The Distillery District

Amanda Harper


Get to know one of the most exciting areas of town!

Perhaps no part of town better exemplifies our city’s revitalization efforts more than The Distillery District. Taking what had become derelict and breathing into it new life, all while recognizing the history there and looking toward the vibrant culture and life of our present and future.

The James E. Pepper Distillery began making Bourbon in 1879. Master Distiller Colonel Pepper was the third generation to produce “Old Pepper” whiskey, “The Oldest and Best Brand of Whisky made in Kentucky.” At one point, the James E. Pepper Distillery was the largest whiskey distillery in the nation.

But by 1961, the site was abandoned completely. It stood virtually untouched for nearly 50 years.

Fortunately, a group of entrepreneurs saw potential in the 25-acre area. In 2008, the revitalization of the distillery area began to take shape as a lively downtown entertainment, dining, and shopping destination.

Today, three working Bourbon distilleries operate on the site. The James E. Pepper Distillery has arisen from obscurity, offering tours and tastings of their award-winning whiskeys. Barrel House Distillery continues the tradition of old Kentucky distillers, producing quality Bourbon using traditional methods. Wm. Tarr Distillery – founded in 1865 and originally located at what is now the entrance to The Distillery District – was reborn in The Rickhouse.

But Bourbon isn’t the only thing that’s brewing in The Distillery District. Ethereal Brewing is the only brewery in town with a dedicated yeast lab, resulting in exciting craft beers. Fusion Brewing is one of Lexington’s newest craft breweries, turning out experimental brews crafted with a scientific approach. Wise Bird Cider Co. crafts small- batch, heritage-style ciders from heirloom apples.

Dining is a big part of what makes The Distillery District a must-visit destination. Goodfellas Pizzeria is a Lexington legend, and their sprawling location on Manchester offers a speakeasy ambiance, bocce on the patio, pizza by the slice and over 200 varieties of Bourbon. Middle Fork offers imaginative small plates using seasonal and fresh ingredients. The Elkhorn Tavern serves as Barrel House Distillery’s taproom, offering lodge-style dining and seasonal cocktails. The Rickhouse Pub features over 100 varieties of beer and cider alongside a restaurant menu.

For dessert, look to Crank & Boom Ice Cream Lounge. For a tipple or two, head to The Break Room, which sits alongside Town Branch and offers a cozy ambiance. Grab a cup of coffee from Brevedé Coffee Co. or Manchester Coffee Co.

The Pepper Rickhouse is perhaps the most visible landmark within the district. Once, the building housed over 100,000 barrels of Bourbon. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the building houses several boutique businesses that bring fun, culture, and style to our city. Next to it stands the water tower, another iconic sight on the Pepper campus.

An essential facet of The Distillery District is how it celebrates local arts and culture. From murals – including the somewhat infamous “My Name is Mo” mural by MTO that covers the back of The Pepper Rickhouse, painted as a part of the PRHBTN mural festival – to creative businesses, such as Oculus Studios. M.S. Rezny Studio is a 1,500 sq.ft. space that hosts juried competitions, seasonal exhibits and offers fine art for sale. The Coop is Marcia Park Cone’s art studio, where she paints with oils and sculpts with clay.

Need to loosen up? Massage Strong offers a massage that focuses on pain relief, injury therapy, and mobility. Vibe Barre and Fitness lets you work it out with great fitness classes. When all else fails, enjoy throwing axes at Battle Axes. Looking to shop? Relic Lexington features rustic, vintage, and reclaimed goods, including products made by Kentuckians. It fits the vibe of the district beautifully!

Pooches love The Distillery District. Many restaurants allow dogs on their patios and there is plenty of room for a walk. Dogtown is a dog daycare that ensures the comfort of every pooch in their care. The Local Wag is a doggy daycare with self-serve dog wash stations, lessons, nutrition consultations, and more.

Entertainment is a cornerstone of the district. The Burl offers live music and a bar experience unlike any other in town. Manchester Music Hall – the only surviving building from the original Wm. Tarr Distillery – boasts plenty of room for live music, weddings, events, and more. The Grand Reserve has over 50,000 sq.ft. of event space for private events.

The area’s future looks just as colorful. The Urban County Council’s Investment Committee approved $39 million in 40-year development bonds for what is known as the Speigle Heights Redevelopment project. The highlight of this project is a 125-room hotel, which will be situated on the east end of the district. Plans include a restaurant, rooftop bar, event venue, and more, with a projected opening of 2022. As people settle into the Distillery Heights residential townhome community and as the Town Branch Park gets underway, foot traffic within the district campus will no doubt increase.

If you’re wondering what is happening in town on any given night, look no further than Lexington’s Distillery District. From live music to great eats, there’s something for everyone to enjoy down on Manchester Street.

The Burl

If you love live music, you’ve been to The Burl.

Built in 1926, the site was once a loading dock and hub for Texaco Oil. The original wood frame helped create the perfect venue to welcome a variety of music. They average around 300 nights of live music a year, making it one of the most prolific venues in the state. From psychedelic rock to pure country, The Burl has hosted it all.

The Burl Arcade is a fantastic, retro experience. With 30+ vintage arcade cabinets, the venue invites everyone to sip and play. Board games, consoles, skeeball, pinball, and more await you. The Burl and The Burl Arcade are available for rent to host private events.

The Burl Food presented by Kismet was created as a way for Tonya Mays-Cronin and Philip Cronin to share the food they loved with the community. The rotating menu reflects the owners’ travels, heritage, and experiences.

On the side of the building is the “buy the ticket take the ride” mural by Xylene, as a part of the PRHBTN mural festival. It’s an absolutely iconic (and selfie-worthy!) Lexington mural that pays tribute to both The Burl’s history and Kentucky-born author Hunter S. Thompson.