With 88 rooms, 7,000 square feet of exhibition and event space, a chef-driven restaurant, a fitness center, and a world-class modern art collection, Lexington’s 21c Museum Hotel is one of downtown’s most anticipated arrivals.
21c will be housed in the historic Fayette National Bank Building, the city’s first skyscraper designed by renowned New York architecture firm McKim, Mead & White. The hotel will be integrated into the vibrant culture of downtown, encouraging both visitors and locals to enjoy its curated exhibitions and ever-changing programming.
Designed by Deborah Berke Partners, construction for 21c is underway for the $41 million structure with plans to open in early 2016. The combination boutique hotel, contemporary art museum and restaurant has been a successful concept in Louisville, Cincinnati, Durham, and Bentonville, and the developers are excited to bring it Lexington. It will feature site-specific artworks, rotating exhibitions and programming, regular tours and other cultural resources. Public admission to the gallery will be free.
21c was founded by Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson in 2006. According to Molly Sawyers, Senior VP of Design and Communications, “Historic preservation and urban renewal are two of (Brown and Wilson’s) biggest passions. Their goal is to revitalize downtown areas across the country and provide better access to great art.”
While each property features a unique art collection, one particular piece has become 21c’s mascot: the penguins. Sawyers explained, “They’re limited edition sculptures created by Cracking Art Group from Italy.” Wilson and Brown discovered them on a trip to Venice where they were part of a citywide art installation. They fell in love and bought several of the sculptures back to Louisville. “The public immediately embraced the penguins and started moving them around the city and engaging with them,” said Sawyer. When the exhibition ended, 21c decided to keep them on property and building exterior. Smaller, stoneware versions of the famed penguins and other animals are available online and in 21c’s gift shop.
The Square has been at the heart of downtown Lexington since the 1880s. Showcasing a mix of retail, dining and entertainment, The Square’s 140,000 square foot complex encompasses nearly an entire city block adjacent to Rupp Arena and the Convention Center. A 1985 renovation brought all sixteen structures together under one roof with a central courtyard, creating the modern, accessible space that exists today.
According to the Downtown Development Authority report, in 2014, the property underwent a $2.3 million dollar renovation. Where possible, the original decorative ironwork, exterior balconies and metal ceilings have been preserved. The result is a seamless blend of historical architecture and modern culture that much of Lexington is known for.
As the result of a recent rebrand, “Victorian” has been dropped from the name, and The Square now boats an oversized illuminated sign and a handful of updated tenants. Visitors can enjoy an eclectic mix of shopping, galleries, restaurants, bars, and even a theater and children’s museum.
New restaurants include Tony’s, an upscale steak and seafood eatery; Vinaigrette Salad Kitchen, a fast casual salad shop serving fresh gourmet salads, soups, and creative lemonades and teas (think Cucumber Mint, Coconut, or Pumpkin Spice, depending on the season); and Pies & Pints, a casual restaurant specializing in craft beer and gourmet pizza.
Adding to the variety are retailers like Urban Outfitters (in the former DeSha’s space), known for their on-trend and often-subversive line of clothing, housewares and gifts; Alumni Hall for all things Big Blue, and Sincerely Yours, a gift boutique specializing in personalized items and women’s accessories.
The Square is also home to the Lexington Visitor’s Center, a host of art galleries, and Explorium, a hands-on children’s museum.
In a news release, Pies and Pints owner Rob Lindeman expressed his appreciation for The Square’s “central location to the market where we believe there is great synergy with local business, universities and convention center.”
KrIkorian Premiere Theatres
Movie lovers rejoice: California developer George Krikorian is in the process of building an 11-screen luxury multiplex theater at the corner of South Broadway and High Street.
While his company, Krikorian Premiere Theatres, runs seven other movie complexes in California, Krikorian owns a horse farm near the Jessamine and Woodford county line and spends a good deal of time in the area. According to a representative, Kirkorian Premiere Theatres will be a multilevel complex with an urban look to coordinate with the area. The property will have two 70-foot wide screens (similar to IMAX) plus nine additional screens, a sports bar with a 90-foot viewing screen, plus laser tag, a food court with a bistro, a 16 lane bowling alley, and an attached parking structure.
The theater will be designed by TK Architects of Kansas City. The developers also plan to have various “screening rooms” that can be rented for private events, independent film screenings or parties.
The Macho Nacho
The excitement about The Macho Nacho can perhaps be summed up in one word:
The Mexican eatery moving into the former GCB space at 854 E. High Street (the corner of High Street and Euclid Avenue) will serve food that owner and first-time restaurateur Aaron Rothke describes as “a sporty Tex Mex Restaurant, that will feel American, look modern American, and offer artfully plated Mexican food.”
Construction on the site is expected to last until August, and The Macho Nacho is slated to open in mid-September. According to Rothke, the inside dining area will seat about 200 guests, with space for about 15 at the bar. There will also be an outside patio with seating for about 16, weather permitting.
While he is currently still working out the menu and details for the liquor license, Rothke plans to serve over 60 brands of tequila, in addition to other spirits, beer and wine. The restaurant will have a modern, sports bar atmosphere with several televisions and USB cell phone chargers built into the bar.
Rothke is hoping to capitalize on the fact that currently, there isn’t any late night delivery of Mexican food. He plans to include most of the University of Kentucky campus, downtown and Chevy Chase in the service area, and to deliver until 2am.
San Francisco native Nick Lagagsorn is in the process of converting a former office building on North Mill Street into Buddha Lounge, a stylish, urban sushi bar and restaurant.
With an anticipated opening in late summer or early fall, Buddha Lounge will feature an imaginative, Asian-inspired menu that centers around sushi and tapas, but with a broad assortment of other dishes to suit a variety of palates.
Lagagsorn has several years of experience in the San Francisco restaurant scene, and is excited to begin his career as an owner. With two young daughters and an already congested industry in the Bay Area, he realized it made more sense to move his family across the country for a change of pace. Nat Yuttayong, owner of Nat’s Thai Restaurant on South Upper Street and longtime friend of Lagagsorn, suggested he consider moving to Lexington. Lagagsorn visited last spring, and was sold.
Buddha Lounge will be a welcome addition to the cluster of restaurants that has appeared on the west side of downtown in recent years. Architect Rebecca Burnworth and her husband, Eric Burnworth of Burnworth Builds, will act as project managers to overhaul the approximately 2,500-square-foot location at 109 North Mill (between Short and Main Streets). They’ll open up the space and add several large windows for an airy atmosphere.
While details are still in the works, Lagagsorn expects that Buddha Lounge will be open for lunch and dinner, with happy-hour specials and later weekend hours.
Distillery District/Pepper Campus
There’s a lot brewing just west of the Lexington Center and Rupp Arena on Manchester Street. The Distillery District offers an exciting, “off the beaten path” experience in an area that has served many purposes over the years. From live music and the arts, to a fully functional distillery and unique industrial architecture, this growing neighborhood offers a fusion of Lexington’s historic past and active present. We’ve highlighted a few Distillery District businesses here, but you can see a full list on lexingtondistillerydistrict.com – or better yet, come out and explore this highly revitalized area for yourself.
Crank & Boom Craft Ice Cream began when Mike and Toa Green started experimenting with ice cream flavors as desserts for their local restaurant, Thai Orchid Cafe, which has since become Thai & Mighty Noodle Bowls. Their new Ice Cream Lounge combines their small-batch frozen treats with a broad menu of pastries, alcoholic beverages, coffee and tea.
With a coffee-shop ambiance by day and dessert bar feel by night, Crank & Boom Ice Cream Lounge will be a unique addition to Lexington’s thriving food and beverage scene. Located between Middle Fork Kitchen Bar and the Barrel House Distilling Company, the two-story Lounge will feature service on the first floor, with additional seating and a private event space for up to 50 guests on the second floor.
“We strive every day to be the best company we can be, so that we are able to positively impact not only our community, but the world,” said Toa Green. “Our use of local ingredients, eco-friendly practices and offering competitive pay are just a few ways we do that. We are excited to add this beautiful space to our company’s unique group of businesses. And we are proud to bring Lexington’s first dessert bar to a high energy area that we love so much.”
Keeping with their long-standing commitment to the environment, Crank & Boom is partnering with Seedleaf, a local non-profit, to become Lexington’s first zero waste restaurant. All cups, forks, plates and spoons are made of compostable, plant-based fiber materials. Said Green, “We are searching for sustainable waste streams so we can be environmentally responsible neighbors and keep 100% of our materials out of landfills. If all goes to plan, our disposable ware will be turned into compost that will fertilize our herb gardens, where we grow ingredients for our ice cream and our restaurant, Thai & Mighty Noodle Bowls. It brings everything full circle.”
After several years of experimenting with home brewing, Andrew Bishop decided he was ready to take the plunge into the professional world. He recently opened Ethereal Brewing, Lexington’s newest microbrewery in the old Pepper Distillery.
The sparse, industrial chic brewery and taproom features 16 taps and serves a handful of Ethereal’s own brews in a regular rotation. Bishop also runs the brewery’s 10-barrel system, plus a single-barrel system that he once used for home brewing and experimenting. Ethereal mainly serves a mix of American and Belgian-style beers, along with regular taproom samplings.
About two years ago, Bishop first visited the old Pepper location and decided it was the perfect spot to house Ethereal Brewing. Since they’re usually destination spots, rather than locations that rely on foot traffic, he had a feeling that people would come find his brewery. And he was right. Not only did his choice of location turn out to be a wise one, but since then, the once-derelict Pepper Campus is now a booming night spot, and home to several other bars and restaurants. Visitors and employees alike appreciate the secluded riverside location.
The Break Room at Pepper (Distillery District/Pepper Campus)
The actual former Pepper Distillery break room from the 1920’s is now the newest venture from Sidebar owners Lisa and Jonny Cox. A perfect summer hideaway on the banks of the Town Branch, The Break Room at Pepper is housed in a 1,100-square-foot renovated building, complete with garage doors for extending the seating space in warm weather.
The Break Room offers a unique atmosphere and privacy that many of the Pepper Campus destinations share. Dogs are welcome, and guests can enjoy horseshoe pits, games of corn hole, and pool, while enjoying a view of the Town Branch waterway.
Currently, The Break Room is open at 4pm Wednesday through Sunday, and at noon on weekends. The bar will mostly be open during warmer months (March to November), and available for rent during the winter.
Middle Fork Kitchen Bar (Distillery District/Pepper Campus)
Ethereal Brewing shares its large patio with a food-truck-turned restaurant, Middle Fork Kitchen Bar. Opened in late July by Mark Jensen (of Fork the Road food truck fame), Middle Fork serves what Jensen describes as “worldwide street food,” in an open concept kitchen that is designed to engage diners.
Fans of Jensen’s food truck are familiar with his creative use of locally sourced ingredients and bold, yet recognizable fare. Middle Fork Kitchen Bar is intended to be a “communal dining experience” with 2,000 square feet attached to the kitchen and a combination of both indoor and outdoor space.
There will also be a wraparound chef’s counter that supports interaction between the staff and the customers. He also plans to add a larger community table in addition to smaller dining tables in order to offer a relaxed and interactive dining experience.
The restaurant will have 50 seats inside and another 50 outside in fair weather. It will also have large windows and glass doors overlooking Town Branch. Menu items include small plates such as pickles, cheese plates, and poached eggs; fire grilled bruschetta, homemade falafel and spaetzle, and local meat dishes such as fire-grilled pork chops, chicken, lamb, and beef tenderloin. Desserts include a brown butter cake and Bête Noir (flourless chocolate cake with candied orange and whipped cream).
Lussi Brown Coffee Bar (Distillery District/Pepper Campus)
Lussi (pronounced Lucy) Brown Coffee Bar is adding a dash of beverage making talent (and caffeine!) to the Pepper Campus this fall. As Lexington’s first coffee bar, Lussi Brown will serve full service coffee, coffee-inspired cocktails, and coffee-infused brews. Co-owner Sarah Brown said, “It will be a harmonious marriage of excellent coffee and craft cocktails.” Along with drinks, Lussi Brown will offer Pig and Pepper Baking Company’s pies, live music, custom made ceramic mugs from Berea artisan Tricia Taylor, Deeper Roots Coffee from Cincinnati, and teas from MonTea.
The name Lussi Brown came from the combination of the owners (Olivia Lussi and Sarah Brown’s) last names. Said Sarah, “After traveling and visiting coffee bars in other cities, we wanted to bring that concept to Lexington. We have a great coffee scene, as well as plenty of bar options, but not the combination of both.”
The cocktail list is enough to make anyone’s mouth water: S’mores Cocktail, Hazelnut Vanilla Spiked Latte, RumChata Undertow, Buzzed Grasshopper, and Strawberry Green Tea Mojito.
The Barrel House & Grand Reserve
With an early 1900’s Art Deco theme and walls of copper and stacked stone, The Barrel House is Lexington’s largest non-hotel venue, with a space for up to 400 guests. This elegantly restored space is full of modern touches yet stays faithful to Kentucky’s distillery history.
Its sister company, The Grand Reserve, is located two doors down. Facilities for up to 900 guests, a large dance floor, upscale fare from Bluegrass Catering, and fully stocked bar makes the space ideal for weddings and other special events. Design details include handcrafted double carriage doors, and the original brick wall and windows from the Old Tarr Distillery, built in the 1870. The Kentucky Bourbon Barrel stave wall is created from over 100 oak barrels. Hanging from the ceiling are seven enormous, hand crafted steel chandeliers by Iron Horse Forge.
The area encompassing Kenwick, Mentelle Park, Bell Court, National, Walton & N. Ashland Avenues has recently been rebranded from the National Avenue Corridor to Warehouse Block. Bordered by the railroad tracks and Winchester road, this once-desolate area has also experienced a rebirth in recent years.
As the name suggests, the district’s businesses are comprised of a variety of rehabbed warehouses and industrial spaces. Today, they house a flourishing mix of dining, retail, residential, and service providers.
The rise of Warehouse Block is largely credited to Walker Properties, a family owned,
community-minded company headed by Greg Walker. Walker, who is the landlord for a number of the establishments, purchased many of the empty lots and warehouses, renovated the properties and leased them to a diverse group of entrepreneurs.
Among them are the BBQ joint Blue Door Smokehouse, Caldo, a health-conscious broth bar, the ever-evolving National Boulangerie and National Provisions, plus a raw food, smoothie, and juice bar located in Centered yoga studio. Locals, a new American fusion and craft beer joint, is scheduled to open later this fall. Other businesses like Dry Art Blow Dry Bar & Salon, Lucia’s World Emporium and Kentucky Mudworks add to the diversity. Warehouse Block is also considered a “fitness row” of sorts with tenants like CrossFit Maximus, Fitness Plus, Personal Best, and Elle Fitness, among others.
Warehouse Block’s growth and innovation attracted the attention of the New York Times. Greg Walker said in a January interview, “We take great responsibility in changing the landscape forever. This organic growth may have taken us 10 years, but the life span of these buildings is 150. A year is a speck of sand. We don’t mind waiting.”
Lexington is well known for its thoroughbred racecourse, Keeneland; centuries-old mansions; and the University of Kentucky’s famous basketball program. But urban renewal is picking up momentum and putting our fair city on a level playing field with much larger communities.
Mary Quinn Ramer, President of VisitLEX, praised the city’s creative approach to attracting visitors sand locals alike: “Downtown Lexington has seen tremendous growth over the past several years with the addition of five new breweries, a variety of new, locally owned restaurants along the Jefferson and Short Street corridors, and exciting retail, such as Urban Outfitters. Work is underway on the restoration of the First National Bank Building, which will house the award-winning 21c Museum Hotel, and signature events keep people coming into the heart of the city.”
Lexington continues to be a Bluegrass destination, in no small part because of the exciting investment going on in our downtown. No matter what area you call home, it’s a great time to live, love, and share the Lex, and it’s only getting better.
Mayor Jim Gray may have put it best. “We have a world-class landscape, strong neighborhoods, a rich cultural heritage and a vibrant downtown. Lexington has the whole package.”