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Secrets of Bardstown Kentucky exposed

Bardstown KY
Bardstown KY
by Doug Bardwell - DougBardwell.com

You may have come via the Bourbon Trail, but one drive down Main Street (it’s actually called N. 3rd Street) and this little community is going to grab you. Voted “Most Beautiful Small Town in America,” you’ll love the shops, the museums, the trains, and oh yeah, that little thing called Bourbon. There’s just so much to do in Bardstown, Kentucky, you might not want to leave.

If you’ve heard of The Stephen Foster Story and My Old Kentucky Home, you’ve already heard about Bardstown KY. But there is so much more to enjoy in this area. For golfers, there are four golf courses nearby, including the par 71; 6,385 yard championship Kenny Rapier Golf Course at My Old Kentucky Home State Park.

Bardstown started as the second city in Kentucky, way back in 1780. It is the home of the first Catholic cathedral built west of the Alleghenies and St. Joseph Proto-Cathedral still houses some priceless paintings.

Right in the center of town, you’ll find the Welcome Center (formerly the Court House). You might want to start here for maps of the self-guided tours of historic downtown Bardstown. If you enjoy older architecture, this one’s for you.

While I never really equated Kentucky with the Civil War, turns out they played a major part. The Civil War Museum of the Western Theater has an interesting collection of weapons, artillery and some fabulous paintings to put the war in perspective.

Bardstown seems to have something fun going on in just about every month, so check before you come and see what’s happening this month. While we were there, Colonial Days was going on and it was awesome. Coming in August 2014 is the fourth Bardstown Highland Games.

Ready to taste?

If you’ve come looking for Bourbon, you are in the epicenter of all things Bourbon. Right in Bardstown, there are three distilleries: Barton 1792, Heaven Hill and Willett Distillery. We thoroughly enjoyed visits to two of them.

Our first stop was the Willett Distillery; 1869 Loretto Road; 502-348-0081. Willett’s is one of the few remaining independently owned and operated distilleries, specializing in small batch Bourbon and Rye Whiskeys. If you’ve tried Johnny Drum, Old Bardstown or Willett, they all come from this distillery.

Tours are available of the grounds and include a tasting session. On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, you’d be wise to call ahead for reservations.

Second stop was to Heaven Hill Distilleries; 1311 Gilkey Run Rd.; 502-337-1000. Originally established in 1934, Heaven Hill is now the world’s second largest holding of aged Bourbon – with 40 open rick warehouses situated across the region. Their Heritage Center is a great resource to learn about Bourbon and Bourbon distilling.

Brand names you might recognize include Elijah Craig, Evan Williams and Parker’s Heritage Collection. Tours range from a half-hour with two tastings, to 1-1/4 hours with three tastings to the “Behind the Scenes” 3-hour tour with an Educational Tasting in the Parker Beam Tasting Barrel with four of the best Bourbons to taste. Go for the latter if you have the time.

Not a distillery, but worth a visit is the Kentucky Bourbon Marketplace; 110 W. Flaget Street; 502.348.8611. It’s located in downtown Bardstown and may be the best place for Bourbon souvenirs and gifts. There’s a bar as well (of course) and you can try a variety of distiller’s products in one place.

Ready to eat?

Ready for the ultimate Bourbon Tasting? Consider the My Old Kentucky Dinner Train. When they have a special Bourbon Run, it’s a great way to enjoy tasting, along with a great dinner and fabulous desserts. The night we went, Fred from Buffalo Trace led the tasting session with an opportunity to try some of their Eagle Rare 17-year Bourbon.

Prefer to eat sitting still? Wander over to Spaulding Hall and try dinner at The Rickhouse Restaurant and Lounge. Set in a rustic, brick walled basement, the food is fabulous and the atmosphere makes for a most pleasant evening. Try a flight of Bourbons with dinner or stop on Wednesdays for ½ price wine.

Just want something casual? If you can get in, Mammy’s Kitchen is the go-to place for the locals. Expect a wait – but it’s worth it. The catfish sandwich and the fried pickles were amazing. Butterscotch pie for dessert – certainly.

Hadorn’s Bakery, tucked away at 118-1/2 W. Flaget Street is the place to go for doughnuts. Ask any local and everyone mentions Hadorn’s. People are lined up in the morning waiting for them to open.

You gotta sleep

If you want something memorable, try the Jailer’s Inn Bed & Breakfast off the town circle. The building was built in 1819 and is steeped in history. With any 200 year old building, you know you’re not in for 21st century accommodations, so be happy if the Internet is actually working, but you came for the atmosphere...right? No matter what, it raises eyebrows when you tell your friends you spent the night last night doing time in the Old County Jail.

If you prefer modern conveniences, there’s nothing more comfortable than the Hampton Inn Bardstown. Spacious parking, nice pool, great complimentary breakfast and dependable Internet make this a sure thing.

For more information about Bardstown, check their website at: http://www.visitbardstown.com/tourism/

Doug Bardwell, based in Cleveland, OH, writes about travel destinations, photography and tech topics across the country and around the world at DougBardwell.com. Feel free to drop him a line at travel.dougbardwell@gmail.com with suggestions for future stories. To get his stories delivered to your inbox, click the RSS feed or the "Subscribe" button above or follow him on Facebook , Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. To read Doug’s disclosure notice, click here. For travel ideas in Cleveland and around the world, check his Calendar of Events. To see his travel photo collection, see BardwellPhotography.com.