• John McGary, Woodford Sun Staff

Bourbon bar opens on Court Street

AMSDEN BOURBON BAR manager and “mixologist” Marsay Agruna said business was good when the tavern held its Feb. 8 soft opening. The small tavern has a maximum capacity of 23, with space for 10 more outside. (Photo by John McGary)

THE SANCTUARY of the old Versailles United Methodist Church (VUMC) will host weddings, concerts and corporate events and should open in late summer or early fall. Other ventures in the three VMUC purchased by Alex Riddle and other investors include a pizza and craft beer restaurant opening in early April and an art studio and gallery opening sometime this spring. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

Future plans for VUMC buildings announced

The Amsden Bourbon Bar held a soft opening Thursday, Feb. 8, but according to minority partner Alex Riddle, attendance at the non-publicized event was anything but soft.

The small room in the old Amsden Building with an indoor capacity of 23 (and 10 more outside) was nearly full most of the evening, said Riddle. Another customer said business was good that weekend, too. Kinks yet to be worked out after opening night include the point-of-sale and sound systems, Riddle said, adding, “But that’s why you do soft opens.”

The following day, before the bar opened, manager and “mixologist” Marsay Agruna worked on a new tequila-based drink she invented called a Mezcali. She said the first night went well, but, perhaps only half-joking, added that she needed a library ladder to reach the top rows of bourbon in the shelves set in the brick wall behind the bar.

The Amsden Bourbon Bar, which is next to the Versailles Police Department, has a full cocktail list, wine and six beers on tap. However, its main emphasis is on its title, according to co-owner Alex Riddle.

“We opened with 65 bottles of bourbon on the shelf. Our goal is to get it up over 100 in the first couple of months,” Riddle said. “ … When we first bought the Amsden Building, one of the first things that we thought was that downtown Versailles needs horses and it needs bourbon, and I can’t bring horses to downtown Versailles, so we’ll bring bourbon.”

Aside from turning a profit at the bourbon bar and the other two businesses they own in the historic Amsden Building (the Amsden Coffee Club and Gathered Mercantile), Riddle and another set of investors have bigger plans. They just closed on their purchase of the three buildings that made up the Versailles United Methodist Church (VUMC) on the other side of Court Street and two of them will open soon.

“We kind of realized that one of the biggest strengths of that Court Street feel is that all those businesses can play really nice with one another,” Riddle said with a laugh.

The downstairs of the middle building, formerly the fellowship hall, will become the Rolling Oven Tap Room, a wood-fired pizza and craft beer operation presently operating as a food truck. Riddle said it should open before Keeneland begins its spring meet on April 6.

“It’s set up – it already has a commercial kitchen in it. We’re going to be knocking holes in one of the walls and putting big glass garage doors and adding a patio as well,” Riddle said.

To the right of the old fellowship hall is a building that housed the church offices. It will feature art studios and gallery space and should open sometime this spring, Riddle said.

Like the other properties purchased by Riddle and company, it is a piece of Versailles history.

“I think it was originally built in the 1840s. It was an old boarding house, is what we’ve been told,” he said.

The church sanctuary will host weddings, concerts and corporate events and be operated by Riddle’s wife, Emily, and Jessica Pantatello, the wife of fellow investor Jordan Kite, with whom he played football in sixth grade. It will open in the late summer or early fall, he said. “ … I’m really excited about that, because it means we don’t have to take away any of the integrity of the great sanctuary that’s in that building,” Riddle said.

Riddle said he and his fellow investors are confident that Woodford County, with a population of 25,793 in 2015, can support their various endeavors.

“The coffee shop and The Mercantile have been incredibly well-supported. We were blown away by our reception – we were trying to do a soft opening in the coffee shop and wanted to sell 100 cups of coffee and we sold 1,000 on our first day,” Riddle said. “It’s a long walk right now between the businesses downtown. Developing that Court Street area is going to allow people to see it as a viable destination for a day trip or a place to stay around in the evenings and have some fun and get a couple of drinks.”

The Amsden Bourbon Bar will hold a grand opening March 9. Until then, it will operate Tuesday-Sunday between 10 a.m.-4 p.m., opening earlier on weekends. Riddle said those hours could shift as the grand opening approaches.

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