Nightlife in Lexington, KY: Best Bars, Clubs, & More

The Grove, outdoor spot for nightlife in Lexington

Magnus Lindqvist / The Grove

Although you’ll find a few dance floors should the mood strike, nightlife in Lexington, Kentucky, tends to be about socializing at cocktail bars, breweries, and when the weather cooperates, places with an outdoor patio. As one would expect in the Bluegrass region, there are plenty of venues for sampling Kentucky bourbon, though Lexington also has a well-established craft beer scene. No matter where you choose for a night out, you’ll certainly notice when the more than 30,000 University of Kentucky students decide to celebrate something.

Bars

The choices for nightlife in Lexington are diverse. From dark dive bars and Irish pubs to Prohibition-style places where experts in leather aprons mix up artistic libations, choosing where to begin is the hard part.

Many of Lexington’s nightlife areas aren’t adjacent, meaning you’ll need transportation to move between them. For that reason, bar-hoppers tend to choose places where many watering holes are clustered together: the Distillery District on Manchester Street, downtown, or near the UK campus. Lexington’s suburbs are also home to many neighborhood bars that enjoy fierce loyalty from their regular patrons.

Although certainly not an exhaustive list, these bars in Lexington, Kentucky, stand out for one reason or another:

  • Chevy Chase Inn: Dating back to 1933, CCI is purportedly the oldest bar in the city and happens to be situated next to Bourbon n’ Toulouse, one of Lexington's best restaurants.
  • The Grove: This cozy, social spot is a micro-community of local businesses, including Harvey's Bar, Fable Charcuterie, and Luna, a permanent food truck.
  • McCarthy’s: Epicenter for Irish pub culture in Lexington. Hosts traditional music and dancing the first Thursday of every month; Failte next door is the place to find Irish imports.
  • Minglewood: A friendly bar and restaurant that serves creative cocktails infused with CBD.
  • Lockbox at 21c Museum Hotel Lexington: Wander around with your cocktail to enjoy this unique hotel’s art installations.
  • Bar Ona: A hip bar with brick walls, plants, and hidden nooks for date nights.
  • Pour Decisions: For innovative, chocolate-rimmed cocktails. 
  • Charlie Brown’s: A dark bar famous for its walls of books and cozy couches around fireplaces.
  • Belle's Cocktail House: Popular, multilevel bar with a rooftop offering scenic views of downtown.
  • The Beer Trappe: A seriously happy place for craft beer lovers.
  • Bluegrass Tavern: BGT boasts a massive selection of Kentucky bourbon.
  • Marrika’s: A cavernous German bier stube with indoor and outdoor volleyball.
  • Standing Room Only: If you can catch it open, SRO is a compact, sociable place to enjoy Japanese sake, beer, and small bites while mingling. Although the delicious food is the biggest draw for many customers, the owners insist that SRO is a bar first!

Bars With Arcades

Pinball and arcade bars have made a resurgence in Lexington, providing some nostalgic entertainment and friendly competition for bar hoppers.

  • The Burl Arcade: A classic, 1980s arcade with a full bar, pinball, and retro cabinets. Just across the parking lot, The Burl's music venue is one of the most popular in Lexington.
  • Arcadium: A cozy watering hole that helped spearhead the vintage arcade reboot in Lexington.
  • Bourbon on Rye: Prohibition-style bar with food, an extensive bourbon selection, and arcade games.
  • LexLive: Opened in 2021, LexLive is a multi-level entertainment complex with a sports bar, arcade, cinema, and high-tech bowling lanes. The LFX screen is over 80 feet wide, making it the largest theater screen in Kentucky!

Dance Clubs

With a few exceptions, dance clubs in Lexington have a fairly high turnover. Current favorites include Soundbar, XOXO, and The Roxy for EDM music with a VIP area overlooking the lower level. The Bar Complex on Main Street—Lexington's premier gay nightclub with DJs, dancing, and drag shows—has been a go-to place since the 1980s!

Live Music

Many bars in Lexington host live music, with varying schedules and cover charges.

  • The Burl: The iconic stage at The Burl is hard to beat for watching Bluegrass performers, but they book bands from plenty of other genres as well.
  • Al’s Bar: Live music here ranges from alternative to Latin. 
  • Creaux: A reliable place to catch New Orleans jazz on weekends.
  • Manchester Music Hall: This music hall boasts a 1,100-person capacity and attracts some big names.
  • Austin City Saloon: Lexington’s go-to venue for live country music and dancing.
  • Tee Dee’s Lounge: For a real Lexington treat, check out Tee Dee’s Lounge on Monday nights for an open-mic jam with the legendary blues artist Tee Dee Young himself.
  • The Green Lantern: A locally loved dive bar with live music, including punk rock.
  • Tin Roof: A very busy bar near campus with food, live music, and a large patio.

Comedy Clubs

Comedy Off Broadway is Lexington's premier, stand-up comedy club. The small venue attracts national acts that sell out quickly. Don't let the name fool you: Comedy Off Broadway is in the back of the Lexington Green Mall off Nicholasville Road, neither downtown nor on Broadway.

Festivals and Events

Lexington’s Thursday Night Live takes place every Thursday from April to October at the Fifth Third Bank Pavilion downtown (next to the old courthouse building). When the weather is nice, locals seize the opportunity to socialize outdoors while enjoying drinks and live music. Thursday Night Live starts around 5 p.m., so people often head out afterward to continue the fun at nearby bars downtown.

Basketball is taken very seriously in Lexington, and you can expect nightlife to be rowdier than usual when UK's Wildcats are playing. The energy doesn’t only affect campus; bars everywhere will be televising games to anxious fans. After home games, students descend upon area bars to either celebrate or drown their sadness.

Late-Night Restaurants

Most bar kitchens close by midnight, if not earlier, but a couple of local, late-night eateries have been coming to the rescue for decades.

Tolly-Ho has been a tradition since 1971, but the celebrated eatery moved in 2011 to a new location at 606 South Broadway. The new spot may not be quite as convenient for reaching on foot, but that doesn't stop the late-night crowd cramming in for cooked-to-order food, including the famous “Ho” burgers. 

The original downtown location of Goodfella’s Pizzeria is little more than a hole in the wall, but Lexingtonians socialize in the long queue until finally getting inside to enjoy the warmth, smells, and gigantic New York-style slices. Goodfella's also has a much larger bar and restaurant with a patio in the Distillery District.

Tips for Going Out in Lexington

  • Closing time in Lexington is 2:30 a.m. Unless you're trying to arrange a ride on busy holidays such as New Year’s Eve, wait times for Uber and Lyft are fairly reasonable. Taxis are a mixed bag; try calling (859)231-TAXI.
  • Open bottles or containers aren’t allowed inside vehicles—you’ll need to finish your drink before getting into a taxi or Uber. Likewise, drinking isn’t allowed in public spaces such as city parks or when walking between venues.
  • Dress codes tend to be fairly relaxed in Lexington; however, revelers heading out after the races at Keeneland in April and October are often dressed to impress.
  • Many buildings are adorned with impressive street-art murals from local and international artists. Consider diverting to see a few while enjoying the nightlife in Lexington!
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