Celebrating True Kentucky

Oldham Co.’s Hermitage Farm
to open bourbon bar, restaurant

‘Barn8’ to open March 18; designed
to promote agritourism

March 2020 Cover

GOSHEN, Ky. (March 2020) – Preservationists and entrepreneurs Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown are close to unveiling what they hope to be a lasting legacy in Oldham County, Ky. While keeping the integrity of their working thoroughbred farm, they have transformed several areas of the farm in a move toward agritourism.
On Wednesday, March 18, Hermitage Farm plans to celebrate the opening of the Barn8 Restaurant, a Bourbon Bar, a Welcome Center and Farm Store at their location along picturesque Hwy. 42 in Oldham County.
Wilson and Brown “had the idea to do something, open it to the public, since they purchased it,” said Haviland Argo, project manager for the renovations that have been done on several decades-old barns. The couple announced three years ago their intentions for this $15 million project and spent the ensuing years building the infrastructure needed to complete the project.
Their goal is still to foster Kentucky agriculture, but now it will be combined with more of a tourism element since visitors will be able to choose from a variety of tour options.

Haviland Argo

Visitors can take tours to learn about the inner workings of a fully operational thoroughbred horse farm, view historic carriages and a property that contains century’s old buildings, or enjoy bourbon tastings.
All of this work was done to promote three Kentucky staples: horses, bourbon and food. The result is “quintessential Kentucky,” Argo said. “It’s the best of what makes Kentucky, Kentucky – food, bourbon and horses in a beautiful setting.”
Argo has worked on many arts and cultural projects around the world, including several of Wilson and Brown’s 21C Museum Hotel projects. He is a registered architect in Kentucky and holds degrees from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design and the College of Design at the University of Kentucky, where he was a Gaines Center for the Humanities Fellow.
Four historic barns were renovated, and a new three-tiered, climate controlled glass greenhouse was constructed for this project. The 14,000-square-foot Barn8 Restaurant will provide a fresh take on farm-to-table dinning, Argo said. Originally built as a dairy barn, it was converted to a stud barn in the mid 20th century before its final transformation into a restaurant.
This barn began life as building No. 8 at Hermitage Farm, and its upstairs hayloft will provide private dining for up to 200 guests in an event space that can be rented. Using reclaimed lumber and natural light to create an inviting mood, the loft is the perfect setting for receptions, meetings or any special event.
Matthew Bailey, who took the job of General Manager at Hermitage Farm six months ago, said “There are few farm-to-table experiences in Louisville or Kentucky overall. Most of the food will be grown here.”

Matthew Bailey

Bailey grew up on a multi-generational family farm in southern Kentucky. The farm has been in the family for 230 years. He is the former director of My Old Kentucky Home in Bardstown, Ky., and has worked as the Director of Preservation at Belle Meade Plantation in Tennessee.
Wilson and Brown’s nearby Woodland Farm will supply bison as well as eggs, chicken and pork for food offerings in the restaurant, said Argo. In addition to what is grown in Hermitage Farm’s greenhouse, food will be sourced from surrounding farms if needed in addition to the five acres of vegetable gardens at Hermitage.
No doubt the restaurant will be able to boast a unique atmosphere, allowing guests to dine in what were once horse stalls. These renovated stalls will feature a glass wall on one side to allow guests to peer into the open kitchen.
“We’ve tried to keep it as authentic as possible,” said Bailey. “The main goal of Hermitage is to keep the authenticity in place.”
Hermitage Farm became an important thoroughbred stud farm a decade ago. Today, it still holds a prominent place in the horse industry after having become a breeding entity in the late 1930s due to the efforts of Harriet and Warner Jones Jr.
Jones (1916-1994) had a reputation as one of the leading figures of the 20th century thoroughbred industry. He established a precedent when he set a sales record for a yearling at North American auction in 1985 when Seattle Dancer sold for $13.1 million. He co-founded the American Horse Council and served as a chairman of Churchill Downs in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Jones is the only person to breed a Kentucky Derby winner (Dark Star, 1953), Kentucky Oaks winner (Nancy Jr., 1967), and a Breeders’ Cup winner (Is It True, 1988 Juvenile). Years after making Hermitage a landmark in the Kentucky horse world, Jones sold the farm to Carl Pollard, who in turn sold it to Wilson and Brown in 2010.
Bailey said the number of employees has increased to 42, including a new executive chef, Alison Settle. Before coming to Hermitage Farm in November 2019, Settle worked as a sous chef for Holy Grale in Louisville and spent time honing her craft at Holly Hill Inn and Woodford Reserve.
The new Bourbon Bar will offer bourbon from every distillery on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. “There will be bourbon tastings during the day and various different types of tastings,” Argo said, including select vintage tastings from the 285 vintage labels the bar will stock. The bar will be open to the public for dinner and afterward.
Because Wilson and Brown have a connection to bourbon mainly through the Brown-Foreman Co., of which Brown is an heiress, bourbon was a natural element to highlight. The restaurant is a result of Wilson and Brown’s “passion for hosting parties and events,” Argo said.

Photo courtesy of Hermitage Farm

Barn8 Restaurant and Bourbon Bar will feature nearly 300 selections of bourbon when it opens in March. The restaurant was built inside a former dairy barn on the Goshen, Ky., farm.

“This is also a way to show that bourbon is one of the most prominent agricultural products of Kentucky.” Argo said he sees this venture as a way to turn Hermitage Farm into a regional tourist attraction, especially if the farm can piggyback on the trend set by the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Those who visit the trail comprise “75 percent of visitors outside of Kentucky,” he said. Kentuckians are proud of this bourbon heritage and often “want to share it with people who are not from the region, such as friends visiting from out of town.”
Kim Buckler Hydes, executive director of Oldham County’s Tourism & Conventions, said, “I think the Bourbon Bar offering every distillery on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail is an interesting concept for bourbon lovers. There are some that will love the idea of trying different bourbons without having to drive to visit the distilleries or may buy different bottles to try them.”
Hydes said she hopes Hermitage plans to include bourbon from the Kentucky Bourbon Craft Trail as well. “Craft bourbons are very interesting, and the stories behind craft distilleries are fascinating and make for good conversation.” She cited the story behind Jefferson’s Ocean as such and would allow for partnering with another popular Oldham County attraction – Jefferson’s at Kentucky Artisan Distillery in Crestwood, “the only true farm-to-bottle distillery in Kentucky. That would be a great partnership.”
Hydes said the renovations to Hermitage Farm “will certainly add to the Oldham County tourism experience, as well as create a completely immersive true Kentucky experience. With the addition of Barn8 Restaurant and the Bourbon Bar & Lounge, Hermitage adds to the culinary offerings of this area.” She added that she is also excited to “combine these new offerings with our already popular Oldham Farm Tours.”
Hermitage is one of three horse farm tours offered in the Oldham Farm Tours program. The farm owners rent out the main house and farm for weddings and events. “Since 2012 when Oldham County Tourism rolled out its Farm Tour program, Hermitage was one of the first farms to sign up,” said Hydes.
“Oldham has been the Farm Tour Capital of Kentucky since 2012, so to add a farm-to-table restaurant with bourbon tasting on the farm to our tours allows us to again offer our guests an experience that they get only in Oldham County.”
With these new experiences, Hermitage Farm owners hope to carve out a niche in the agritourism field.
“Agritourism is defined as any activity that brings people to enjoy operations of a farm,” said Hydes. “They will also host the Kentucky Classic carriage driving event this year as they have done in past years. So with what they do currently, coupled with the addition of Barn8, the Bourbon Bar & Lounge, and the Art Walks, Hermitage has created what I call an “immersive agritourism” experience. Everything about Hermitage Farm is immersive agritourism.”

Photo courtesy of Hermitage Farm

This rendition shows what the East Terrace looks like at Hermitage Farm’s Barn8 Restaurant and Bourbon Bar.

This concept has gained popularity in recent years as a way to save the family farm. When Wilson and Brown purchased Hermitage, it already had a long, well-established heritage, which included a visit in 1986 from Queen Elizabeth II.
The Art Walk area has been designed to stimulate the eyes and ears of anyone taking a meandering walk below the gardens and among the trees on the Hermitage property along Little Sinking Creek. Live video projections and coordinated soundscape will entertain visitors along the 1,000-foot boardwalk.
A new Farm Store, located within the restaurant, will sell “jams and jellies from our orchards and mostly Kentucky made items that are not made in-house,” said Bailey. Included will be Kentucky Proud products.
A separate retail shop will be located within the new Welcome Center that will “orient people with what is happening on the farm,” said Argo. It is the first stop visitors will encounter after parking and where they can learn about the different tour options.
Also included will be space for Wilson and Brown to store their horse carriage collection, which contains an 1882 carriage used by actors Clark Gable and Vivian Lee in a scene from  “Gone With the Wind.” Trophies that pay tribute to Hermitage Farm’s past successful horses are showcased in addition to Wilson’s many equestrian ribbons and trophies.
Wilson and Brown’s personal “collection of artwork will be infused throughout the property”, said Bailey. The main house will contain a rotating collection for visitors to view as well. The couple is well known for the provocative artwork contained at their 21C Museum Hotels across the United States.
“Steve and Laura Lee have been very important to Louisville through their 21C hotels,” said Bailey. “I’m very excited to be a part of that culture they have started. And I’m very excited to open the doors here and share with everyone the culture of Kentucky at Hermitage.”

Photo courtesy of Hermitage Farm

21C Hotel founders Steve Wilson and Laura Lee Brown bought Hermitage Farm several years ago from Carl Pollard to prevent it from becoming another subdivision.

With all of the new additions, the overall look of Hermitage Farm has not been altered. “Everything is hidden from Highway 42,” said Argo. “This was done intentionally to protect the view. Everything was added inside existing structures – to maintain the authentic character.”
Argo said that in the beginning, Wilson and Brown considered placing one-third of the farm in a conservation easement. “Since then, they decided to place the majority of the farm in a conservation easement.” More than 600 acres have been placed in easement with American Farmland Trust, protecting the land from real estate development so that farming can continue. In doing so, Brown is continuing the legacy of her aunt, Sally Brown, who owned Ashbourne Farms.
Now that the project is complete, Argo said the element he is most proud of is the fact that the inherent beauty of the farm has not been destroyed. “We did the renovations in a way to keep it as green as possible and to not destroy the historic structures and landscape. We tried to keep it as authentic as possible.”

• Visitors can make reservations for the new restaurant beginning March 6 by calling (502) 228-1426. To learn more, visit www.HermitageFarm.com. Tours highlighting such experiences will continue to be a part of the offerings for visitors to Hermitage Farm, letting visitors witness the daily activities surrounding the raising and breeding of thoroughbred race horses on a working functional farm. Bailey said a new tour, a Mint Julip Experience, will allow the culinary team to participate as well.

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