When most people think about Kentucky and bourbon, it’s Louisville that first comes to mind. The truth is, there are just as many bourbon distilleries within a stones throw of Lexington, KY as there are from Louisville. Lexington is a hidden gem of a city and the Bluegrass Tavern is a hidden gem of a bar. Bluegrass Tavern is located right off of the Cheapside, the name of the old log schoolhouse that once stood in the public square, and also the fantastic name of another bar on the block. From the outside you’d never know that Bluegrass Tavern has one of the biggest collections of bourbon in Kentucky.
The inside of the Bluegrass is equally as unpretentious and unintimidating. If you didn’t know better, you might think Bluegrass Tavern was one of the many University of Kentucky bars scattered throughout Lexington. It isn’t until you sit at the bar and really look that it becomes clear that Bluegrass has such a mammoth collection of bourbons, well over 200. Bottles are stacked several deep and nestled into every corner, something that reminds us of the massive amount of tequila squirrled away at Tommy’s Mexican in San Francisco.
With all that bourbon, you’d think that the pride of the collection would be a wall of Pappy’s and Willet. While both are well represented in the bar, the selection is as much about curating a wide selection of bourbon as presenting the upper echelon of premium bourbon. What makes Bluegrass Tavern one of the better whisky / bourbon bars in America is that with all that selection, there’s absolutely no pretentiousness around the bourbon. The bartenders act like Bluegrass is a local hangout bar and are as excited to serve a glass of Bulleit as they are one of the last drops of a rare Old Forester Birthday Bourbon.
When asked which of the 200 bourbons is his favorite, bartender Chris Evans happily pulls out a bottle of Four Roses 9 year old single barrel. “We picked out this barrel ourselves and it’s just amazing.” While cocktails aren’t the centerpiece of Bluegrass Tavern, you’ll get a solid Manhattan. Bartender Chris Evans seasons his ice before he stirs his Manhattan in a way we’ve never seen the drink made, but that results in a solid drink. All the whiskey is served to the customer’s preference without any eye rolling. No matter how you enjoy your whiskey, Bluegrass will happily serve it to you.
One of the things we love the most about Bluegrass Tavern is that rather than resting on its amazing collection of bourbon, it still manages to be a good bar, one that you’d be just as comfortable knocking back a good draft beer (they, of course, have the bourbon-aged local beer on tap), as you would a rare whiskey. It’s a stop near the Kentucky Bourbon Trail that any whiskey lover should be sure to make.
The Bluegrass Tavern is at 115 Cheapside Street, Lexington, KY 40507, telephone (859) 389-6664.