For those who were on the Lexington music scene in the 1980s and ’90s, you may recall some of the marvelous venues that showcased local bands and talent.
The Wrocklage and Lynaugh’s Emporium during this era would have quality bands throughout the week, and on weekends, these venues were packed. Downtown bubbled with clubs, some of which came and went quickly. Some, however, became legendary, and most were very music-focused.
But the energy of this scene fizzled down and many who were part of that time have longed for its return. Many of us take a lot of reminiscent pleasure from those fond times when we bump into old friends in Lexington who shared them. And, of course, many long for the return of those nostalgic days and nights.
Wilson Sebastian (no relation to the author), a native Lexingtonian, opened the Willie’s Locally Known last year on Broadway, with the express purpose of bringing the Lexington music scene back to its former glory — and feeding a few people along the way.
“I was in a band since seventh grade,” Sebastian said. “I know how little respect musicians get and how challenging the venues can be. When I started Willie’s, I splurged on a state-of-the-art sound system and made music available nearly every night of the week.”
The Lexington-renowned restaurant Buffalo and Dad’s, which had a run of more than 20 years, was followed by several ventures that went as quickly as they came. Sebastian officially opened the doors to Willie’s in April 2012 in the former Buffalo and Dad’s location, and the place has been packed ever since.
“We have a variety of genres that appeal to everyone,” Sebastian said. “The Kentucky Hoss Cats, for instance, play mainly honky-tonk, while the Holy Ghost Tent Revival is more of a Bluegrass ensemble, bordering on big band. Sam and Kenny Lewis were voted one of the best acts around in 2010, and there are many others on the weekly roster.”
The choice music is definitely a strong draw for the people who know and frequent Willie’s, but what about the chow?
“We really lucked out with our food,” Sebastian said. “Executive Chef Ben Barry helms the kitchen and has created some exceptional dishes you can’t find elsewhere in Lexington. We have a lot of Southern and soul dishes. Fried green tomatoes are on the menu, and everything barbecue imaginable.”
And Sebastian said he has worked to keep the price points low at the same time.
“We really try to make it available to everyone and to bring the focus not only to the food, but to the music as well,” he said. “We ultimately want to be known as a great eatery and for our Bluegrass music; we want it to be a place top acts will line up to play.”
At the time of this writing, Willie’s was in its second week of having stand-up comedy as part of the entertainment as well.
“We’ve added Monday comedy nights, and they have been huge, sold-out crowds. The place holds 150 comfortably and 250 when the patio’s open during nice weather, so sold out for us means a good crowd of people — especially since we’re feeding them, too.”
Because of Willie’s increasing popularity, reservations are still the way to go if you want to make sure you get seats without a long wait.
“This is especially true if you have a party of six or more,” Sebastian said. “We also have a good beer selection, including local brews like Country Boy.”
Probably as big as the music or the food is the buzz about the place; people are excited about a possible music revival in Lexington. Sebastian shares that enthusiasm. On some weekdays for local bands, he doesn’t even charge a cover.
“I don’t mind eating the cost a bit to get the scene rebooted,” he said. “People appreciate that, I believe, and it’s good for the musicians, good for the patrons, and good for Lexington.”
To learn more about Willie’s menu and the weekly band lineup, visit Willie’s Known on Facebook, or go to www.willieslex.com. To make reservations, call (859) 281-1116.