Outdoor dining in Lexington has a sweet spot – when it’s not too hot and not too cold – and the scenery is just right. Maybe your favorite time for outdoor dining is when spring blooms, or on breezy summer days when the meadow grass is unmistakably blue, or on almost-crisp-but-still-warm-enough days when the fall trees are full of rusty colors. Choosing a destination isn’t all about the food. It’s about the ambiance. And here are some options to find a perfect spot of your own…
DUDLEY’S ON SHORT
259 W. Short St., #125
This upscale restaurant is unassuming on the outside, in a circa-1889 former bank building. The best seats in the house are upstairs on what’s not quite a rooftop, but more of a terrace tucked between downtown buildings. Ask for a reservation on the balcony, where a set of French doors opens up to a terrace filled with potted plants, soft music and small tables in a quaint, secluded setting. It’s a good choice for a romantic dinner or a graduation celebration. Dudley’s offers fine dining, complete with white tablecloths, but not in a stuffy way. You can start off with a meat and cheese plate with wine, order a traditional “Sunday Supper” or chef’s seasonal special, and top it off with a decedent dessert.
If you are looking for a spot to have a drink before your reservation at Dudley’s, or maybe you want to walk your dog to a place that allows pets, your new favorite place to go might be Centro. It’s in the courtyard area near downtown’s Fifth Third Bank Pavilion. “I like Centro on Saturdays,” says Adam Duddy, a senior at the University of Kentucky, who’s from Louisville. “They’re open during the farmer’s market. So, I will come down here and have a Bloody Mary or a mimosa or something.” Centro has a wide range of drinks – including a Bacon Old Fashioned, bourbon flights or a shot of Apple Pie Moonshine. Inside, Centro has exposed brick walls, an intricately tiled floor and Kentucky-inspired décor. The front doors retract to completely open up to the patio and its umbrella tables outside.
BELLE’S COCKTAIL HOUSE
156 Market St.
If you are looking for a true rooftop experience, rooftop dining is hard to come by in Lexington. “Belle’s is the only one that’s an actual open rooftop,” Duddy says, “So that concept is pretty cool.” Belle’s is all about handcrafted cocktails, Bourbon and craft beer. It’s named for Belle Brezing, a madam who ran a high-class Victorian-era brothel and was the model for Belle Watling in Margaret Mitchell’s classic “Gone With the Wind.” Up on the roof, you can find Thursday night tacos or Bourbon Slushes any night of the week they’re open (Thursdays through Saturdays). They also rent out the rooftop for private functions.
CARSON’S FOOD & DRINK
362 E. Main St.
University of Kentucky student Christian Raccipeio is partial to Carson’s, where he works. It’s known for its ribs but is also a vegetarian-friendly restaurant with chef-driven recipes, prohibition-style cocktails, craft beers, Bourbons and Scotch. There’s outdoor seating on the patio, and it’s across the street from some interesting street-art murals. The restaurant pays attention to details, like serving water in reused bourbon bottles. “They have outstanding food, drinks and brunch,” Raccipeio says. And there’s often a brass band playing jazz on weekends.
JEFF RUBY’S STEAKHOUSE
101 W. Vine St.
Even if you are not coming for a classy steak dinner, The Paddock, the patio bar at Jeff Ruby’s, is worth checking out. You enter near some Keeneland-esque jockey statues, a three-tiered fountain and an imported Italian bronze horse statue. Once you are on the patio, you can sit at outside tables, couches around fire pits, or at the fully stocked, covered bar, where you can watch a game on TV. The full restaurant menu is available outside, or you can order a tower of seafood appetizers. Attentive bartenders serve up cocktails and conversation. Regulars like “Anonymous Ed” give tips about where to buy a rare bottle of Bourbon.
1228 Manchester St.
Can you really beat a place where you can play bocce ball on a large, creekside patio at a distillery? This hip pizzeria has that. The inside space is a funky redone warehouse, with exposed-brick walls, Chesterfield sofas and a pool table. At lunch, you can get a big slice of New York-style pizza, a side and a drink for $6. It’s a great deal and a great location. The outdoor space is cool enough that it’s somewhere people come to do yoga before it’s open on Sundays. The Wiseguy Lounge focuses on Bourbon (more than 250 to choose from), cocktails and beer. The bricked patio has lots of tables, fireplace seating and lounge areas. Goodfella’s is part of a chain, with other locations in Covington, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Bloomington, Ind, and a sister Lexington restaurant at 110 N. Mill St. But the Distillery District setting here is unique.
J. RENDER’S SOUTHERN TABLE & BAR
3191 Beaumont Center Circle
If high-end barbecue is more your thing, there’s J. Render’s, where smoked meats are their specialty. It may be tucked away in a corner of a shopping center, but it has a comfortable outdoor patio and has live music on weekends and on Monday nights for live Bluegrass music. A good thing to know about J. Render’s is that it has a happy hour daily from 4 to 7 p.m., and it has regular specials like half-price Wine Wednesdays and prime rib Thursdays. If you need your fix of Southern cooking away from Beaumont Center Circle, you can find J. Render’s food truck all around town. It’s another place where you can bring your dogs to sit alongside you at the patio.
735 E. Main St.
Another not-to-be-missed spot is the outdoor gazebo at Coles. It’s a family-run fine dining spot in a historic circa-1938 space on the corner of Main and Ashland that became Executive Chef Cole Arimes’ about eight years ago. It was originally The Stirrup Cup, which served traditional Kentucky classics. For a while, it was a pharmacy, and then a series of other restaurants, such as Le Café Francais, Hall’s on Main and Furlongs. Old hunting mural scenes still grace the walls. Today, Chef Cole runs it with his extended family. The local meats are cured in-house, and they pickle vegetables on site. The gazebo offers its own menu and has a French-countryside vibe with bistro tables and lots of plants. Bar bites range from sliders to duck fat fries. And the charming summertime seating screams Southern charm.
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Local Lexington is for people who live in, around, or want to visit the Lexington, Kentucky area. An insider’s look at what is best about Lexington and the Bluegrass area. We focus on local places, local people, local independent businesses, and local events.
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