Kickstart your Kentucky experience

Satisfy your exquisite taste in Lexington

BY BONNIE SIEGLER

Although Kentucky is the horse capital of the world with thoroughbred racing being showcased at the highest level, a perfect day in the city of Lexington comes in a myriad of forms—from outdoor biking trails and fishing spots to architecture and museums.

The city’s name comes from Lexington, a racehorse legend of the 19th century, and a historical marker pays tribute to the horse near the new Lexington Visitors Center.

LODGING

The newly opened 21c Museum Hotel housed in the old Fayette National Bank Building in downtown Lexington was a natural fit for restoration, aligning the hotel’s mission of preservation and urban revitalization. The historic bank structure was Lexington’s first skyscraper and today’s building represents the Beaux Arts International style of architecture.

“21c Museum Hotel is an experience unlike any other,” says Andrew Carter, general manager. “It’s a mix of genuine hospitality, delicious seasonal food (the hotel’s Lockbox restaurant) and contemporary art around every corner.”

The vision for bringing art into people’s daily lives is a cornerstone of the property. The hotel “features six permanent site-specific installations integrated into a variety of spaces around and within the building,” explains Carter. “Collectively titled ‘Elemental,’ these works combine form with function, inspired by elements of our ever-changing natural and human conditions.”

Guests of the hotel will find a comfortable space where contemporary and historic meet and contrast.

EATS

You don’t have to order grits to taste the local flavour of Lexington. There are over 100 locally owned restaurants that feature classic Southern dishes to those seeking the latest in culinary trends.

Located in the thriving Jefferson street area, The Blue Heron Restaurant is located in a renovated historic house and serves steakhouse classics along with Southern fare, such as locally raised fried chicken and fresh oysters. Just steps away is Stella’s Kentucky Deli that serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. If you’ve never sampled a Kentucky hot brown, try Stella’s version.

Portofino’s in downtown Lexington specializes in Italian cuisine beyond compare. Once inside, you’ll notice the walls lined with paintings from various Kentucky artists such as Peter Williams. The award-winning wine list and selection of more than 130 bourbons, whiskeys and, yes—moonshines—will captivate. Order the bruschetta—the best I have ever had.

ATTRACTIONS

Dissimilar to Churchill Downs in Louisville where the famous Derby takes place, Keeneland Race Track boasts a more tranquil setting, reminiscent of genteel days gone by but still with some of the world’s best horses and their riders competing at one of the most beautiful race courses on earth. To enjoy Keeneland, visit Lexington in April and/or October.

For a look at some of the city’s historic homes, check out Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate, former home of this U.S. Senator, Secretary of State and three-time presidential candidate remembered as the “Great Compromiser.” Most of his 600 acres is now an upscale residential neighbourhood, yet about 20 acres are preserved as a National Historic Landmark, including the Italianate-style house. A tour inside the 18-room mansion showcases Clay family’s belongings and memorabilia.

Another historic home is Mary Todd Lincoln’s brick house built in 1803 to 1806 with a period herb and perennial garden in the backyard. One of America’s most controversial First Ladies, Mary Todd was actually born in Lexington and lived in the family brick house on West Main Street until she was 21. She visited the house with Abraham Lincoln several times over the years.

Not into historic homes? Then, tour one of the Bluegrass bourbon distilleries in and around Lexington, where you will learn how bourbon is made and discover why this whiskey has become the “it” drink of late. If you’re going to sip bourbon in Kentucky, where it was born, remember: whether you take it straight or with a splash, the only thing you can add to it is water.

If you want to zen out, try the Massage Center and Yoga Studio for relaxation and serenity. Located in the historic Dudley Square, the yoga classes are friendly and fun, massages exceptional and you can shop local at their boutique.

When you’re done with your daytime activities, get your foot tapping while a string band plays a lively rhythm known as bluegrass music, which has become popular around the world. Check out various venues around town. Willie’s Locally Known and University of Kentucky feature worldwide talent as does the Lyric Theatre and their WoodSongs worldwide celebration of grassroots Americana music live every Monday night. VM