Lexington Beyond the Horses
By Patti Nickell
Meet Our Guest Writer
Patti Nickell is a freelance travel writer
whose assignments have taken her to 101 countries and six continents,
where she has gotten plenty of fodder for her bi-monthly travel
features in the Lexington Herald-Leader. Her articles have also
appeared in numerous newspapers including the Washington Post,
Miami Herald, Chicago Tribune, Seattle Times, Los Angeles Times,
San Diego Union Tribune, Charlotte Observer, USA Today, and in
magazines such as Keeneland Magazine, Elite Traveler, Woman's
Day, European Homes and Gardens, Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles,
Las Vegas Magazine, Forbes and Forbes Asia. She has also contributed
to Fodor's Travel Guide and television's The Travel Channel, and
has done consulting work for both the Kentucky Department of Tourism
and the Lexington Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Prior to moving to Lexington, Patti lived in
New Orleans where she was a staff writer for CityBusiness Newspaper,
covering politics and healthcare, and contributed freelance pieces
to New Orleans Magazine, Southern Woman, Gambit, the Times-Picayune,
and served as travel editor of New Orleans City Life Magazine.
She was the recipient of the New Orleans Press Club's highest
award for print journalism, the Alex Waller Award, for a piece
that appeared in New Orleans Magazine. Horse Lover's Guide
to Kentucky is her first book.
exington, Kentucky may be the "horse capital of the world,"
but its appeal as a travel destination goes far beyond that. The crown
jewel of the Bluegrass offers (in addition to horses) history and heritage,
not to mention bourbon distilleries, wineries, indigenous music, quirky
museums, and an antique store that would put those in New York or New
Orleans to shame. Join me for a look at Lexington beyond the horses.
It's Monday night at Lexington's historic Kentucky Theater,
and the regular crowd shuffles in. No one is making love to his tonic
and gin, but the audience is working itself into a frenzy in anticipation
of Michael Jonathan, folk singer/songwriter/concert performer and self-proclaimed
"tree hugger." Jonathan, whose unusual career arc has taken
him from upstate New York to Laredo, Texas to the tiny Appalachian hamlet
of Mousie, Kentucky, commands a world-wide radio audience which tunes
in every Monday night to his live broadcast of Woodsongs Old Time Radio
Hour. They're listening in Chenega Bay, Alaska and Hawkes Bay, New Zealand;
in Boise and Boston, Serbia and Slovenia; Queanbeyan, New South Wales,
Australia and Bergen Op Zoom, Holland.
Michael Jonathan onstage at Woodsongs Old Time Radio
Just What Are They Listening
Bluegrass and blues, folk and country, rhythm & blues and rockabilly,
and chances are they have never heard of many of the artists. Woodsongs
is radios only syndicated live-audience program dedicated to artists
who are talented and innovative, but not exactly rocking the Grammys
or showing up regularly on MTV.
Still, Woodsongs does attract its share of star performers,
from the late folk legend Odetta to Dust Bowl troubadour and poet Ramblin'
Jack Elliott, friend of Woody Guthrie, mentor to Bob Dylan and inspiration
to Mick Jagger. On other Monday nights, audience members applaud the
likes of bluegrass diva Rhonda Vincent, country favorites Lee Roy Parnell
and Rodney Crowell, gospel group Blind Boys of Alabama and the Celtic
band, Gaelic Storm.
Anchoring it all is creator and host Jonathan
"Woody Guthrie in a cyber world," as he's been described.
A hipper version of Garrison Keillor, decked out in jeans and black
leather jacket, Jonathan presides over Lake Woebegons just-as-quirky
Southern cousin. In a setting reminiscent of the early days of Nashville's
Grand Ole Opry, when a heart-rending ballad of love gone wrong was followed
by a commercial for Martha White's self-rising flour, Jonathan interacts
with the audience. While his marketing savvy has taken Woodsongs to
podcasts, webcasts, and PBS stations across the country (not to mention
the place to be in Lexington on Monday nights), it is the cozy feel
of sittin' on the front porch strummin' the banjo that gives the program
A Gem of a Museum
George Headley may have been an accomplished artist, but he was also
a crackerjack marketer. During the 1930s and 40s, when he operated an
exclusive jewelry boutique at the Bel-Air Hotel in Los Angeles, he would
entice potential customers sunning poolside by sending his dachshund
Ernie out with a diamond or emerald necklace draped around his neck.
A bejeweled Ernie proved an effective marketing tool as Headley, during
his tenure in Tinsel town, numbered among his clients Mae West, Judy
Garland, Joan Crawford and a bevy of socialites, jet setters and international
Thus, it was only natural when Headley moved back to
Lexington in the early 1950s to take over the family farm, La Belle;
he would seek an outlet for his artistic nature. He found it in designing
one-of-a-kind bibelots, created from precious and semi-precious stones.
Visitors to the Headley Whitney Museum, picturesquely situated among
Thoroughbred horse farms in the rolling hills outside of Lexington,
can marvel at the fruits of his labor. The museum complex, a Smithsonian
affiliate, has four areas the jewel room, library, shell grotto
(currently under renovation and not open to the public) and decorative
Inside the tiny jewel room designed to look like
a jewelry box with its dark interior and low ambient lighting
are some of his most beautiful pieces. A terra cotta pigeon has ruby
eyes and feet of pink gold, and sports a gold pendant with rubies and
diamonds. A mask of Bacchus, Roman god of wine, is fashioned of delicate
coral and backed with a tangle of gold grapevines. The Bird Cage features
the figure of a Chinese woman intricately carved of Persian turquoise
and sitting on a cushion of lapis lazuli inside a gold cage accented
with diamonds and sapphires.
Courtesy: Headley-Whitney Museum
The library reflects Headley's favorite architectural
motifs, including a sloped Thai roof and Greek columns. The room's eclectic
collection of objects features a pair of candlesticks made in London
from ostrich eggs and ivory, and an Indian elephant tusk carved in a
The decorative arts museum occupies the complex's main
building. Housing a permanent collection of porcelain and silver as
well as the dollhouse collection of local horse farm owner Mary Lou
Whitney (the houses are exact replicas of her Lexington mansion), it
also hosts a variety of traveling exhibitions. The Mary Lou Whitney
formal garden behind the museum is also worth a look.
The Mary Lou Whitney Garden
Courtesy Paul Atkinson
An Antique Lover's Paradise
Imagine a place where staid Victorian drawing room meets 1930s Hollywood
glamour; where New England blueblood Brahmin rubs elbows with Appalachian
mountain folk; where elegant French provincial co-exists with cozy English
cottage chic. Where would you find such a place London, Paris,
New York, New Orleans? How about Nonesuch?
Just 20 minutes from Lexington, in the heart of Thoroughbred
country, Nonesuch is little more than a gas station, a country store
and a few scattered residences. Certainly its the last place you
would expect to find a world-class antique store and restaurant. But
thats just what you find at Irish Acres Antiques, a red brick
building with white columns, which despite its antebellum appearance,
dates back to the Depression era. Built in 1936, it once functioned
as the Nonesuch elementary school. In rooms, where children once learned
their ABCs, shoppers now learn the ABCs of antiques buying how
to tell the difference between a French Empire and a Prudent Mallard
four poster bed, how to distinguish Wedgewood china from Spode, how
to tell if that exquisite cut glass cocktail shaker is Art Deco or Art
Irish Acres has an array of furniture, art, silver,
crystal, glassware, jewelry, clothing and other collectibles artfully
arranged in some 60 small showrooms or vignettes a French sitting
room next to an English bedroom adjoining an Early American dining room.
The merchandise is museum quality, with items from four continents,
and there is something for every taste and pocketbook. You can pick
up a pair of vintage earrings or a handcrafted Christmas ornament for
$20, or you can walk out with a 200-year-old mahogany cupboard with
shell carvings for $38,500.
If the antiques display elicits "ooohhhs"
and "aaahhhs," The Glitz Restaurant is nothing short of breathtaking.
A color scheme of silver, black, mauve and pink, and a décor
featuring black and silver butterflies, smoky mirrors, gauzy drapery
and hundreds of twinkling lights, gives it such a retro feeling that
you expect Fred and Ginger to waltz through at any moment. It so resembles
a Hollywood movie set that it's hard to believe that it was once the
On any given day, the movie set scenario is enhanced
by tables filled with ladies (and more than a few gents) who lunch.
Most come dressed for the part, decked out in hats and gloves, and engaging
in witty repartee that would have been worthy of Dorothy Parker in her
Round Table days. The Glitz's three-course menu changes every two weeks,
but you can't leave without trying their signature dessert, the Nonesuch
Kiss, a meringue shell filled with a scoop of coffee ice cream and topped
with hot fudge, sliced almonds and whipped cream.
... And Because We Can't Ignore
The small, nondescript building is tucked away near the stables area
at Keeneland Race Course, a Lexington icon and National Historic Landmark,
which will celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2011.
A Lexington landmark since 1936, the Keeneland Track
Kitchen is the place where millionaire owners rub elbows with trainers,
exercise riders and stable hands over early morning coffee before heading
off to the barn or the track or the executive boardroom (the Track Kitchen
is nothing if not egalitarian.) Its a place where the general
public can feel part of the rarefied world of Thoroughbred racing for
five bucks the cost of a bountiful breakfast of eggs, bacon,
sausage, biscuits and gravy, baked apples and grits.
Wizened exercise riders, weighing no more than supermodels,
tackle breakfasts that would do justice to a lumberjack. Walls are lined
with photos of such equine stars as Strike the Gold, Swale, Alydar,
Risen Star and Gato del Sol. Over by a window, a group of people sit
in jovial companionship, debating the odds on the filly in the fourth,
while at a corner table; a solitary man pores over the Daily Racing
Form. One might think he had stumbled into a scene straight out of a
Damon Runyon short story. Short of owning your own Thoroughbred, this
is the best place in the Bluegrass to get up close and personal with
the horse crowd.