• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff 16

Blind Harry’s sheds light on the history of Midway

J.P. GIBSON stands behind the bar at Blind Harry’s, which together with The Brown Barrel, recently opened on North Gratz Street in Midway. He wants The Brown Barrel/Blind Harry’s to become an eatery where everyone – families and college students alike – can enjoy a meal at reasonable prices. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

Versailles native J.P. Gibson wasn’t necessarily looking to open his own restaurant when he stumbled upon a vacant building in downtown Midway. Yet, he was awed by the custom woodwork inside what has become Blind Harry’s. “This bar is over 70 years old,” explains Gibson. “This came out of the Springs Inn in Lexington,” salvaged and restored by Nick Bentley, the owner of the Midway property. “So if this bar could talk – wow,” says Gibson. Wood tables on The Brown Barrel side of his business, which he describes as “just really cool,” came from a chemistry lab in Cincinnati. A retail liquor store with locally produced beers and wines is situated inside The Brown Barrel and Blind Harry’s, which has a local story behind its names. The Brown Barrel is located on property once occupied by Bourbon Distilleries from 1850 to 1959, Gibson explains. He says an African-American man named Blind Harry built the houses located nearby his recently opened business. “All I wanted to do was honor Midway’s history in this area,” says Gibson. He credits neighboring merchant Bill Penn, a local historian, and county Planning Director Pattie Wilson for providing him with information about Blind Harry Clay Anderson and the Midway property’s past incarnations. Gibson says The Brown Barrel name also honors the legacy of his wife’s grandfather, who made bourbon barrel tops for Brown-Forman when he returned to Kentucky after World War II. “Once we researched his history and researched the property,” he adds, “it just seemed like a natural fit to call it The Brown Barrel.” During his 20 years in the restaurant business, Gibson was the longtime general manager of Ricardo’s in Versailles. He may have not been the owner, but says “That’s all me” in terms of how that restaurant was operated, including its menu. Gibson says he worked for Cisco Food Service when he left Ricardo’s in 2014. Having an opportunity to sell foods, work with chefs and restaurant owners, allowed him to see trends, successes and recognize an opportunity in Midway. “I get to put my fingerprints on another restaurant,” says Gibson. He wants The Brown Barrel/Blind Harry’s to become an eatery where everyone – families and college students alike – can enjoy a meal at reasonable prices. And he has a chef, David Schatz, whom he describes as a “culinary genius,” to help him cater to the culinary needs of families or parties. A father of five, Gibson points to a slushy machine, and the macaroni and cheese on the menu as items geared to the tastes of kids. “I wanted it to become a restaurant for all,” he says. With new manufacturers coming to the area and growth at Midway University, Gibson saw an opportunity in what he describes as “a foodie town” – a place featuring innovative restaurants and shops selling custom goods not found everywhere. While there’s a downside to not being located in the heart of downtown Midway on Main Street, Gibson sees advantages to opening a restaurant in a free-standing building with 44 parking spaces at 224 North Gratz Street. And he appreciates this opportunity to breathe new life into a historic town. “We wanted to make sure to preserve what Midway’s all about,” says Gibson. “And that is the history and the shops and everything else.” Asked about getting back into the restaurant business, he says, “Obviously, I love doing it. That’s why I do it. It’s fun. It’s entertaining. Every day is different.”

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