Kentucky Bars Nightlife and Entertainment.

Kentucky. You would have thought that in a state where bourbon distilleries are commonplace and the race track is the place to be at the weekend, getting a drink would be relatively easy. I’m afraid not. Of the 120 counties in Kentucky, 55 are completely dry and 30 are wet. The remaining 35 are ‘moist’ ..that is falling somewhere in-between. Actually it’s more complicated than that because some wineries are allowed to operate within dry counties and 16 cities within dry counties have allowed restaurants above a certain size to sell drinks. There are also some ‘wet’ citieis within dry counties. Confused? We are! If all else fails, at least you can resort to one of the Bourbon distilleries (Heaven Hill, Jim Beam, Makers Mark, Four Roses and Buffalo Trace are all in the state) or enjoy the Kentucky Bourbon Festival held the third weekend of September (

Kentucky does not have a state wide smoking ban, but there are city and county ordinances in place that do ban smoking in certain areas, including Louisville and Lexington which prohibits smoking in public places. The counties of Daviess and Letcher both have no smoking ordinances, so again, you need to check locally to avoid penalties.

Kentucky is known as the Bluegrass State, earned because of the amount of bluegrass present in lawns and pastures throughout the state. A member of the Union since 1792, it is one of four states officially known as a commonwealth. Bordered by West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio, Kentucky boasts abundant resources and diverse natural environment including the world’s longest cave system, an incredible system of navigable waterways and streams. It also has the two largest man made lakes east of the Mississippi River. Regrettably this level of water has its downsides and Kentucky has suffered major flooding incidents, most recently in 1997. Tornadoes also strike their peril, causing death and destruction; February 08 the most recent.
Kentucky highlighted in redAnimals are big business here. Thoroughbred horse breeding is a major source of income, as is horse racing and cattle. Much of rural Kentucky (and much of it is rural) is given over to farming, with cattle, corn and soya beans the main crops. Kentucky has more farms per square mile than any other US state, although the average size is only 153 acres. Kentucky also has an extensive park system into which wildlife has successfully been reintroduced, including Elk (which had been extinct from the area for 150 years) and wild turkey.

But forget turkeys…what Kentucky is really best known for is KENTUCKY FRIED CHICKEN! Love it or hate it, it really did originate in Kentucky back in 1930 when Harlan Sanders started serving hungry travellers who stopped at his service station for gas. He invented his own ‘home meal replacement’, selling complete meals to busy families. Governor Ruby Laffoon made him a Kentucky Colonel in 1935 to recognise his contribution to the state’s cuisine. His popularity grew and grew and over the next decade Sanders perfected his secret 11 herbs and spices blend recipe.

In 1955 the Colonel started developing a chicken franchising business and less than 10 years later he had more than 600 KFC franchises in the US and Canada. In 1964 he sold his interest in the US company for $2m to a group including John Y Brown Jr, who later became governor of Kentucky. KFC Corporation is still based in Louisville so, if you’re there you owe it to yourself to try some….don’t you?
Flag of KentuckyIf you’re visiting Kentucky, you’ll find most of the towns very sparsely populated. The bulk of the population is in the capital Louisville (554,000) or Lexington (271,000); the next biggest town – Owensboro- just 55,000. So, for nightlife, Louisville and Lexington are your best bets…only bets really.

Foodwise there are plenty of options but, rather like KFC, you also should try the state’s other original Kentucky Dish, the Hot Brown, invented by the Brown Hotel in Louisville, a layered dish of bread, tomatoes, turkey, bacon, and topped with melted cheese. Try it at Ramsey’s Diner in Lexington’s East High Street or deSha’s in Victorian Square. Ever tried an Old Fashioned? Possibly one of the first ever ‘cocktails’ this rye whiskey, sugar and bitters concoction was invented at The Pendennis Club in Louisville – again another must have while you’re in the area.

Music is a big part of the nightlife scene, the bluegrass spoken off earlier having given rise to music of the same name. Every June the Festival of the Bluegrass takes place at the Kentucky Horse Park Campgrounds and attracts an international audience. In the summer you can also hear live music every Thursday and Saturday evenings in the park beside the Lexington History Museum on Main Street, while live rhythm and blues keeps the Cheapside Bar & Grill packed every weekend – as is Oscar’s Piano Bar and Natasha’s on Esplanade for jazz.
Seal of KentuckyThe South Limestone area, at the edge of the University of Kentucky campus in Lexington, is a good area for pubs, bars and clubs and restaurants. Lygnah’s Irish Pub is said to have great burgers. The historic Downtown Restaurant District round North Limestone offers more upscale eating opportunities.
Over in Louisville, the majority of nightlife takes place downtown in a circular area from W Main Street in the North to W Broadway in the South and from S 7th Street in the West to S Preston St in the East. Downtown Louisville is quite a happening place, actually, rapidly changing and growing with new restaurants, pubs and clubs opening all the time. Kentucky’s first Wolfgang Puck Express Restaurant, for example, has recently opened in the Kentucky International Convention Center.

Happening places include Stevie Ray’s Blues Bar, Coyotes, the Phoenix Hill Tavern, Zena’s Café and Main Street Lounge. Headliners on Lexington Road is a relative newcomer but is rapidly making a name for itself as a bar/nightclub, while Molley Malone’s Irish Pub and Restaurant has been around for significantly longer – but remains popular with locals and visitors alike.
If you’re visiting Louisville in May, be sure to get to Churchill Downs for the Kentucky Derby – one of the richest races in the world and known in the US as ‘the most exciting two minutes in sport’. Held on the first Saturday in May for three year olds, bet well and you’ll certainly be partying all night long!