Though it’s often overshadowed by Kentucky’s largest city just 35 miles to the north, there’s a case to be made for Bardstown as a vacation destination. As the western gateway to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and the home of the place that inspired the iconic song “My Old Kentucky Home” by Stephen Foster, Bardstown gets its share of day trippers but very few overnight guests. There are more than a few great reasons to stick around for awhile.
There are three functioning distilleries within Bardstown’s city limits. The Kentucky Bourbon Heritage Center at Heaven Hill Distillery is a great place to shop for harder to find bourbons after a tour of the facilities. Just down Loretto Road is the boutique Willett distillery, where the highly lauded craft bourbons Noah’s Mill and Willett’s Pot Still Reserve come from. Over on the west side of town, the Barton 1792 distillery continues to produce award-winning bourbons like the premium 1792 Ridgemont Reserve and Very Old Barton.
Just south of Bardstown in a quiet hollow outside the small hamlet of Loretto Maker’s Mark makes the bourbon that ends up in the bottles with the iconic wax seal on top. In Clermont, just a few miles northwest of town, Jim Beam makes its namesake bourbon and recently opened a brand new visitor center called the American Stillhouse.
For a town of a little over 11,000 Bardstown has a varied restaurant scene that runs from the casual to the sophisticated. The Rickhouse at 112 Xavier Drive is well known for its delicious steaks that range in price from 15 to 34 dollars. Its bar is stocked with a large selection of bourbons, too. The Old Talbott Tavern, 107 W. Stephen Foster Ave., has a wide ranging lunch and dinner menu that includes the Kentucky favorite Hot Brown open-faced sandwich. My Old Kentucky Dinner Train winds through the scenic backdrop of Bernheim Forest and the Jim Beam Distillery property. Lunch tickets are $69.95 for adults, $44.95 for children 5-12. Dinner tickets are $84.95 for adults, $54.95 for children 5-12 years old.
For a touch of history you can stay where Abraham Lincoln, General George S. Patton and Jesse James once slept. The Old Talbott Tavern has six well-appointed rooms. Rates range from $135 to $235.
Just down the street, the Jailer’s Inn was a fully functioning jail built around 1819. The thick walls and heavy steel doors make for a very secure place to spend the night these days. Rates are $65 to $125.