If you are looking for a destination with charm and history, Bardstown, Kentucky has you covered. There is a lot to discover in this small town with a big heart.
Bardstown was selected the “Most Beautiful Small Town in America” in the Rand McNally/USA Today 2012 “Best of the Road” contest and landed in the top 20 of “America’s Favorite Towns” chosen by readers of Travel + Leisure – which also recognized Bardstown as having one of “America’s Most Beautiful Town Squares.”
There is a little something for everyone to discover during a visit here.
Bardstown in also known as the “Bourbon Capital of the World” because of it’s close proximity to so many distilleries. My favorite description of bourbon referred to it as “Kentucky hug from the inside out.” There are around 5.6 million barrel of bourbon aging in Kentucky which is more than people and horses combined. Bardstown has 3-3.5 million bourbon barrels within a 20 mile radius.
Our first stop during our visit was to The Gallery on the Square. This is an artist co-op that gives the community the opportunity to purchase incredible pieces of art from local artisans.
Next, we explored the downtown for a bit. That can get you into trouble because there are a lot of great shops to explore. I would describe At Mary’s as visual eye candy. This store keeps getting better at every turn. I also found great bargains on the 2nd floor at the Peacock on Third.
A few other noteworthy stops are The Jailer’s Inn Bed and Breakfast and The Old Talbott Tavern which each have a lot of history and stories that you will want to hear. If you are into the paranormal, there have been rumors of activity at both locations. You can stay overnight at either location. The Jailer’s Inn is the former Old Nelson County Jail property that housed prisoners from 1797 – 1987. There are 6 traditional style guest rooms and a former jail cell.
The historical Old Talbott Tavern dates back to 1779 and has a restaurant, bar, and lodging. The Talbott Tavern is the world’s oldest Bourbon Bar and legend has it that the upstairs room with bullet holes still showcased in the wall were put there by Jesse James.
Next, we visited the Basilica of St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral that dates back to 1816 and was the first Catholic cathedral west of the Allegheny Mountains. There are only three Basilicas in Kentucky. The Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption is located in northern Kentucky. When you go inside, pay special attention to the columns. They are original and one of them has a glass case to show you the wood that has stood the test of time.
For lunch we only had to go a short walking distance from the church. Spalding Hall dates back to 1826 and has been a seminary, hospital for both sides during the Civil War, orphanage and a preparatory school.
We started at the lower level for lunch at The Rickhouse. I ordered the Mac-N-Cheese Hot Brown (Mac-N-Cheese with turkey, ham, and bacon topped with tomatoes) I enjoyed the twist on a traditional Kentucky dish. If you are in the mood for Bourbon, you will have plenty to choose from with over 100 bourbons on the bar.
The Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History, located on the first floor of Spalding Hall, boasts rare whiskey artifacts that date back to post -Prohibition and pre-colonial days. Make sure that you pay attention to the detail of the artifacts in this museum. You will see a doctor’s prescription for “medicinal” purposes and a whiskey bottle that has a lock on it to keep kids and “the help” out.
After the history, we got a hands on experience during our Holiday Mixology class at the Kentucky Bourbon House. This was the former home of Dr. Henri Chapeze that dates back to 1787. This renovation labor of love now gives patrons the expertise of Colonel Michael Masters, “Kentucky Bourbon Master.” The Kentucky Bourbon House offers bourbon tastings and mixology classes. During our class, we learned how to create several holiday cocktails from Rosemary Lewis who is known for her mixology skills.
Our next historic destination was the Wick Mrs. Julia Beckham’s Christmas Tea at Wickland, Home of Three Governors. The tea gives you a sample of several popular Kentucky sandwiches and desserts including Benedictine, which is a sandwich with a cucumber and cream cheese spread. You get an understanding of what life was like for Julia Wickliffe Beckham who was the mother, sister, and daughter of a governor. Her historic account is brought to life as an actor recounts stories and interacts with you while answering questions in character. If you are into the paranormal, you will definitely want to ask additional questions.
That evening we look a candlelight tour of My Old Kentucky Home. Composer Stephen Foster spent time at this home and it is believed to be a source of inspiration for the the song “My Old Kentucky Home.” This experience was absolutely beautiful at night. Each room had a person dressed in character from that time period sharing history and points of interest in the room. The rooms are decorated beautifully for the holidays and you even get a treat at the end of the tour.
We enjoyed a late dinner and drinks at The Harrison-Smith House located in downtown Bardstown. They specialize in creating incredible dishes from locally sourced food. I ordered the Braised beef short rib, local grits, bell pepper smother, with roosted root vegetables. Everyone at our table ordered a different dessert so that we could sample a bite of each. The food was delicious and the ambiance is great for a date night or evening out with friends.
I had such a great time in Bardstown. There was a lot more to discover than I anticipated and I’m definitely looking forward to a return visit.
You can find more information on things to do in Bardstown from the Visit Bardstown website.