Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story failed to include restaurants that have been running longer than others that were mentioned. They have been added, and we apologize for their exclusion.
LEXINGTON, Ky. (FOX 56) — Through the more than 230 years of Kentucky’s existence, restaurants have come and gone. Although the need for food stayed constant, as it always has (and always will), it is a tall task for any business to stand the test of time.
CNBC estimates 60% of restaurants fail within the first year, while 80% go out of business within the first five.
Here in Kentucky, there are quite a few restaurants that have defied all those odds, and not by a small margin. Some of which have been in operation for 50, 75, or 100 years.
But there are a special few that have reached an unprecedented level of longevity.
Here are some of the oldest restaurants still serving up good eats in Kentucky.
1. The Old Talbott Tavern, Bardstown — 1779
The Old Talbott Tavern, located at 107 W. Stephen Foster Ave. in Bardstown, is known as “the oldest Western stagecoach stop in America.” It was founded in 1779 as a stop for travelers to rest and get a modest bite to eat. But over the years, the establishment molded itself into a place for everyone, from outlaws to royalty, to enjoy a meal.
Five-year-old Abraham Lincoln stayed at the tavern with his parents, who were on a business trip. Outlaw Jesse James stayed in the tavern with his cousin when he visited the area, shooting holes in the walls after too many drinks. King Louis Philippe stayed in the tavern on Oct. 17, 1797, after being exiled from France. The guest log speaks for itself.
Although the tavern has gone by many names, like the Hynes, Bardstown Hotel, and Chapman’s House, the original structure has stayed the same, and its purpose of serving meals has too.
Old Talbott Tavern’s menu features items inspired by its notorious guests, including the Jesse James rib-eye steak and Lincoln’s Bourbon BBQ Ribs.
2. Biancke’s Restaurant, Cynthiana — 1894
The story of Biancke’s began in 1890, when Guido Biancke immigrated from Italy to Richmond, Kentucky, to become an apprentice at his brother-in-law’s fruit and vegetable stand. After two years in that position, love prevailed, and Guido returned to Italy to marry his longtime sweetheart, Clementina Poppini. Upon their return to the States, the couple opened a combination restaurant and fruit stand in 1894 on Pike Street in Cynthiana.
Those who knew the Biancke’s said Clementina, known to the locals as “Miss Tina”, was passionate about the restaurant, hardly leaving the Pike Street location. That was until the restaurant moved to a new location on Main Street in Cynthiana in 1930, where it is still in operation.
The restaurant’s ownership has changed over the past 125 years, but it remains a staple in the Cynthiana community, serving home-cooking dishes like pan-fried chicken and catfish. Biancke’s best sellers include their hot open-faced roast beef and Kentucky Hot Brown.
Biancke’s is located at 102 S. Main Street in Cynthiana.
3. The Seelbach Hotel, Louisville — 1905
After years of learning the restaurant business, German immigrants Louis and Otto Seelbach opened The Seelbach in 1905 at the corner of Fourth and Walnut Street (now Mohammed Ali Boulevard). Sparing no expense, the brothers imported bronze from France, Persian rugs, marbles from all over the world, hardwood from Europe, and much more — creating a hub of dining and lodging for a star-studded cast of presidents, gangsters, musicians, and movie stars.
The Seelbach even inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald to use it as the backdrop for Tom and Daisy Buchanan’s wedding in “The Great Gatsby.”
The establishment has gone through renovations throughout the years to equip it with modern necessities, but the allure of its “golden era” architecture remains.
The hotel was home to The Oakroom, Kentucky’s first and only AAA Five-Diamond restaurant, but has since been converted into a ballroom. Patrons can still visit the Old Seelbach Bar to taste a wide array of Kentucky’s finest bourbons as well as the Seelbach cocktail, a libation that at one time was the hotel’s signature drink.
4. Boone Tavern, Berea — 1909
Boone Tavern, named after Kentucky explorer Daniel Boone, was built in 1909 to house guests of Berea College. It was constructed with bricks manufactured by students in the college’s brickyard and wood from the woodwork department. The tavern quickly became one of the most famous Kentucky hotels and a popular lodging and dining experience for travelers.
The Boone Tavern is listed on the Historic Hotels of America registry and the National Register of Historic Places and has hosted the likes of the Dalai Lama, Henry Ford, President and Mrs. Calvin Coolidge, Eleanor Roosevelt, Maya Angelou, and Robert Frost.
The Boone Tavern restaurant prides itself on cooking foods rooted in Kentucky’s southern cuisine history and the history of the establishment itself. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner options feature locally sourced ingredients, some even from Berea College’s farm.
Boone Tavern is located at 100 S. Main St. N. in Berea.
5. Fava’s Restaurant, Georgetown — 1910
In 1910, Fava’s was opened as a confectionary in Georgetown by Louis “Louie” and Aunt “Susie” Bertolini Fava. Susie specialized in homemade chocolates, while Louie whipped up ice creams containing fresh peaches and strawberries. At that time, Fava’s also had bins full of fresh fruit for patrons to pick themselves. With Georgetown College in close proximity, Fava’s menu eventually expanded to provide filling meals to students.
More than 100 years and multiple owners later, Fava’s remains in Georgetown, serving up southern classics for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The menu features Fava’s “Big Boy Breakfast”, all-you-can-eat catfish, and country-fried steak. It can be easy to get your fill with all the home-cooked options, but if you save room for dessert, Fava’s offers homemade cream pies and hand-dipped ice cream sundaes.
Fava’s Restaurant is located at 159 E. Main Street in Georgetown.
6. Beaumont Inn, Harrodsburg — 1919
The more than 100-year history of the Beaumont Inn, located in Harrodsburg, actually started earlier than 1919. The building itself was Daughters College, an educational institution for women. It was not until 1914, when the college closed, that Annie Bell Goddard purchased the building to transform it into an inn.
From that point on, the Beaumont Inn has been known as a family-run institution, providing good food and a cozy bed to the many who have stopped by. The establishment holds the title of the oldest family-run inn in Kentucky, spanning five generations.
When the Beaumont Inn was established, the dining options were limited to fried chicken or country ham. Now, there is much more to offer, including private tastings of the state’s finest bourbon and southern cooking at the Owl’s Nest, which is known for offering an exceptional “hot brown.”
The Beaumont Inn is located at 638 Beaumont Inn Dr. in Harrodsburg.
7. Greyhound Tavern, Fort Mitchell — 1921
The Greyhound Tavern, originally called the Dixie Tea Room, was built in 1921 and owned by Johnny Hauer. The Dixie Tea Room was operated as an ice cream parlor, providing sweet treats and other assorted snacks to patrons.
It was then sold to Al Frisch, who changed the name to the Greyhound Grill in honor of his brother, who was a Greyhound dog trainer. He continued to offer homemade ice cream, soups, chicken, and “Jack Salmon” setups. The Greyhound Grill eventually eliminated the ice cream and offered burgers, “world famous” onion rings, and beer.
The Greyhound Grill’s most recent shift was changing its name to the Greyhound Tavern. Although they still offer the classics, the establishment is now known for its steaks and seafood.
The Greyhound Tavern is located at 2500 Dixie Highway in Fort Mitchell.
Editor’s note: A special thank you to the efforts of CNBC, the Old Talbott Tavern, Berea College, Boone Tavern, the Beaumont Inn, Bianke’s, Fava Restaurant, and Greyhound Tavern for their contributions to this story.