. Sprinklers on both levels were activated.

The sprinklers limited damage from the flames but caused water damage, Davis said.

Behr said the damage was "mostly cosmetic."

Behr, whose family runs several businesses around town, said he was working with police and arson investigators.

"I have given the police a couple names that could have done it," he said. "I'm pretty sure they are going to catch the person."

Behr is the owner of Pazzo's, a popular pizza restaurant and pub on South Limestone. His son, Brett Behr, owns The Beer Trappe on Euclid Avenue. Another son, Brian Behr, was going to run The Village Idiot.

Tom Behr said he could not estimate the cost of the damage. He planned to meet with his insurance company Tuesday.

For the pub's grand opening, cooks and servers had spent the past couple weeks training to learn the menu, he said. Flags and signs hanging outside already identified the building as The Village Idiot.

"We were about two or three days away from getting our final inspection. It would have been done by Thursday," he said. "We were almost there."

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