Lexington, KY – In November’s Urban County work session, local business and community leaders focused on the state of downtown Lexington. Of all the recent studies related to downtown – – there have been at least 10 – – perhaps most jarring were findings by the Minority Recruitment and Retention Task Force, showing a direct correlation between the diversity of options in downtown entertainment (or lack thereof) and economic prosperity in the Lexington area. This study, commissioned by LexMark and Toyota, suggests that our shortcomings in attracting and retaining a diverse workforce (particularly African Americans) can be directly attributed to a perception that Lexington lacks a dynamic and welcoming downtown with diverse entertainment options. Further investigation suggested that these findings can be applied to the recruitment and retention of all young professionals in technology, engineering and general business fields (“the key to our companies’ future,” according to the study).
With these studies making it clear that downtown nightlife is is not just an important social issue but also a business-critical economic development issue, Business Lexington surveyed Lexington’s downtown venues offering live music on a regular basis, taking stock of the changes that have occurred this year and looking forward to 2009. In the upcoming January 9 issue, a companion article will focus on ideas for sustaining and growing our downtown entertainment scene, and the need to put Lexington higher on the map of cities competing for the next generation of young, diverse and creative minds.
The Distillery District’s first nightclub, located at 903 Manchester, opened its doors in late November. Managing partner Debbie Cole also serves as Vice President of Lexington’s African American Forum, a position that has opened her eyes to the need of an available facility for her organization and others like it – – a venue for networking as well as socializing and entertainment, for a diverse, upscale, business-oriented crowd.
The club, which has a capacity of 400, hopes to offer regular live music (primarily jazz and R&B) beginning in February. In addition to being an entertainment venue centered on live music, however, Manchester’s will sometimes provide DJs, or have viewings of music DVDs on a large screen. Important to the mission of Manchester’s in engaging the local art and business communities as well as being an entertainment venue. Manchester’s wants to be known as a high class yet affordable facility available for private events, including business meetings and luncheons as well as parties and social gatherings.
“We’re going to make it as easy as we can for the community and for the business community to access to this facility, not just for purely entertainment, but for business meetings, for powerpoint meetings, [etc.],” said Cole, whose partners include Jeff Blandon of UpScale Entertainment and Omar Rasoul, former owner of Fusion. For more information, call 859-321-1982.
(Lower 48, DeVassa and Brooklyn Pizza) When the “Dame Block” came down in the summer of 2008, Victorian Square became host to a small resurgence of nightlife hot spots. Live entertainment venues Lower 48 and DeVassa, as well as watering hole The Chase Tap Room, opened their doors in July, with the former two locations picking up many local music acts that had previously frequented The Dame and Buster’s.
Under the leadership of partners Shawn Sewell, Sarai Steward, and Nate Eldridge, Lower 48 offers a variety of live music for a crowd that typically ranges from “20-somethings to 50-somethings.” Genres vary, from house music to rockabilly, reggae to experimental, and the bar also hosts poetry readings and benefits for non-profits. Located on the bottom level (facing the Opera House on Short Street), Lower 48 is divided into five primary areas – including a dance floor, sitting areas and an indoor “patio” located in the Victorian Square atrium – and Eldridge likens the intimate, casual atmosphere of the venue to that of a house party.
Coexisting peacefully under the same roof of Victorian Square is DeVassa Bar & Cafe – restaurant/bar by day, entertainment venue by night – as well as Brooklyn Sports Grill and Pizzeria, which is not new in 2008, but has recently been picking up momentum with weekly live music shows. DeVassa serves Brazilian-influenced food from 10:30 A.M. – 10:00 P.M., at which point the dance floor opens up for live music Wednesday through Saturday nights. Business partner T.J. Gordon describes the crowd as “young professionals, with a little bit of college students,” and says that considering the state of the economy, the Victorian Square entertainment scene is doing quite well right now.
“It’s exciting to be down here right now. It’s growing,” said Gordon. “Every weekend it’s packed.”
Entrepreneurs from Missouri have brought the concept of a dueling piano bar to Lexington’s front door. The 7,000 square foot bar can hold a crowd of up to 275 people and provides a live personal jukebox in the form of live musicians who are flown in from all over the country each weekend and play crowd requests chosen from a book of thousands of popular songs, spanning five decades.
Open Thursday – Saturday each weekend, the Lexington location is the second for the Penguin, which launched in Colombia, Missouri “on a whim” and was met with huge success. The Lexington location has been no disappointment so far.
“It has exceeded my expectations,” said part-owner Craig Hays. “It’s been really good so far. The crowds and the clientele, we’ve just really been well-received.”
The Penguin is located at 517 West Main Street. For more information, visit www.penguinpianobar.com.
Shorthand for Cultural Preservation Resources, C.P.R. is not your typical music venue. For one thing, it’s all ages. For another thing, it’s also a store, specializing in handmade clothes, art, jewelry, stuffed animals and other odds and ins. And finally, there’s no alcohol sold there. Owner Darin King opened the doors this past Fall, after coming to terms with the fact that the series of shows he’d been hosting at his house (aka The Shrieking Shack) had gotten too big for his living room.
C.P.R., located on Sixth Street directly behind Al’s Bar, is part of a growing trend of DIY (do-it-yourself) venues, which specialize in providing a venue for bands that, well, do it themselves, without managers and labels.