You need a drink, so start weighing your options. There’s the regular hangout you like to frequent to see an old friend, and there’s that seedy joint around the corner where you go when you want the world to disappear. But what about that new place your coworker recommended, or the one you read about last week?

Your options are starting to expand.

You don’t have to think long to realize that in Lexington, there’s a bar or restaurant for just about every personality and every taste. Compare today’s options to what we had 20 or 30 years ago, and it’s remarkable.

Interestingly, people are now spending more money at bars and restaurants than they do on home consumption of alcohol. In fact, in the past three decades, the cost of drinks ordered at bars and restaurants has increased by 79 percent. That’s even more significant when you consider that the cost of alcohol at the store has decreased by 39 percent (according to National Public Radio’s Alcohol Report, dated June 20, 2012, citing the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics).

There’s also a difference in what people are drinking. Wine and craft beer sales are at an all-time high, and craft distilled spirits are gaining popularity too. It’s all part of America’s growing appreciation for the cosmopolitan lifestyle that we’ve always admired in our European counterparts. While we reconnect with the art of the cocktail and savor the flavor of local cuisine, restaurant and bar owners are taking the opportunity to offer their patrons an experience that keeps those patrons coming back for more.

As the options of bars and restaurants grow, each establishment looks for a way to distinguish itself from the others. For example, Paulie’s Toasted Barrel, a newly opened destination bar at 517 West Main St. in downtown Lexington, allows its patrons to order from food trucks and a variety of local restaurants while enjoying themselves at the bar. Paul Nierzwicki, who opened Paulie’s Toasted Barrel in October of 2012, said the establishment is not currently equipped to serve food, and while he did not want to operate a restaurant, he wanted his patrons to be comfortable and happy.

Nierzwicki obtained a zoning compliance permit, allowing food trucks to park in front of his establishment so patrons can enjoy the convenience of buying food and eating it in the bar.

Nierzwicki’s clever approach of bringing the food to the customer without a single kitchen keeps his patrons longer and distinguishes Paulie’s Toasted Barrel from other places. Paulie’s Toasted Barrel, which Nierzwicki operates with his wife and two daughters, also offers live music Wednesday through Sunday; a sports bar with a 10-by-10-foot TV screen; and a bourbon bar on the second floor that boasts more than 100 different bourbons.

Another concept of offering patrons a little bit of everything is the three-in-one business model that Coba Cocina on Richmond Road touts. The first floor offers a Latin-inspired restaurant with a modish interior — the focus of which is a cylindrical, 3,000-gallon, floor-to-ceiling aquarium filled with jellyfish. Then there’s Cocoh!, the confectionery and bakery to the side of the restaurant. The bar, aptly named Cobar Cantina, is on the second floor. The restaurant’s founders, father-and-son Phil and Lee Greer of Greer Companies, are the embodiment of the thriving movement to offer customers a rich, distinct experience with options for nearly every person’s taste.

And who says the only activity to do while you drink is eat? Pinot’s Palette in Louisville (and coming soon to Lexington) offers casual and fun painting classes taught by artists who offer step-by-step instructions. The best part is: You can drink while you paint. The relaxed setting attracts people who want to dabble with their creative side while sharing an experience with friends and family outside the traditional bar scene. And each patron leaves with a prize — their own personal painting.

Probably one of the most monumental changes with respect to alcohol and Kentucky bars is the passage of Senate Bill 13, the byproduct of the Kentucky ABC Task Force appointed by Governor Steve Beshear to identify statutory problems, debate necessary policies and formulate statutory solutions. The bill will become law, effective June 25, 2013, and while only a few items will affect bars in Lexington, two that will are:

  • An annual license fee of $620 will be imposed on all quota retail liquor drink, restaurant drink and supplemental bar license holders. Previously, the fees ranged from $500 to $1,000 for quota retail drink licenses (commonly called bar licenses), depending on the location of the license holder. Lexington bar license holders will actually see an $80 decrease in their annual fee.
  • A retailer licensed to sell distilled spirits or wine by the drink (including bars holding quota retail drink licenses) will only be permitted to sell or serve distilled spirits and wine by the drink at one main bar, counter or “similar contrivance” at the licensed premises, unless the statute provided otherwise, as in the case of a supplemental bar with a separate license. Also, a retailer may have service bars as long as the service bars are not located in any room in which the patrons are invited or permitted. While this addition to the statute really isn’t much of a change from current law, it will now be codified in the statute.

Changing laws bring a change of environment — an environment that offers more options, more excitement and more creativity. So be a little more adventurous the next time you go for a drink; the bars aren’t what they used to be.

Published in Business Lexington, April 26, 2013