Lexington residents got their first glimpse of renovations taking place in the old James E. Pepper distillery on Manchester Street on Tuesday, August 12. The event showcased Mark Jensen’s upcoming Middle Fork Kitchen Bar, a new craft beer company, Ethereal Brewing, and The Break Room—a new bar from the owners of SideBar.
The advent of these new businesses in Lexington’s long-heralded Distillery District mark what many hope will be a flourishing of growth in the area. In each of the business’ cases, they represent a continued effort on Lexington’s part to pursue urban infill development plans that capitalizes on legacy infrastructure without expanding the city’s footprint, growing in and up, rather than out. They also exploit the Pepper Distillery’s close proximity to the Town Branch Creek which runs under most of downtown Lexington.
The process of converting the Distillery District into a fully functional extension of Lexington’s downtown still has a ways to go, however. One issue that may serve as a hindrance to some is the lack of sidewalks on Manchester past the train underpass. This same underpass also constrains traffic in a way that could make it difficult to install bike lanes along the road. Developers and early “settlers” hope the issue of missing infrastructure will be resolved with time, funding, and more growth, much as the process is progressing in the nearby Jefferson Street corridor.
The sneak peek itself turned out several hundred Lexingtonians who were eager to get a glimpse of what’s to come. All three locations were open for attendees to ramble through. The Middle Fork Kitchen Bar patio was ground zero with live music and Jensen’s Fork in the Road Mobile Galley serving food. Inside, those who were feeling a little thirsty could also grab a beer from both Country Boy Brewing and Blue Stallion Brewing Company.
Of the three locations, The Break Room is the closest to completion. The building it’s in, as the name suggests, was once the break room for employees working in the distillery and now features a back patio butting-up against the creek.
Slowly but surely, Mark Jensen’s Middle Fork Kitchen Bar is coming into focus. The restaurant, located in a section of the Pepper Distillery itself, is still fairly early in the construction process but the patio has been poured. It was also only a few short months ago that Jensen raised over $24,000 through a Kickstarter to help fund the new restaurant.
Finally, there’s Ethereal Brewing which will be a new microbrewery located behind where Middle Fork will be. They, too, are still in the early phases of construction but those who attended the sneak peek could see some of the equipment that (once hooked-up) will be used to further grow Lexington’s craft beer scene.
When Allison Carter spoke on behalf of Distillery District funding at LFUCG in December of 2009, she told Lexington council members, “on a more personal note: People like me—young professionals—don’t stay in cities for our McMansion neighborhoods and shopping centers. We stay because of places like the Distillery District.” Lexington architect Graham Pohl said at the same assembly, “The synergy between the Town Branch Trail and the Distillery District is unprecedented,” and Van Meter Pettit said, “If we want to ever catch up with Boulder or Madison—all these nice places that we’ve all traveled to—it starts Now.”
Six years later, Lexington’s Distillery District is taking a few more steps along the path that’s been decades in the making.
For more Lexington, Kentucky food and restaurant news, click here to subscribe to the Ace digital e-dition, emailed to your inbox every Thursday morning.
To submit a Lexington, Kentucky food, wine, or spirits news item for consideration in Ace’s Best Bites, email acelist at aceweekly.com. To submit a Lexington Food, Wine, or Spirits Event to be considered for the Ace calendar, please go to the Ace online calendar, and click “Submit” (upper right on the Menu bar). For Lexington restaurant advertising, call Barbara in Ace Advertising at 859.225.4889 x229.