When the temperatures plunge outside, visitors to Bardstown look for ways to warm up inside. That often means finding a crackling fire, a hearty meal and since this is the Bourbon Capital of the World, a sampling of Kentucky’s favorite elixir to achieve an inner glow.
Luckily for those visitors, Bardstown has no shortage of any of these, especially the latter. Those coming to town during the winter months have ample opportunity to take the chill off with a bourbon flight at any number of atmospheric spots.
For starters, there’s the oldest bourbon bar in America at the historic Old Talbott Tavern. If you stop in for a drink here, you will be in famous or infamous company, whichever the case may be. Daniel Boone, Andrew Jackson and Jesse James all hoisted a glass at the tavern.
If you prefer to enjoy your bourbon in a place reminiscent of a different time in American history, settle into one of the crushed velvet lounges or leather chairs at the Volstead Bourbon Lounge, a 2020s version of a 1920s speakeasy. You won’t need a secret password to get in and you won’t need to worry about a raid by the feds ending your evening of pleasure. (In case you need to brush up on your history, it was the Volstead Act that ushered in Prohibition, and ruined the good times of countless Americans).
What you will need is the ability to choose among some 14 classic cocktails, all made from 1800s or early 1900s recipes. If you would like to add an extra dollop of warmth to an already cozy experience, order the Smoked Manhattan (Lairds Bonded Apple Brandy, cold pressed cider, dried apple, orange peel, cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, star anise and clove), and even warmer, The Devil Made Me Do It (private select El Burro Single Lot Mezcal, Nardini l’Amaro liqueur, red wine reduction, tobacco tincture and chocolate bitters.)
Take your time choosing as the Volstead has more than 500 bourbons on its menu.
Skipping ahead to modern times, Bardstown’s newest bar, Mr. Tubs, located in a former laundromat and owned by Rachel Miller, wife of acclaimed chef Newman Miller, and herself a noted food and restaurant professional, having previously owned and operated Star Hill Provisions at Maker’s Mark Distillery.
Mr. Tubs, the Millers most recent collaborative venture along with Newman’s brother Harrison, has been described as “the place for bourbon connoisseurs.” With a wide selection of hard-to-find whiskies and classic cocktails that change with the seasons, it’s not hard to see why. Mr. Tubs also offers an elevated snack menu, courtesy of Newman, which features unique items such as Secretariat Horseradish Dip, served with chips and caviar, and smoked trout from Shuckman’s Fish Co. in Louisville.
“Bardstown is an excellent choice for a quick winter getaway, with its festive lights, unique drinks at local bars, and short drives to area distilleries,” insists Miller.
Of course, one cannot live on bourbon alone, as tempting as that prospect is. Visitors looking for a cozy spot to have a meal in Bardstown have plenty of options.
Toogie’s Table, located in the retro Bardstown Motor Lodge, makes for a perfect brunch spot on a chilly winter’s day. Warm up with a bowl of butternut squash bisque, and move on to Toogie’s fried chicken with Trinidad apples, hot honey and chicken liver mousse, or the My Old Kentucky Home frittata with seasonal veggies, local farm eggs and parmesan. Of course, you don’t have to forgo bourbon with your brunch as tucked away on the upper floor of the restaurant is their bourbon bar. Take one of the plush seats at the oak tasting bar and prepare to enjoy an impressive bespoke selection of bourbon and other spirits.
Dinner can be even cozier than brunch if you make a reservation at The Rickhouse, located in the basement of historic Spalding Hall. If you’re thinking that cozy isn’t usually a word used to describe a basement, consider that this basement has subterranean brick arched walls and a décor of signature bourbon barrels, all lit by the glow of candles. The Rickhouse provides the perfect atmosphere for craft cocktails, hearty steaks and decadent desserts.
Getting cozy over bourbon in Bardstown can be educational as well as enjoyable. At Bardstown Bourbon Company, cocktail classes are held Thursday through Saturday. The distillery prides itself on offering a Napa Valley-style experience with bourbon instead of wine. Visitors enjoy a tasting, or if they want a more immersive experience, the “Shaken and Stirred” elevated experience. In the swank (but cozy) Speakeasy Bar, with its comfy couches and sparkling chandelier, visitors join a Spirits Specialist who leads them through the hands-on making of two iconic bourbon cocktails. The cocktail choices change seasonally, but this winter guests will have fun making a traditional whiskey sour and a gingerbread old-fashioned.
Bourbon might not be the first thing that comes to mind when visiting My Old Kentucky Home State Park. But after touring the mansion that inspired Stephen Foster’s ballad, make your way to the 1792 cabin where another bourbon education experience awaits. The 1800s cabin situated on the grounds provides a cozy setting for the informative Barton’s 1792 Tasting Classes led by Whitney Eversole, the park’s sales and events manager.
The cabin can accommodate up to 16 people, who every Friday and Saturday from now until the end of February, join Eversole for a guided tasting of four 1792 bourbons and a smoked old-fashioned.
Visitors planning an overnight and looking for a cozy option should look no further than the six bed-and-breakfast accommodations at Log Still Distillery. If they are the hearty sort, they can unpack and take a stroll around the 12-acre lake. If not, they can settle in by the fire with a pour of Monk’s Road bourbon. In terms of coziness, Log Still rates a 10, according to guests. “We meld all the southern comforts of home with the luxuries of the next generation bourbon destination,” says president and distiller Wally Dant.
“We honor our hospitality legacy by bringing comfort and care to all who stay here.”
So, forget about hibernating this winter. Instead, cozy up (and warm up) in Bardstown, the Bourbon Capital of the World.