Saturday, November 15, 2014

One Man's Paint is another Man's Ink

Ron and I spent the weekend before the mid-term elections in Kentucky.  The fall colors and warm, sunny days were delightful. We went to visit our daughter Lynne and her husband, Barry McNees. Near where they live, there is a special place with an interesting history. It's the place where bourbon was born in 1865, in Lexington, close to the University of Kentucky (UK) campus.  Barry is a graduate of UK.

I am very proud of Barry and think he is a remarkable man of vision.  He's also a master craftsman. He can restore beauty to relics and turn sorry looking structures into award winning show-places.  I think that is an amazing gift.

For years, Barry eyed the old, dilapidated, crime ridden, rusting remains of distilleries past that had endured decades of neglect.  He saw potential all around, potential with historic stories to tell.  He envisioned music venues, restaurants, shops, museums, and people hanging out and sipping world-class bourbon again.  He started calling it, "The Lexington Distillery District."  He even persuaded a few investors to join in the fun.

Sometime around 2005, Ron and I got involved as investors. Progress was excruciatingly slow. Partners came and went, some were nice and some not so much. Tenants came and went, some paid their rent on time, some had to be hunted down on the first of every month, and some didn't pay at all. One of the issues even wound up in front of a Judge to be decided.  Barry came out the winner on that one and we all cheered.  One homeless group, camped in the woods, booby trapped their illegal fort with fishhooks festooned in the trees.  In an attempt to reason with them, Barry got a fishhook in his eye.  Over time he has cleaned out more dark and scary places than most people can even imagine. Sometimes he even finds historic, old treasures hidden in corners under piles of debris.  He found the original recipe and process for James E. Pepper* bourbon in a rusted-out file cabinet beneath the old distillery yeast room.

Lexington is a city that embraces and encourages public art.  Just recently, an amazing thing happened.  PRHBTN held their annual street art festival.  Last year, PRHBTN commissioned the popular mural of President Abraham Lincoln on the back of the Kentucky Theatre.  This year they brought in a French graffiti, muralist and artist named MTO.  He painted Lexington's largest mural on the side of the Pepper Distillery Warehouse.  His painting is of a street artist, behind bars, but still spraying, and there is red police tape running across that says, "Caution: Do Not Feed."  His hands are reaching out through the jail cell bars to sign the letters MTO, his initials.  He has used this signature on many of his other works all over the world.  But folks in Lexington thought it looked like he was forming gang symbols and they didn't like it.  Not everybody, of course, but everybody sees art differently.

The Lexington Herald Leader ran front page stories.  Television news crews filmed it.  Everybody was talking about it.  The day I took this picture, other people were on the street taking pictures too. See what I mean about one man's paint being another man's ink?  We watched as MTO, way up high on a cherry picker, made a gigantic thumb and thumb nail take shape and come to life with photographic quality. (You can barely see the artist working way up high in the second panel from the left.) The vision of his being able to do this, while being right on top of his work area, fascinated me.  It's true that I wouldn't have chosen the same subject matter as the artist did, but then my choice probably would not have generated as much free publicity for the Distillery District either.

From the Barrel House Distilling Company, here's the first barrel of bourbon that's about to be ready to drink.  Gosh it smelled good.

Around the corner, we found Tony Davis, the owner and master mind behind Studio 300.  He was busy crafting cutting boards and other wood products from reclaimed Kentucky Bourbon barrels.  His signature pieces are beautiful cutting boards and wood products that he described as "Bringing Bourbon Barrels back to life by handcrafting them to be functional pieces". He named his studio in honor of his 300 fellow marines who were aboard his naval vessel in the 1990's that took them to the Persian Gulf. Another innovative thing he does is scrape the charcoal out of the old barrels, bag it up, and they are going to be sold in red and green bags at "Liquor Barn" as coal for Christmas gifts.  He told us to throw some of the charcoal on our barbecue for a taste of bourbon on our steaks or chops. If you are lucky enough to have a Liquor Barn nearby, you might want to try this!

Ron Walker and Tony Davis in KENTUCKY KNOWS BOURBON, Studio 300 where Tony proudly displays his Marine Uniform, complete with all his medals and an American flag.  The two veterans enjoyed meeting each other.

Amid the Art Gallery and other businesses, an Ice Cream store is taking shape, and down by the Town Branch, a restaurant is about to open. Bourbon and beers will be on tap, with burgers, tacos, and burgoo available via rotating food trucks, and diners will enjoy sitting outside by the river. They even decorated all their fall pumpkins with MTO's.  It seems like a sure bet that all of these places of business will benefit by all the ink that MTO's paint has created.

                               The "Break Room" on the Town Branch will soon be serving.

And since we are talking about Kentucky, here's a political aside.  The weekend we were in Lexington, both The Louisville Courier Journal and The Lexington Herald Leader endorsed Senator Mitch McConnell's opponent, Alison Lundergan Grimes.  Why in the world, we asked each other, would Kentucky rather have a freshman junior senator than the Majority Leader?  Turns out the newspapers wanted that, but the voters did not.  Since winning, Senator McConnell has said the Senate is going back to work and their first goal will be to see if they can find things that they and President Obama can agree on.  They better.  I think we are all sick of such a lack of leadership from all of our leaders, democrat and republican alike.  Get to work!  All of y'all, as they say in the south.

*Colonel James Edward Pepper designed the distillery and the layout of equipment.  He was a colorful, flamboyant character who traveled in his private railroad car.  Colonel Pepper began distilling "Old Pepper Whiskey" using his grandfather's proprietary formula, developed in 1780.  Colonel Pepper invented the "Old Fashioned" cocktail: two ounces of Old Pepper bourbon, a splash of sugar syrup, bitters and soda water.  He also originated "Bourbon and Branch" for a bourbon and water.  The "Branch" was the water taken out of the distilleries nearby water supply, the Town Branch of the Elkhorn Creek near Lexington, Kentucky.  Both of these cocktail became famous in New York City, and throughout the eastern States.

Pepper was one of the few distillers allowed to produce whiskey during prohibition for "medicinal purposes."  A doctor could write out a prescription and the "patient" could take it to be "filled."


Lynne said...

Well told mama!!

John Kinnear said...

Very interesting and Lynne said what I was going to say --->>> Very well told!

John & Corky

Unknown said...

Great article! Miss the Walkers! Suzy