Ken­tucky his­tor­i­cal district gets new a lease on life

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Travel - By Patti Nick­ell Tri­bune News Ser­vice

Ap­proach­ing the Dis­tillery District from down­town Lex­ing­ton, Ky., mo­torists are taken aback by the large black-and-red mu­ral de­pict­ing what looks to be — de­pend­ing on your per­spec­tive — a scuba diver, a man wear­ing a gas mask or a prison in­mate flash­ing what may or may not be a gang sym­bol.

What it is is a self-por­trait by French mu­ral­ist MTO, and for some Lex­ing­to­ni­ans it’s not ex­actly a warm and fuzzy ad­di­tion to the city’s bur­geon­ing pub­lic art scene. Yet the mu­ral seems ap­pro­pri­ate as a key fea­ture of Lex­ing­ton’s new­est arts-and-en­ter­tain­ment cor­ri­dor, the Dis­tillery District.

Sand­wiched be­tween two his­tor­i­cal bour­bon dis­til­leries — the nowde­funct Old Tarr and the re­cently re­opened James E. Pep­per — the area doesn’t ex­actly scream tourist hot spot. So why has such a scruffy side of this re­fined city be­come the new­est go-to des­ti­na­tion, where ev­ery night lo­cals and vis­i­tors scram­ble for seats in spots that have opened in the past few years?

Chad Burns, a dis­tiller at Bar­rel House Dis­till­ing Co., says it goes well be­yond the Pure Blue Vodka and Devil John’s Moon­shine that his com­pany makes. “On a deeper level, the ap­peal is in the re­vi­tal­iza­tion of some­thing that was once the lifeblood of Lex­ing­ton.”

By 1810, more than 100 dis­til­leries op­er­ated in or near the city, and by the late 1800s, two dis­til­leries that book­end the cur­rent district pro­duced some 36,000 bar­rels of bour­bon an­nu­ally. Eco­nomic down­turns and Pro­hi­bi­tion caused a de­cline in pro­duc­tion. Less than a decade ago, it was a blighted area of empty build­ings.

Today, Old Tarr has been con­verted into the Manch­ester Music Hall, while James E. Pep­per has re­opened and for the first time in 60 years is once again pro­duc­ing bour­bon.


The Elkhorn Tav­ern at Bar­rel House Dis­till­ing is one of the new­est ad­di­tions to the Dis­tillery District in Lex­ing­ton, Ky.

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