We woke up in our awesome room in Lexington, Kentucky, with five missions for the day:
- Eat BBQ.
- Buy a coat (you may recall that like an idiot, I left my coat in Waverly, Alabama, and have since been wearing Riccardo’s gigantic parka while he toughs it out in his sweater)
- Sip bourbon.
- See horses.
- Hear bluegrass.
The first four missions were accomplished easily and effortlessly.
We found one of the best meals of our trip so far at a spot called Billy’s Real Pit BBQ. Having learned our lesson about portion sizes in the US, we shared a plate of pulled mutton (like pulled pork, but even tastier), cornbread, green beans, and fries, all of which were off the charts.
At a TJ Maxx in a strip mall, I bought not one but two coats at prices so absurdly low that I actually felt guilty. Riccardo procured what he said was the best coffee of the trip so far.
Most distilleries on the Bourbon Trail are outside town and we didn’t feel like venturing out. Instead, we visited a new one called Town Branch, right in town, for a tour and a taste. (I don’t love bourbon but found the Bluegrass Sundown, a hot cocktail made with a bourbon-inspired Irish cream-like drink, to be quite palatable.)
Being the Horse Capital of the World, Lexington has no shortage of public art featuring the majestic thoroughbred. We didn’t really expect to see any live horses roaming around town on a chilly January day, and contented ourselves with sculptures and murals. But in the late afternoon, we somehow found ourselves on the edge of town on a serene and picturesque byway with fenced pastures stretching on for miles on either side of it. It was so pretty so we kept driving, and before long, we came face-to-face with some fine equine specimens.
As for the fifth mission, that was proving to be slightly trickier. I had read online that a spot called Willie’s Locally Known hosted a bluegrass jam on Sunday evenings, and had been quite happy to make that discovery, as it seems (shockingly) that bluegrass isn’t the most popular musical genre in Lexington. It’s probably easier to find a bluegrass jam in Montreal (seriously). We had already planned to move on to Louisville later that night, but decided to stick around long enough to see what this bluegrass jam was all about before taking off.
Willie’s Locally Known was not what I expected. I wanted to hear bluegrass in a dimly-lit log cabin played by toothless, slack-jawed yokels in overalls – not in a trendy bistro-pub with a state-of-the art sound system! Polished setting notwithstanding, there didn’t seem to be any bluegrass happening anyway – just sports on TV and rock music playing quietly. The bartender told us he was doubtful that any musicians would even show up. Sigh! We decided to hang out anyway for a beer and a snack. (On a side note, in Kentucky you can get a beer made in oak barrels previously used to age bourbon, and it’s delicious.)
As we picked at our fried green tomatoes, the friendly Texan waitress came by with good news – a musician was on his way, and upon hearing about our fruitless quest for bluegrass, had offered to serenade us at our table! Shortly thereafter, a kindly gentleman with a guitar sat down nearby, shook our hands, and launched into a country tune he’d written himself. An extremely tall fellow with a tiny mandolin soon wordlessly appeared and began playing along, moving then into a straight-up bluegrass classic. After awhile, the musicians stopped playing and introduced themselves to each other (that’s one of the great things about bluegrass – musicians don’t need to be previously acquainted to make beautiful music).
Several rounds and many tunes later, the atmosphere had grown considerably more convivial. The Texan waitress poured generous glasses of bourbon, smiling broadly and shouting “Welcome to Kentucky!”. A sweet-faced fifteen-year-old girl with a guitar came in with her dad; he borrowed another guitar to accompany her with a bassline while she sang and played (beautifully). A grumpy-faced bartender shocked everyone with a gorgeously-sung love song, while the other musicians strummed quietly in the background.
Thus, thanks mostly to sheer good luck and despite initial doubts, the day’s final mission was carried out successfully.
This morning we’re in Louisville, Kentucky, and it’s Riccardo’s birthday! I had been schlepping his gift around all week and was anxious to give it to him. He tore open the paper and very graciously feigned excitement upon discovering a chess set, with the price tag still on ($7.99 at Borders), which he said later he remembered seeing in our house. His excitement became more genuine when he opened the box (and the burlap rice sack tucked inside) to find an iPad. Heehee!
Here are a few images from around Lexington:
And finally, here’s some classic bluegrass.