Like surfers catching the perfect wave and riding it to shore, the owners of Bourbon on Main saw bourbon’s meteoric rise in popularity and wanted to capture the swell. They’re doing that in a unique setting that had seen three other variations of a bar/pub/restaurant come and go over the last few decades.
Kelly May is a minority owner in Bourbon on Main, which opened in May of 2015. May is also the manager.
“It started as St. George and the Dragon,” May said, sitting in the front room of what was a residence in the first half of the 19th century. “Then as ownership changed, it became the Dragon Pub and right before us, just The Dragon.”
May said the idea was to re-brand the place, capturing and marketing the popularity of bourbon.
“We wanted to change it completely,” he said, “with an entirely new concept. There was no effort or interest in trying to do the Dragon again.”
That being the focus, the name was “intentional and very direct. We could see where bourbon was headed.”
Lots to choose from
True to the theme, BOM has 100 brands of bourbon on the shelf and uses bourbon in some menu items.
Anthony Peluso, a longtime friend of May’s, is the chef.
“We don’t force using bourbon,” Peluso said. “It’s not in every dish — in fact, it’s not in most of them. Bourbon tastes different when it’s cooked.”
The idea, he said, is to enhance the flavor of the dish, not overpower or make bourbon the focus.
“We do use it in a bourbon sauce,” Peluso said.
Peluso, who’s a graduate of the Johnson and Wales Culinary School, most recently worked at the Embassy Suites in Lexington after having cooked at various places across the country and abroad.
“I called Anthony and asked him if he wanted to work harder than he ever had and for less,” May said.
“I decided to come,” said Peluso, who’s 60. “I get to make what I want to make here – and there’s instant gratification when people say, ‘I like that!’”
Peluso works to have something new on the menu all the time, incorporating specials that are written on the wall outside the kitchen. Two of his favorites are the Thai basil pork bowl and India butter chicken.
“I want to make food you want to eat and at the end of the day have people say it was good.”
What May wanted to do
May, 31, is a graduate of Western Hills High School and the son of Frankfort Mayor Bill May and his wife, Jenny. May said he tried college, but it wasn’t for him.
“I knew this was what I wanted to do,” May said.
May and his wife, Brittany, are parents of a newborn daughter, Lillian, born Nov. 12.
“I don’t spend as many hours here as I used to,” he said, laughing.
May said the building is still a work in progress as he and his fellow owners continue to create their own brand.
Currently, the restaurant seats a total of 200 people inside, on two levels, and outside on the two-level deck that overlooks the Kentucky River. The dome of the Capitol is visible to the south.
May says, “It’s really a beautiful place to dine.”
May says some people have asked why the restaurant doesn’t put a dock on the river. He tells them to be patient.
“There’s a lot of talk going on now about expanding the river culture, and we certainly want to be part of that,” he said.
Music inside and out
Music has always been part of Bourbon on Main – and some of its predecessors, too.
“In the summer, we have bands on the deck and in the winter some softer jazz-type music inside. Dad (Bill May, a drummer) often plays here and he brings in some fine musicians. When we have bands outside in the summer, we try to be respectful of the neighbors.”
May is excited about where the restaurant is and where he sees it headed.
“We didn’t want to do the same thing,” he said. “We want to do something special.”
May says he wishes more eating establishments would open down on their end of Main Street.
“Right now, it feels like we’re on an island,” he said. “People ask if I’d see other places as competition and I tell them I would welcome their businesses with open arms. More businesses draw more people into the area.”
Bourbon on Main is located at 103 W. Main St. It’s open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Fridays and 2 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturdays.