November 6, 2014

The Old Talbott Tavern in Bardstown, Kentucky

Old Talbott Tavern exterior

photo by: Brent Moore, Flickr

The Old Talbott Tavern was originally built in 1779 and claims the title of the “world’s oldest bourbon bar."

Come for the bourbon, stay for the ghosts.

The Old Talbott Tavern in Bardstown, Kentucky, may be the world’s oldest bourbon bar and one of the earliest western stagecoach stops in America, but according to local lore, the 1779 inn is also haunted. Guests in the five-room bed and breakfast have reported seeing ghostly apparitions wandering around late at night, as well as inexplicable flashes of light. One of the specters is believed to be Jesse James, the notorious outlaw, who left still-visible bullet holes in the tavern walls during his nineteenth-century overnight stay. Another is a mysterious lady in white.

If paranormal activity isn’t your thing, though, the tavern’s rich history is an equally powerful draw. General George Rogers Clark operated a military base out of the stone tavern during the Revolutionary War, and its roster of famous guests includes Abraham Lincoln, General George Patton, Washington Irving, Lewis and Clark, Daniel Boone, and European royals such as exiled French king Louis-Phillipe.

Old Talbott Tavern window

photo by: Dana McMahan, Flickr

A historic window at the Old Talbott Tavern.

In contrast to the plethora of famous names that have trod the floorboards, the tavern has had only a handful of owners over the past few centuries, including T.R. Beam, brother of whiskey distiller Jim Beam. It also has a reputation as an exceptionally well-crafted early American stone building, with walls constructed using a rare bricklaying technique called Flemish bond stonework.

Equally enticing is the menu’s traditional hearty Southern fare. The famous Kentucky Hot Brown, invented at Louisville’s Brown Hotel, features smoked turkey and sugar-cured ham on toast, smothered in melted cheddar cheese and creamy Mornay sauce. The Burgoo, a regional spicy stew, comes in both cup and bowl sizes. If you’re looking for something a little lighter, try the fried green tomatoes or the fried dill pickle chips. Top all of this off with a selection from one of the 70 bourbon varieties featured at the bar, including regional favorites such as Buffalo Trace Bourbon, distilled in Frankfort, Kentucky.

The tavern suffered a blow in March 1998 when a fire damaged much of the roof and second floor, as well as some murals that were allegedly painted by King Louis-Phillipe during his stay. Restoration was completed on the roof and walls, but the renowned murals have yet to be restored. The Tavern resumed business as usual in November 1999, and this eight-month period represents the only break in operations since it opened.

Old Talbott Tavern bourbon bottles

photo by: Dana McMahan, Flickr

The bar at the Old Talbott Tavern serves dozens of varieties of bourbon.

So, if you’re hankering to try some bourbon or just catch a glimpse of a ghostly Jesse James, make a pit stop at the Old Talbott. Here’s what you need to know before taking a seat at the bar.

Location: 107 West Stephen Foster Ave., Bardstown, Kentucky 40004

Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday and Saturday. The Bourbon Bar frequently features live music on the weekends.

What to order: The aforementioned Hot Brown with a side of Burgoo, as well as the 5-shot bourbon sampler. For a hard-to-find bourbon selection, try the Pappy Van Winkle.

There are options: If you’re staying overnight, your choices for accommodations include the Daniel Boone Room and the Lincoln Suite, complete with claw-footed tub.

Best Yelp review: "Burgoo is very good here. You should just add a cup to whatever you think you are going to order -- even if you are ordering a bowl of Burgoo."

Katherine Flynn is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.


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