- Distillery District
- 21c Museum Hotel
- Ashland, The Henry Clay Estate
- Corto Lima
- Stella’s Kentucky Deli
- Keeneland Track Kitchen
- Belle’s Cocktail House
- Calumet Farm
By: Kit Graham
Kit Graham’s Guide to Eating, Drinking and Playing in Lexington
We reached out to food and travel blogger Kit Graham from The Kittchen to see her must-do list for a weekend trip to Lexington. Below you can find her suggestions for eating, drinking and enjoying the authentic Southern experiences that Lexington offers.
My friend Jenny and I just spent two nights in Lexington and in that time we managed to visit seven restaurants, three distilleries, one bar, one race track and a street festival. There are so many things to do in Lexington–and I already have a list of things I can’t wait to see on my next visit.
There are multiple distilleries that are a just a short drive from downtown, including Buffalo Trace Distillery, Castle & Key and Woodford Reserve, which are all within 45 minutes of downtown Lexington. If you ask a local what to do in Lexington, visiting a distillery will likely be the first thing they suggest.
This bustling section of Lexington is home to the James E. Pepper Distillery and Barrel House Distilling Co., and it gets its name from the historic distilleries that have called this area home. Today you can find more than just distilleries here–the Distillery District is home to Ethereal Brewing, Goodfellas Pizzeria, Middlefork Kitchen Bar, and Crank & Boom Ice Cream Lounge. It’s a can’t miss section of Lexington, and a place where locals love to spend time.
Lexington is the “Horse Capital of the World” and a trip here isn’t complete until you visit Keeneland. Keeneland is a National Historic Landmark and the grounds are open year-round. The track hosts Thoroughbred races every April and October. Tours are available all year, and special behind-the-scenes racing tours are available in April and October when the races take place. This is a can’t miss destination–make sure you put Keeneland on the top of your list when you are planning out what to do in Lexington!
The first two floors of this hotel in downtown Lexington are a museum! The collection rotates, and several people recommended that we go to the bar at Lockbox, a bar on the first floor, for a cocktail and then walk around to see the art.
The farm closes for the annual yearling sale–so we couldn’t visit during our trip, but it was highly recommended. The farm is nearly 100 years old and today it is a Thoroughbred breeding and training farm. The farm is just beside Keeneland and there are tours available that take visitors to both Calumet Farm and Keeneland.
Downtown Lexington is filled with street art. It seemed like nearly every block had a mural. You can find over 25 murals in Lexington–and that number keeps growing. See all the murals in our Street Art Guide.
This large estate in downtown Lexington was home to Henry Clay, a lawyer who served in both the United States Senate and House of Representatives. The estate was the site of Lexington’s largest Civil War engagement and today the mansion and grounds are open to tours.
The girlhood home of the First Lady is in downtown Lexington. This year there are special tours and events to celebrate the bicentennial of Mary Todd Lincoln’s birth.
This restaurant is right in the heart of the Distillery District, a section of Lexington that is perfect for a half-day of exploring. We had dinner at Middlefork Kitchen Bar and we loved it. The menu creatively blends global inspirations resulting in menu items like Cacio e Pepe Spätzle and Scallion and Cheddar Pancakes. I highly recommend this restaurant.
If you like Mexican and Latin food, you will love Corto Lima. After visits to two distilleries, Jenny and I needed to eat. We feasted on queso, guacamole stuffed arepas, tacos, and elotes at Corto Lima. We loved every bite and now I am wishing they had a Chicago location.
We didn’t have time to make it to Belle’s Cocktail House, but it was recommended a few times so I wanted to let you know about it. They are known for their cocktails and their rooftop with a view of downtown Lexington.
Crank & Boom is the place to get ice cream. The scoop shop is located in the Distillery District beside Middlefork Kitchen Bar and James E. Pepper Distilling Co. They offer a variety of composed sundaes and ice cream flights. They also take inspiration from their location and make bourbon ice cream! Jenny got a sundae with bourbon ice cream and I had a flight with four different ice creams. My favorite was the Honey & Bourbon.
Stella’s was serving up the local specialty, burgoo, at the Jefferson Street Soiree and of course we had to taste it! I hadn’t heard of burgoo before, and it seems to be one of the foods that everyone makes a bit differently. Burgoo is a stew that is usually it is made with with beef and lots of vegetables. We loved it–it would be delicious on a cold day.
This cafeteria at the race track has seriously good Southern food. I feasted on grits, scrambled eggs, bacon, potatoes, and a biscuit. Get there early so that after breakfast you can go watch the Thoroughbred’s morning workout–it’s a Lexington tradition!
This low-key bar has been repeatedly named one of the best bourbon bars in the South. We stopped in for a round of Old Fashioneds. Bluegrass Tavern, BGT to locals, is known as a place to try some hard-to-find bourbons.
Lockbox is the place to go for brunch. This restaurant within the 21c Museum Hotel serves up brunch with a Southern twist. I got baked eggs with cheesy grits and one of the best biscuits I have ever tasted. The breakfast potatoes are outstanding, too.
I received several recommendations for this gastropub via Instagram. Jenny and I snacked on spicy fried cauliflower and beers before we went to the Jefferson Street Soiree.
We didn’t have time to make it here, but a trusted source recommended it. This pub is located in the Downtown Courthouse Entertainment District. The pub is named after Henry Clay, the statesman who helped to develop the Mint Julep and had it entered into congressional record as Kentucky’s official drink.
Each year, Keeneland hosts a Fall and Spring Race Meet during the months of October and April where you can bet on Thoroughbreds.
We were lucky to be in town for this one-night event where restaurants and live music take over Jefferson Street.
This annual event is where you can buy a Thoroughbred. These colts and fillies cost anywhere from a few thousand dollars to a couple million!