Lexington, Kentucky (and a taste of Bourbon Country)

Alex and I traveled to Lexington, Kentucky about 6 weeks ago to watch the Gators play (and beat!) the Wildcats. I had been to Lexington twice in college, but I honestly felt like I was in a new city when we drove in. I am not sure if Lexington has actually changed, or whether my college memory failed me, but I absolutely did not remember what a beautiful town it is. Lexington is so adorable and seems like it would be such a great place to attend college (aside from not having a great football team, of course). The campus is beautiful and very walkable, the downtown has a ton of great restaurants and bars conveniently located near each other, and there are so many fun things to do nearby, like watch horse racing at Keeneland. We had an absolute blast, of course, and would love to visit again sometime!

HORSES, HORSES, EVERYWHERE!

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Eat:

We started our day of tailgating for the Gator game at Hugh Jass Burgers on campus. Hugh Jass Burgers is a local favorite with delicious burgers and a great vibe, especially on gamedays. The place was packed, but we were able to grab seats by the bar and have drinks before walking to the stadium for gameday. We actually did not eat at Hugh Jass, but everyone else seemed to be enjoying their meals, and I thought the burgers and ribs looked fantastic. One of my favorite features of the restaurant is that there is an open-air wall between the restaurant and the patio. Perfect for a gorgeous day, which fortunately we had! I also have to mention (if you are a fan of food challenges), they have a 50 oz burger challenge. If you can eat the burger in 25 minutes, you get a free t-shirt, your name on the wall, and your meal is free. Calling all Adam Richman wanna-bes!

photo via urbanspoon.com
photo via urbanspoon.com

Pazzo’s Pizza is another campus favorite that came recommended to me by one of my good friends who is a UK alumni. They claim to have the “best hand-tossed pizza in Lexington” and though I did not have a chance to do a taste test with any others, I am betting they might be right. There were a lot of options on the menu, so I am sure anyone could find something to fit their particular taste. Alex and I shared the Bones Balls (meatballs) and the Bourbon Bootlegger pizza (chicken and bacon pizza with bourbon BBQ sauce) and both were great! The restaurant was huge and was a great place to go with friends and watch the rest of the evening’s games.

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Drink:

If you are looking for a fun place to get drinks, I recommend Parlay Social. It was packed with people all having a great time! Parlay Social describes itself as being a “Prohibition Era throwback” with “sophisticated, Art Deco influenced furnishings.” While I did not think it had much of the typical speakeasy feel, the drink menu certainly reflected Prohibition Area and I agree that the furnishings were Art Deco inspired. We were planning to have dinner at The Village Idiot nearby (we ended up not going there), so we didn’t even look at the food menu, but I later found out they have a great selection of gourmet grilled cheese. If you go to Parlay Social, definitely try one and let me know what you think! The highlight of Parlay Social is the live performances. Depending on what night you go, they have live music, burlesque dancing, and murder mystery shows. We happened to be at Parlay Social during a magic show. I thought it was great, but I am the person who never figures out magic tricks, so maybe don’t take my word for it. In any case, we had a lot of fun!

Parlay Social, photo via deltaskymag.delta.com
Parlay Social, photo via deltaskymag.delta.com

Our next stop was at Bluegrass Tavern Bourbon Bar, which was fantastic! I was absolutely blown away by the sheer number of bourbons they have (see all the bourbons available here). Love is not a strong enough word for my feelings on bourbon so I was very much in heaven. I tried a new (to me) bourbon called W.L. Weller Special Reserve (from Buffalo Trace distillery) and loved it so much that I decided to sip on it all night. It is a highly rated bourbon with a very smooth and light finish. The bonus is that is actually very affordable!

At Bluegrass Tavern
At Bluegrass Tavern

Visit:

When you arrive in Lexington, make a point to stop at the Lexington Visitor Center. The staff is so wonderful and can provide you with great resources. Even better, they had fascinating stories about the history of the town! The staff provided us with great recommendations for restaurants and bars, gave us insider tips on things to do, and told us all about an outdoor art display currently in Lexington. There are painted horses all over town and finding them all is a fun activity! You can also stop at the Visitor Center on your way out of town and pick up some fun souvenirs.

Alex and I at the Lexington Visitors Center
Alex and I at the Lexington Visitors Center

You may have read about how much I enjoy horse-racing during my post on Louisville, so it will come as no surprise that Alex and I went to Keeneland racetrack. I had never been to Keeneland, but had heard stories of how beautiful it is. The wonderful staff at the Lexington Visitor Center tipped us off that from 6-10 on weekends, you can have breakfast at the track and watch the morning thoroughbred workouts. If you do nothing else that I recommend, please do this. It was one of my favorite experiences. You can eat breakfast at the track kitchen or just mosey around enjoying the magic of seeing the stands quiet and empty while watching the thoroughbreds do drills and run during their morning workouts. You can even talk to the trainers and owners if you are lucky! I am excited to go back for a horse race sometime! After watching the horses for a while, we walked around the grounds for a bit before heading back to meet our friends and drive to Bourbon country!

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Alex and I both agreed that a trip to Kentucky would not be complete without a visit to at least one bourbon distillery. We drove down the beautiful Bluegrass Parkway to the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Kentucky. There are so many distilleries on the “Bourbon Trail,” but Maker’s Mark is a shared love for us, so it was an easy choice! Tours at the Maker’s Mark Distillery cost $7 are offered every hour on the half hour Monday through Saturday and for shortened hours on Sunday. The tour is interesting and informative and takes you through the bourbon making process. The second to last stop is in the Tasting Room, where you get to sample 4 Maker’s Mark products (one is a bourbon that has been aged too long, so obviously is not for sale) and a bourbon ball. ProTip #1: Grab more than one bourbon ball, they are so good! The final stop is, of course, in the gift shop. You can buy pretty much anything dipped in wax, but the highlight of the experience is dipping your own bottle. After you purchase a bottle of your choice, you learn how to properly dip it in the famous red wax, and can take home your special bottle. I love interactive experiences and had a ball! ProTip #2: Become a Maker’s Mark Ambassador (it’s free!) and you can pick up a bottle from your personal barrel after it has completed the aging process. I started mine in early 2013, so it is not scheduled to be ready until between April 2019 and October 2020. If you are wondering, we will absolutely be going back to pick it up during that time!

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Bourbon cookin'
Bourbon cookin’
Barrels of fun
Barrels of fun

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Famous past Maker's bottles
Famous past Maker’s bottles
The old-fashioned printing press still used today to print Maker's Mark labels
The old-fashioned printing press still used today to print Maker’s Mark labels
The dipping station
The dipping station
Bourbon tasting
Bourbon tasting

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The Tasting Room
The Tasting Room
Delicious bourbon balls
Delicious bourbon balls
Our personalized bottle, ready to be dipped
Our personalized bottle, ready to be dipped
Carefully dipping my bottle
Carefully dipping my bottle
So excited to get my bottle!
So excited to get my bottle!

Stay:

I recommend staying at the Hilton Downtown Lexington. It was a very nice hotel with great service in a central location. It is right across from Rupp Arena, so would be even better during basketball season. We walked to bars and restaurants downtown and to/from campus. If there is anywhere you can’t walk, cabs are easy to find. As a bonus, the Kentucky football team stayed there, so I am sure they enjoyed seeing us all weekend in our orange and blue!

Alex and I in the park across from our hotel
Alex and I in the park across from our hotel

And before our recap, I have to share a few photos from the football portion of the weekend. Go Gators!

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Enjoying Kentucky moonshine in a nun mask
Enjoying Kentucky moonshine in a nun mask. When in Kentucky…
Alex enjoying Kentucky moonshine in a nun mask
Alex enjoying Kentucky moonshine in a nun mask
With our wonderful friends, Dennis and Kristy, outside the Kentucky stadium
With our wonderful friends, Dennis and Kristy, outside the Kentucky stadium
Our amazing seats on the 50 yard line, courtesy of one very nice Kentucky gentleman!
Our amazing seats on the 50 yard line, courtesy of one very nice Kentucky gentleman!

RECAP:

Eat:
Hugh Jass Burgers, 395 South Limestone St, Lexington, KY, 40508
Pazzo’s Pizza, 385 South Limestone St, Lexington, KY, 40508

Drink:
Parlay Social, 149 W Short St, Lexington, KY, 40508
Bluegrass Tavern Bourbon Bar, 115 Cheapside, Lexington, Kentucky 40508

Visit:
Lexington Visitor Center, 401 W Main St, Lexington, KY 40507
Keeneland, 4201 Versailles Rd, Lexington, Kentucky 40510
Makers Mark Distillery, 3350 Burks Spring Rd, Loretto, KY 40037

Stay:
Hilton Downtown Lexington, 369 West Vine Street, Lexington, Kentucky 40507

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