As Lexington’s food scene continues to heat up, locals are flocking to the bustling Distillery District. The neighborhood first sprung to life after the Civil War, and its development was spearheaded by the James E. Pepper Distilling Co. The distillery was originally established in the 1700s during the American Revolution, survived Prohibition only to shut down in 1958, and finally reopened at the tail end of 2017 when a new investment company bought the brand.
Today, the neighborhood the Pepper legacy built has evolved into a happening hot spot where residents and visitors can enjoy some of the finest new sips and bites right near the heart of downtown.
Middle Fork Kitchen Bar
When a fine-dining restaurant moves into a warehouse district, you know the area has reached critical mass. Middle Fork Kitchen Bar first launched as a food truck, called Fork in the Road, but quickly outgrew its digs, rebranding as a brick-and-mortar back in 2015.
Accentuated by steel beams, exposed brick and Edison light bulbs, Middle Fork offers artfully created small plates meant for sharing and is a great dining option for an area that frequently draws large groups of friends for a full day (and night) of fun.
Connected to Barrel House Distilling Co., cocktail lounge and taproom Elkhorn Tavern was quick to capitalize on a recent legislation change that allowed distillers to serve cocktails in addition to tastings during official tours.
Housed in a lodgelike setting that includes leather sofas backed by a crackling fireplace, Barrel House produces a variety of alcohols, including vodka, moonshine and rum, and the tavern mixes all those up in specialty cocktail form. You’ll also find drinks made from brands not distilled on site.
The popular Lexington-born pizza chain Goodfellas serves up slices of New York–style pizza and opened a new location in the Distillery District last year. Only this one isn’t a walk-up counter like Goodfellas’ other spots; it’s a full-on restaurant experience — with plenty of craft cocktails on tap — located in what was originally the James E. Pepper distillery.
The owners went to great lengths to retain the authenticity of the space by leaving much of the large distilling equipment intact. For those who want to sit back and stay awhile, there’s a loft area with pool tables and a patio with bocce ball courts and fire pits.
Crank & Boom
After dinner at Goodfellas, retreat a couple doors down to Lexington’s premier craft ice-cream lounge for a little something sweet. The biggest problem with going to Crank & Boom is figuring out what to order: Do you opt for a S’mores Sundae? A sampler flight of four scoops (which come in flavors such as Bourbon & Honey, Blueberry Lime Cheesecake or Coffee Stout)? A prosecco float?
This nontraditional scoop shop is euphoria for your senses. Best of all, if you’re not ready to go home just yet, you can get a nightcap here, too: Crank & Boom also sells local craft beer and wine by the glass or the bottle, plus spiked coffee drinks and a handful of cocktails, such as a spin on an Old-Fashioned and an ode to a gin martini, the Championship Cheers.
This three-year-old brewpub is roomy, with lofted ceilings, brick walls and a selection of staples beers such as an IPA or a Wit in addition to a rotating cast of seasonal microbrews; past favorites have included Peach Betta Have My Money (an American wild ale), Chinookied (an amber) and a hibiscus saison on draft to sample.
While Ethereal Brewing Co. doesn’t make its own food, there’s typically a food truck like Gringos waiting outside to satiate hungry bargoers.
Directly across the street from the Distillery District, Lexington’s newest live music venue, The Burl, draws a variety of acts, both local and national, every night of the week in the interest of providing a top-notch live-music experience.
Accommodating up to 300 patrons, the space occupies a former loading dock for Texaco that was built in the 1920s, offers a full bar and a food truck, and fits in seamlessly with the industrial feel of the area. Best of all, ticket prices generally run from $5 to $15, so a show here won’t break the bank.