Monday, October 18, 2010

Back in the Bluegrass, or My Old Kentucky Home.....

While I now live 60 miles or so from where I grew up in  Illinois, I spent a significant portion of my life living in Kentucky. As I often told folks, I went to college at UK, and forgot to leave. After college I began my professional life in Lexington, a promotion sent me to Western Kentucky where I stayed for nearly a decade, then another promotion brought me to Louisville. Finally, it was a work related move that took us away from the Commonwealth in 2001. As fond as my memories are of the time in Kentucky, as much as I miss Derby festival and Keeneland, I haven't been back since we moved. Until this past weekend.....

And what a weekend it was. Absolutely perfect time for a visit. Keeneland was in session. Kentucky was enjoying the Indian Summer we've had in Wisconsin. Weather really could not have been better. Cool mornings, sunny afternoons in the 70's, evenings perfect for strolling outside. 

Lexington had just hosted the World Equestrian Games, and was looking her very best. Lots of revitalization of downtown. An installation of horse statues all around the city. 
A couple of my favorites were the Keeneland one outside the 5/3 Bank building (cleverly painted with images of the spring meet on one side and the fall meet on the other) and the Kentucky Theater one located by the new courthouses. That one really brought back memories of many a Friday night at midnight singing along to "Dammit Janet", throwing toilet paper and toast dressed as Magenta.

In addition to horses, the Bluegrass State is known for Bourbon. All the major bourbon distilleries are located in central Kentucky - the area from Lexington to Louisville - now known as the Kentucky Bourbon trail. One of the oldest distilleries, which also happens to make my favorite bourbon, Woodford Reserve, is the Labrot and Graham distillery. I love the drive to visit Woodford Reserve  - first passing famous sights like Calumet Farm and Keeneland, then traveling down a typical bluegrass horse farm lane to this picturesque distillery. On site you'll find  the visitor's center containing exhibits on bourbon, a small deli and a nice gift shop. Woodford also has a meeting/catering center, and hosts special brunches on Saturdays during Keeneland
The informative tours feature charming, southern accented guides, and a sample of this excellent bourbon at the end. If planning a trip to Woodford and Keeneland in the same day (which we did), the 10am tour is perfect; allowing ample time to make it to the track before the 1st race. 

Keeneland is a horse racing track like no other. Located on Hwy 60 just west of Lexington, it is only open for races in April and October. It just drips with southern charm and Lexington's strong thoroughbred tradition (speaking of which, not sure I like the announcer calling races, preferred the silence of the past). We were fortunate to be seated in the Keeneland box just behind the winners circle. Delighted to discover that, yes, the Blue Moon Barbecue on the 3rd floor terrace serves my beloved Blue Moon beer. Enjoyed trying to teach the couple of guys in our group who'd never been to the track how to read the form, place bets. Reminded once again that a horse race handicapper I am not. Cashed tickets in the majority of races, but didn't even break even. Smiled when handed a white parasol by the box attendant to block the sun.

Many of the sights in downtown Lexington are as I remember: Rupp Arena, Triangle Park's fountains, Victorian Square, Cheapside Bar.  Others are not. Dudley's Restaurant, a former employer and the place that set me on my current career path, has moved from South Hill to Short Street. Owner, Debbie Long did an incredible job of renovating the space. One of the biggest highlights of the trip was dinner at Dudley's - providing an opportunity to catch up with both Debbie, and dear friend Ann who I met long ago while working at Dudley's. Alfalfa, the campus staple for brunch, has moved to Main Street. There's a new courthouse area, and many, many new bars and restaurants. Hope to get back there soon and explore some more.
The visit to Lexington was too short. Really wished we'd stayed for the football game. Seeing UK finally beat South Carolina in person would have been sweet. But we planned an evening in Louisville also......which will be another post.

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