Romance in Bardstown

So much more than a wedding in the Bluegrass State

I smiled as I unpacked my suitcase at the B&B, realizing it had been more than a year since Matt and I had enjoyed a weekend away together—no kids, no deadlines, no dog walks. It was just the two of us, with the weekend—and a friend’s wedding—stretched in front of us.

It was easy to talk my husband into joining me for the hour-plus flight from Chicago. I just had to say the magic word: bourbon. Our friend’s wedding was in Bardstown, Kentucky—gateway to the famed Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

And as I looked around our delightful room, I saw that the historic B&B I’d booked was everything I’d hoped for—quiet, cozy, romantic.

“This honeysuckle soap smells so good,” I said, breathing in its distinctive scent.

“I believe I’m detecting the lovely bouquet of whiskey wafting in the window,” Matt added with a wink. I could feel both Matt and myself beginning to relax into the early weekend. That famed Southern hospitality was working its magic on us.

With the wedding a day away, I’d booked Thursday night dinner reservations at Harrison-Smith House.

“This place gets great reviews online,” I said as we walked to the restaurant.

“Great,” said Matt, “I’m starving.”

Once seated, we raised our Old Fashioneds and toasted our own decade-long marriage. “It doesn’t feel like 10-and-a-half years, does it?” I reminisced.

“Sometimes it feels like just yesterday,” Matt agreed. We dined on crispy chicken thighs with garlic grits and wild Lake Barkley catfish. Dessert was homemade butterscotch pudding served in a Maker’s Mark cup. It was a meal, and night, to remember.

Quaint shopping

The following morning, we walked hand-in-hand to Downtown Bardstown’s picturesque town square to do a little window-shopping. On Third Street, we happened upon a couple of fabulous boutiques that had me trading window-shopping for the real thing. In At Mary’s art & antiques, we meandered through an eclectic mix of items, from home decor and antiques to scarves, jewelry, and more. I couldn’t resist buying a husband-approved pillow that advised, “Keep Your Friends Close, Keep Your Bourbon Closer.”

On the other side of the street, Shaq & CoCo beckoned. Rustic wood-plank floors paired with gallery lighting give the shop a unique and chic vibe. I fell in love with a gorgeous artichoke lamp, just the shade of turquoise I’d been seeking for our home. But thinking of the plane ride back, I pragmatically passed on the lamp. Vibrant clothing, jewelry and knock-out furniture made for a one-of-a-kind shopping experience. I bought myself an easy-to-transport silver and amethyst necklace.

On our way back to the B&B, we popped into Kentucky Bourbon Marketplace to share a totally sinful bourbon barrel cake (a moist yellow cake topped with chocolate icing and nuts), both of us vying for the last bite. It was hard, but I let Matt win. While I chatted with the friendly employee and bought some Kentucky bourbon balls to go, Matt ran back to Shaq & CoCo to retrieve keys he’d accidentally left behind.

Wedding time

Romance in Bardstown

That afternoon, we got dressed to the nines in our wedding finest and made our way to the historic My Old Kentucky Home State Park, which served as the perfect backdrop for our friends to tie the knot in style. Matt looked so handsome in his dark suit—it reminded me of our own wedding day. The outdoor ceremony took place beneath a shady grove of trees, followed by a festive reception under the dome of the rotunda. A local bugler from a nearby horse track announced the newlyweds’ entrance to the reception.

Matt observed, “That was a nice touch.” Agreed!

We dined on grilled chicken and peaches, herbed biscuits with bacon jam, grit cakes, and a Kentucky Bluegrass salad. Locally grown hydrangeas in bright shades of purple and blue graced each table. The couple’s signature cocktail—strawberry bourbon lemonade—rounded out the delicious Southern meal. As we danced after dinner, Matt pulled me close and sweetly said, “You know I love you more today than I did on our own wedding day.” He’s no slouch, but I think there was something about the nostalgia of My Old Kentucky Home that brought out extra sentimentality in Matt.

Cheers to that

We had a late flight the next day, so we had the opportunity to visit a couple of Bardstown’s famed local distilleries. We began at Barton 1792 Distillery, opting for the Bushel to Bottle tour in order to learn more about the process of making bourbon. Armed with a new appreciation—and knowledge—of the regional spirit, we were happy to cap the tour with a complimentary tasting of their award-winning creations. We found ourselves favoring their new Single Barrel Bourbon, produced from a hand-bottling process that allows only a single barrel to be processed at a time. Matt bought a bottle as a souvenir for later.

We ended our weekend with a quick visit to Heaven Hill Distilleries Bourbon Heritage Center. Without a lot of time before our flight, we opted for the half-hour Whiskey Connoisseur Experience tour, which touches on the history of bourbon as well as the Heaven Hill distillery itself. After the tour, we sampled some of their premium and limited-release bourbons. “So many bourbons, so little time,” my husband joked. I could tell he was in hog heaven.

Before I knew it, the plane touched down, and we were back home. As I opened the front door, I saw it. Sitting on the entryway table was the turquoise lamp from Bardstown. It was an absolutely perfect welcome home.

“How on earth?” I asked incredulously. “I have my ways,” he said, smiling. Then I remembered he “forgot” his keys at Shaq & CoCo. I guessed our neighbor helped by putting it in place after an overnight shipment, but didn’t want to spoil the magic by asking.

Next, discover the charm of The New Derby City.