Bourbon Village provides opulence at WEG

Playing a mix of light classical and jazz, pianist Ryan Shirar entertained patrons as they hobnobbed Tuesday in Maker's Mark Bourbon Village.
Playing a mix of light classical and jazz, pianist Ryan Shirar entertained patrons as they hobnobbed Tuesday in Maker's Mark Bourbon Village.

A mellow golden light glows over wood and leather as a bartender pours bourbon and chefs prepare sushi to the strumming of a harp. If you're not hungry, you could browse through some chinchilla coats or try on a Rolex watch or two.

Welcome to the high life at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games: the Maker's Mark Bourbon Village.

For a little more than $600 a day, the Bourbon Village — or hospitality tent, as it's also called — is providing the luxury WEG experience, a far cry from hard stadium seats and hot dogs.

And despite the global recession, there are plenty of takers, says Kim Bennett, hospitality director for the Games. On Saturday, the village reached its fire code capacity of 1,200 people. Several days next week are sold out.

"There has been a terrific response to this," said Bennett, who is still selling.

The Bourbon Village is really a huge metal-sided tent with a peaked roof directly behind the Main Stadium. It has been camouflaged with amenities such as carpeting, soft lighting, tables with leather chairs, and live music.

Different bar areas have been set up for different bourbons under the Jim Beam portfolio, which includes Maker's Mark. Each of three bars makes a different speciality bourbon drink, and, of course, they also sell Alltech's Kentucky Ale. Discreet horse sculptures and plank fencing separate each dining area and bar.

"Everything here is connected to the horse in some way," Bennett said.

People with hospitality passes may come in and out all day, enjoying breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, coffee, tea and plenty of bourbon. The grazing option is facilitated by a giant oval buffet, inside of which chefs sauté, steam and grill in front of their avid customers. Two sushi chefs, who were flown in from Los Angeles, constantly slice and mold artistic creations. Crab cakes, wraps, sandwiches, fresh fruit and chocolate confections are made to order or displayed in sumptuous array.

It's a concept created by Patina Restaurant Group of New York. Joe Polidora, vice president of Patina, is here to oversee the company's first big equestrian event, seeing how it compares to other events the company has catered, such as the U.S. Open and the Ryder Cup.

"I'm learning a lot here," Polidora said. "Our role here is very similar to golf or tennis tournaments, the flow of how things work is the same. We're used to upscale food, but the schedule is a little different." For example, during competition the tent can be almost empty. But on Tuesday, during a break in dressage, it quickly filled with people.

"This is very nice," said Chuck Main, one of the people who found refuge in the village on a chilly morning with a cup of coffee. He and his wife, Paula, are from Toronto, and they decided to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary by pulling out all the stops at the Games.

Luxury boutiques

There is enough room in the front of the tent for a select group of boutiques, including Rolex, a major equine sponsor. L.V. Harkness, an upscale downtown Lexington gift store, has been seeing a brisk business, said Whitney Fields, the store's director of equine development. Among the most popular items? Plates and bowls that can be custom-painted with your favorite horse, and miniature replicas of the crystal trophies that L.V. Harkness provided to the Games.

"It's been a good experience for us," Fields said.

In the corner, Embry's had set up shop, meaning beautiful furs and clothes from the St. John line. Owner Bill Embry and Alltech president Pearse Lyons persuaded the clothing company to donate $100,000 in red, double-breasted knit sweaters and silk scarves for the Bourbon Village hostesses to wear.

"We've been selling a lot of fur accessories," Embry said, such as little mink scarves or, especially popular, Tibetan lamb boot covers that keep your lower legs fashionably warm for only $200.

Cultivating business

Commerce Lexington sponsored a concierge service so guests can get help planning side trips or making restaurant reservations.

The idea was also to help promote Lexington as a site for future business development. Things are going well, said Gina Greathouse, Commerce Lexington's senior vice president for economic development. She doesn't expect any deals to be done during the Games, but every good corporate contact made is someone she can follow up with.

"So far, I have four good business cards," she said.

In the back of the Bourbon Village, an outdoor terrace overlooks the cross-country course, which will make it a very popular venue Saturday during the event.

Mike Leadingham of Georgetown stopped by the tent for a drink Tuesday. He was there with clients.

"I'm a local person from Georgetown," he said. "I think this is nice. I just really wanted to check out everything that's going on."