Lexington is Kentucky’s second-largest city, a circular city boasting a beautiful downtown full of historic buildings and modern skyscrapers. This is contrasted by the nearby nature preserves and surrounding rolling hills where horses graze (this is the Horse Capital of the World, after all). Bourbon is always close at hand, with many of the nation’s most famous distilleries all within an hour’s drive. Here at the crossroads of the Midwest and the South, the kindness of Lexington residents stands out as something truly unique.
Thanks to this growing tourism and the ever-expanding University of Kentucky attracting more students and staff each year, the food and beverage scene is thriving. Coffee is no exception, and there is a cafe boom happening amongst all the bluegrass. Many new coffeehouses have opened in the past few years, and after enduring the pandemic, these shops are finding their footing—discovering new ways to stand out from the pack.
North Lime Coffee & Donuts
With two locations in the city, North Lime Coffee & Donuts is Lexington’s go-to for fancy donuts. The main location is housed in the Northside District in a formerly derelict but now revitalized historic bus hub: The Greyline Station. This shop is the definition of industrial chic. High ceilings with exposed pipes tower over epoxied floors. Patrons sink into comfy seats or crowd in to chat in booths. They watch the traffic outside through gigantic windows and nibble on delectable donuts. But what good is a S’mores Fritter without quality coffee to go with it? Luckily this donut shop has a serious espresso program.
A Synesso Hyrda espresso machine and a Mahlkönig Peak grinder grace the coffee bar. The featured roaster is rotated quarterly, allowing coffee lovers a chance to try new offerings from roasters near and far. Recently the talents of Onyx Coffee Lab and Mahalo Coffee Roasters have been in circulation. Customers can get excited about creative coffee beverages, like the Shaken Peanut Butter Latte or Creamsicle Cold Brew, that are introduced for a limited time. Grab a donut, get some espresso, and enjoy!
Broomwagon Bikes + Cafe
Can you really call a city hip if it doesn’t have a half-cafe-half-bike shop? Luckily Lexington has Broomwagon Bikes + Cafe in the Northside District, across from The Greyline Station. This cafe is named after the mechanic van that follows riders in European bike races and metaphorically sweeps up broken bikes and injured riders. You can pick out a new two-wheeled ride on one side of this brick building, while on the other side, you can caffeinate your pedal-wearied legs. The weathered walls display cycling knickknacks and vintage bike race photos.
The outside space feels equally welcoming and laid back. A gravel courtyard is dotted with picnic benches and converted wire-spool tables inviting patrons to gather and chat over some java. This cafe also boasts a food program featuring exciting offerings, both traditional and vegan (go for the carrot “bacon!”). Coffee is supplied by a local roaster, Magic Beans. Stop by, put down your kickstand, stay for a while.
Lussi Brown Coffee Bar
Located in the heart of Lexington’s Downtown and tucked carefully down a narrow one-way street sits Lussi Brown Coffee Bar. The shop signboard hangs from a fire escape and dons a two-toned Jolly Roger with a crossed spoon and portafilter handle rather than bones, hinting at the adventurous spirit of this cafe and bar. Here, surrounded by the many murals that grace Downtown Lex, you can get a simple latte or a creative coffee-based cocktail.
Lussi Brown Coffee Bar is a woman-owned and LGBQTIA+-owned establishment. Queer Kentucky cites it as a “safe, unapologetic space for Lexington Queers.” This is a cozy and welcoming space where light streams in through windows lined with rainbow-colored flags. Two things are clear about this cafe within moments: The owners are proud of who they are and what they do.
Lussi Brown Coffee Bar uses Deeper Roots Coffee from nearby Cincinnati as their leading roaster and periodically rotates in a guest roaster. The coffee menu and cocktail menu both have fun and creative seasonal offerings. The Boozy Blood Orange Espresso off their summer menu (also available as a mocktail) sounds like a dream.
Manchester Coffee Co.
Something stands out immediately upon entering Manchester Coffee Co. No matter which way you look or where you stand, it is picture-perfect. Giant plants loom large and overlook busy remote workers who gather around communal tables. In another corner, caffeinated customers gossip over lattes on an overstuffed leather sofa. A neon skull supervises the whole affair from behind the bar, where busy baristas serve up the latest roast. Some serious thought has gone into aesthetics.
Manchester Coffee Co. got its start on Manchester Street in the Distillery District. That location has since closed, but they remain a serious force in Lexington’s coffee scene. Each shift’s baristas utilize teamwork to craft drinks with some real firepower: An avocado green Snynesso MVP Hydra pulls shots ground on a pair of Mahlkönig E65s. A San Fransican roaster hums in the background and supplies the house-roasted single-origin coffees that line the shelves. The cafe seems to be ripped from the West Coast and transplanted into the Bluegrass. Yet, the warmth of the place and its crew is definitely home here in Kentucky.
A Cup of Commonwealth
Sometimes a coffee shop just feels like it has to exist. That without it, there would be no coffee culture in a community. It feels like the place where the local coffee people must have tried their first espresso as tweens. A Cup of Commonwealth has that vibe. Since 2013 this cafe has been in Lexington serving coffee and serving as a place to gather. It has scuffed floors, local art, lazy dogs, and friendly baristas. It feels as warm as a cup of coffee.
A Cup of Commonwealth’s name is a riff on Kentucky, which isn’t technically a state, but a commonwealth. It is the parent company of local roaster Magic Beans Coffee. Located next to Thoroughbred Park, a spot famous for its horse race statues and photo opportunities, it’s a prime place for recharging and feeling the pulse of the city.
Brevedé Coffee Co.
Opened in 2020 during the height of the pandemic, this cafe has seen its challenges. Now, in calmer times, it is well-accepted as a solid part of the coffee community and a very Instagramable coffeehouse. The flagship location is a mass of weathered brick in the Distillery District, overlooked by a water tower and the old smokestack from the James E. Pepper distillery. The interior space is flooded with natural light, full of house plants, eclectic furniture, and decorated with artistic light fixtures. Coffee offerings are provided by Coava Coffee Roasters and Onyx Coffee. Slayer espresso machines are the go-to tools for Brevedé Coffee Co’s drink program.
Recently a second cafe has opened in the Chevy Chase neighborhood. Located in a repurposed historic home, the cafe feels like a collection of living rooms with a coffee counter at its heart. In one room, armchairs are arranged around a fireplace inviting patrons to curl up with a cup of coffee on chilly mornings. Around the corner, a long bar counter lines the window where people clack on laptops. Both cafes are the type of place where people are more likely to stay for hours. Fortunately for those destined to spend the day there, the coffee is as solid as the vibes.
Eric Tessier is a freelance journalist based in Providence, RI. Read more Eric Tessier on Sprudge.