May 12, 2020

Scenes from the Old Talbott Tavern, Bardstown, Ky.

When it came to planning our trip along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, for me there was only one obvious choice for where to stay the first night.  It’s a registered landmark full of history – not just bourbon-related (although it does boast the world’s oldest bourbon bar) but also significant to the history of Kentucky itself.  It’s the Old Talbott Tavern in the center of Bardstown, Ky. 

I’ve known about the Old Talbott Tavern since I was a kid when my grandmother first drove us through Bardstown coming home from visiting family in Glasgow about an hour and a half away.  Although its name has changed over the years, because of its age, no other building looks like the Old Talbott Tavern which actually predates the town.  It’s no wonder, then, that to this day all roads leading to the literal center of town meet in a circle around the old county courthouse.  Today, the courthouse serves as a welcome center, and the Old Talbott Tavern remains directly across the street on the south side of circle.    

For those without the benefit of Wikipedia, the tavern has a nice summary of the building’s history posted on one of the outside walls.  It skips over the ghosts that allegedly still stay there, though. 

We were fortunate enough to find parking right next to the tavern upon our arrival, so all we had to do was turn the corner around the oldest part of the building and follow our sign to the entrance.  

Once inside, you’re greeted by a quaint gift shop, with the check-in counter for the bed and breakfast and adjacent hotel/inn tucked in the rear of the room.  Beyond this room to the left is the restaurant and stairway to the rooms upstairs.  Go far enough to the right, and you’ll be inside the bourbon bar.  We made a rare wise decision to check out our room before the bar.     

However, I was tempted to change my mind by this nice photo opportunity at the top of the stairs.  By the way, the view from the balcony behind me was an unexpected plus that was afforded to all guests at the bed and breakfast.  

It was especially nice at night to step outside and watch both the car and foot traffic go by. 

I wanted to get the most out of our experience at the Old Talbott Tavern, so when I discovered the Jesse James Room was still available at the time I booked, I snatched it up right away.  Any of the six bed and breakfast rooms inside the historic tavern would have been great, but this was the one I felt was most intriguing. I think Punky liked the choice.   

Named for one of the tavern’s most famous guests – and one of its most famous ghosts – the Jesse James Room is a little on the smallish side but big on charm, especially for a room named for an Old West outlaw.  It’s a little narrow from the door to the sleeping area …

… but we found the antique double bed to be perfectly cozy.

At the foot of the bed, you can’t miss seeing a portrait of the room’s namesake hanging on one of the tavern’s original walls.  This was the only spooky thing about the room (I thought it was cool anyway).  Whether or not you believe Jesse James’ ghost haunts the room or the hallway, you’ll definitely feel his presence looking at you all night. 

The last part of the U-shaped room is the bathroom, tucked away to the left of the foot of the bed.  It’s on the small side as you’d expect in a historic property, but the owners made the most of the space with a classic clawfoot tub.  

Apparently, the modern-day Jesse James Room is very close to the room where he originally stayed as a guest.  According to legend, James had a little too much to drink at the bourbon bar and before retiring for the night to his room.  Before he could fall asleep, he shot two bullet holes in the wall.  Whether he did this to leave his mark at the hotel or because he was shooting at either birds or butterflies he thought was flying around him due to his drunken state, the holes are still there and on display in a back room on the second floor. 

Also on display are one of the original fireplaces, as well as murals allegedly drawn by the entourage of exiled French King Louis Philippe during their stay way back in the 1790s.  The fact that any of this survived a fire to the entire upstairs 200 years later is pretty remarkable.   

Obviously, we enjoyed being literally a room away from some of the Old Talbott Tavern’s most intriguing history and hauntings, but by the time night fell, we started pursuing other spirits in the tavern’s legendary bourbon bar.   The room is actually quite spacious considering the age of the place, running the entire length of the building front to back.  I’d estimate the bar itself runs half that length. 

There’s also room for a band in the back, and we enjoyed the solo performer they had scheduled that evening for several hours.  It’s a shame I can’t remember his name.  I blame the bourbon.     

And without question, the tavern’s bourbon selection is amazing. If you can’t find it here, it’s probably no longer being sold. 

You probably shouldn’t come here for cheap bourbon, though.  Sure, there are many old standbys on the menu, but if you’ve made the journey here, you owe it to yourself to try some of the best or harder to find selections.  I know price doesn’t always guarantee quality, but when it comes to bourbon, I’ve rarely felt I overspent.  Punky and I were ready to indulge.   

I know it’s hard to say I got a deal with a $42 flight of four shots, but many of the selections they offered on the flight special were top notch. 

I will never consider myself a bourbon connoisseur, but all in all I think I chose wisely.  I started with a bourbon I was familiar with in Elijah Craig, still thirsty for some after our visit to Heaven Hill distillery earlier in the day.  The 1792 from Barton Distillery, also in Bardstown, turned out to be just as good and its high rye content prepared me well for the shot of Rabbit Hole Rye I ordered in the flight.  For what it’s worth, I found the Rabbit Hole to be almost on par with my beloved Whistlepig Rye.  But my favorite of the flight, to my surprise, was the Jefferson’s Reserve.  There was just something about its bold flavor yet smooth finish that appealed to me right away. (The Young Curmudgeon eventually treated me to a bottle of Jefferson’s Ocean partly because of how much I raved about the brand, and it’s even better!)      

Between the bar and the accommodations, Punky and I certainly made the most of our time at the Old Talbott Tavern.  I’d almost say (or did I just say?) any trip on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail would be incomplete without at least stopping by to check out the historical landmarks and sipping a couple of bourbons.  It’s definitely on my “must return” list.

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