The Ultimate LGBTQ+ Guide to Lexington, Kentucky
Lexington is Kentucky’s second-largest city, and one of the most LGBTQ+ friendly places in the state. Home to the University of Kentucky, Lexington is a young, progressive and exciting place for queer travelers to explore, engage and be themselves.
Lexington’s welcoming attitude and inclusivity doesn’t end with its visitors. It also extends to its locals and can be seen in the area’s culture, business development and politics. Case in point: Lexington elected its first openly gay mayor, Jim Gray, from 2011-2019, and also embraced a black trans woman named Sweet Evening Breeze, who strolled the streets of Lexington in women’s clothing in the 1930s. Talk about an icon!
Lexington is a culture hub, set among lush and expansive horse farms on all sides. There is plenty to do if you’re into art, good food and shopping, too. The atmosphere is open-minded and everyone is free to be themselves. So let’s take a look at some of the best places for LGBTQ+ visitors to check out in Lexington!
Lexington is the home of horses and bourbon! You can’t get a true feel for Lexington without checking out these activities:
Kentucky Bourbon Trail® – If you want a true taste of Kentucky you have to check out some bourbon along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Luckily, you won’t even have to leave the city to visit four distilleries on the trail: Lexington Brewing & Distilling Co., James E. Pepper Distilling Co., Bluegrass Distillers and Barrel House Distilling Co. While these distilleries may lack the big recognizable names associated with bourbon, they specialize in small-batch spirits and show personal attention on their distillery tours.
Keeneland – Keeneland is one of the premier racetracks in Kentucky. Located just minutes away from downtown Lexington, the track features two major meets a year in the spring and the fall, but it is open to the public year-round for tours. We recommend visiting during April and October to see some of the most beautiful and athletic horses in the world hit the tracks. You can bet on the one with the best odds – or the prettiest silks! Even stopping by to watch the horses workout is worth it in this pastoral paradise.
Ashland: The Henry Clay Estate – Ashland was the home of Henry Clay, a 19th century statesman, horse lover (and sometimes hemp farmer) who was known as the “great compromiser,” as he successfully prevented three additional civil wars. Today, his 18-room mansion is open to tour. You can see the 1811 house as it was rebuilt by Clay’s son in 1857, using his father’s original floor plans with salvaged material from the original home. Inside, you’ll find portraits, busts and plenty of ornate Italianate, Greek Revival and Victorian accents.
Lexington’s burgeoning food scene showcases super-talented chefs and matches them with fresh ingredients from local farms. Here are some of the best places to grab a meal.
Kentucky Native Cafe – Located at the 120-year-old Michler’s Greenhouse, Kentucky Native Cafe is tucked outdoors amongst the trees and ferns in an intimate, natural setting. You can expect to see all sorts of LGBTQ+ people here, enjoying beer and wine with fresh vegetarian dishes on a seasonal menu. The Bavarian pretzels are always a must, and you can never go wrong with the fresh soups and salads – with gelato for dessert!
Epping’s on Eastside – Epping’s on Eastside is a queer-friendly, upscale dining experience with a passion for all things Bluegrass. The chefs here cure their meats in-house – while supporting the region’s diverse farming and food community – and maintain a local-first mindset in everything they do. Besides serving up Dry Aged Bone-in Pork Chop and Pan Roasted Chicken, they also occasionally offer a fierce Drag Brunch!
Lockbox – Located downtown in the 21c Museum Hotel, Lockbox offers a changing menu of locally grown food in a queer-friendly and artistic space. Recent offerings include dishes like the Lockbox Benedict with a buttermilk biscuit, house-cured ham and hollandaise, or the Farm Egg Frittata with sausage, Kenny's cheddar, new potatoes and a mixed green salad.
sQecial Media – Browsing in this quirky shop is a bit like falling down a rabbit hole. No trip to Lexington is complete without visiting the eclectic and eccentric sQecial Media. Inside, you’ll find an excellently curated bookshop for the literary and spirituality-minded, as well as incense, stationery, jewelry, tarot cards and a bunch of other odd and wonderful gifts. There’s plenty of queer merch as well in this open-minded and out-there shop.
Street Scene – At this colorful vintage shop, you’ll find clothing for everyone from the 1950s through the ’70s, with a hint of the ’80s and ’90s for good measure. They also have vintage jewelry, barware, kitchenware and furniture. If you need to live your vintage fantasy in every aspect of your life, this is the place for you. They are also connected to Coffee Times Coffee House, where you can pick up a perfect local brew.
Black Swan Books – Our favorite spot for used and rare books, stepping into this magical old bookshop is like stepping into a movie, where you just may find the perfect novel to take you on a never-ending adventure. With room after room of floor-to-ceiling books, you’ll find antique leather-bound books and pulp novels side-by-side.
Lexington has several bars that will make you feel welcome and proud all night long – or at least until they close! The best hotspots for queer visitors to meet and grab a libation are:
Lussi Brown Coffee Bar – Whether you are looking for a place to meet up before going out on the town or a somewhere to get some work done while sipping some expertly made coffee, Lussi Brown is the place for you. This tucked away coffee shop and bar in downtown offers guests a chance for a cozy and intimate coffee or libation between friends and it is walking distance to some of Lexington's most popular night spots.
Crossings – Crossings is a beloved dive bar in the heart of downtown, with a colorful past going back three decades. Hosting events like bear night, open stage and drag shows, this unpretentious hangout is cozy and super inclusive. The staff is friendly and the vibe is chill – no drama here!
The Bar Complex – The Bar Complex is the place to be if you want to dance, with 18,000 square feet of entertainment space under one roof! You can catch a drag show in the cabaret, have a more relaxed drink in the red-colored lounge or dance the night away on the mirror and neon light-covered dance floor!
Sometimes a day is not enough, and luckily Lexington has some excellent accommodations that will make you feel welcome and relaxed for a whole weekend (or week!) of exploration.
21c Museum Hotel Lexington – 21c Museum Hotel is a great place to stay if you want to base yourself downtown, where you can enjoy excellent dining right in the hotel. Insomnia? You can wander around this 24-hour contemporary museum anytime you like, even at 3 in the morning. 21c is the definition of ultra-chic, so if you’re an artist (or art lover) your people are here.
Lyndon House Bed & Breakfast – For a charming and homey atmosphere, check out Lyndon House Bed & Breakfast. Built in 1883, the house has been restored to its original glory with beautiful woodwork, elegant and cozy floral bedrooms, and plenty of good old Southern hospitality. The best part is you’ll be treated to a decadent breakfast like blueberry pancakes with cinnamon and butter or baked frittata with sliced ham, green apples and brie. Go ahead and indulge!
Elwood Hotel & Suites – If modern accommodations is what you seek, take a gander at Elwood Hotel & Suites, an artistic boutique hotel. The front of the building is painted with colorful flowers, and the inside features deep blues and calming pastels sure to make you feel relaxed and charmed. The ground floor of the hotel also features the Fiddletree Kitchen & Bar, where you can get Southern-inspired shareables like charcuterie boards, pizzas and even a bourbon cocktail.
Written by: Richie Goff
May 9, 2022