It’s amazing what a vote regarding the sale of alcohol can do. Those who encountered the central Kentucky city of Danville a mere decade ago found a quaint town with much to offer in the way of charm but little in terms of local food, drink and general entertainment. Fast forward to the present day, and visitors to the place where Kentucky’s Constitution was signed will find more than enough to keep their days busy and their belly full.
With the vote to lift all restrictions on alcohol sales ratified in 2010, a crop of new restaurants began to bloom along historic Main Street, enlivening Danville and drawing attention from travelers looking for an authentic, small-town experience. From a café committed to combating hunger, to a craft beer bar boasting some of the best brews in the state, to one of the newest bourbon distilleries to join the Bourbon Trail, spending 24 hours in the city of Danville is nonstop fun.
Danville is called the “birthplace of the Bluegrass” because of its Constitution connection, a historic event now commemorated at the corner of Main and Second streets in Constitution Square. Founded in 1785, Danville was conveniently located along the Wilderness Road, attracting the settlers making the long and treacherous journey west. It wasn’t long before Danville became a government hub—with the first courthouse, meeting house and jail established—making this growing town the natural choice as the center for negotiations as Kentucky became the 15th state in the Union.
Danville is now home to more than 16,000 residents and Centre College, a small liberal arts school established in 1819 that is widely considered to be one of the best in the South. The historic nature of Danville is woven into the fabric of the city and is expressed in the beautiful old homes, quaint storefronts and impressive sites where our state’s history was made.
There is no better way to kick off a day in Danville than by giving back to the community, and your first stop will allow you to do just that while you enjoy a delicious breakfast made from healthy, locally sourced ingredients. Make your way to Grace Café on 4th Street, just a block and a half off Main. With a “pay-what-you-can” philosophy, the good folks behind this breakfast and lunch spot firmly believe “that everyone, regardless of economic status, deserves the chance to eat healthy food while being treated with dignity,” according to the café’s website.
In lieu of firm prices, Grace Café’s menu items have suggested donation amounts, allowing those with full pockets to pay a bit more, those with light pockets to pay what they are able, and those with empty pockets to give an hour of their time in exchange for their home-style meal. Lunch is offered Monday through Friday, and weekends are reserved for hearty breakfasts, boasting delicious menu items like Greek frittatas and biscuits smothered in gravy made with sausage from nearby Wholesome Living Farm.
Fortified with breakfast, you can venture just a few miles outside of downtown to Wilderness Trail Distillery, Danville’s oldest distillery—legal distillery, that is! Tours are offered on the hour, and cocktails crafted from the distillery’s signature vodka and rum are available for those arriving a few minutes ahead of schedule. If you’re lucky, Jerod Smith will be your guide and will walk you through the fascinating and detailed process of turning corn, wheat and barley into Kentucky’s native spirit, bourbon. Wilderness Trail’s bourbon is still in the barrel and won’t be available for sipping until December of this year. However, that doesn’t mean the distillery is sitting quietly. The tour takes guests through the heart of its production center, massive fermentation tanks bubbling and coming to life as special yeast strains are activated and alcohol begins to develop. Beautiful column and pot stills also are on display and in action, the scenic farmland of Boyle County visible through small windows dotting the expansive space.
Just because the bourbon is lying in wait doesn’t mean you will be deprived of a taste of handcrafted spirits, though. Taking inspiration from its bourbon mash bill, Wilderness Trail has created its own vodka, coined Blüe Heron, as well as a signature rum made with Kentucky sorghum molasses. Every tour ends with a sample of vodka and rum, whetting guests’ palates for the bourbon that is to come.
At this point, you’ve managed to work up an appetite again, so head back to historic downtown Danville and pull up a chair at Nellie Burton’s, a relatively new sports bar and steakhouse. Half of Nellie Burton’s dining space is dedicated to its bar with multiple televisions—including a large projection screen—decorating the exposed brick walls, making this an ideal spot to catch the day’s big games. Just next door is a more formal dining space, befitting the various steaks and signature entrées coming out of the kitchen. A lengthy list of martinis is on offer, along with several craft brews and signature cocktails. The bar menu makes for a great lunch, with the burger and blue lump crab cakes high on the list of recommendations.
The owners of Nellie Burton’s also operate the popular Cue on Main restaurant, located in a historical building once home to the oldest-running pool hall in the region. Salads and sandwiches are the name of the game at this lunch and dinner spot, along with daily specials and a fully stocked bar. If pizza is what you crave, you’ll be happy to pull up a chair at Bluegrass Pizza and Pub, also on Main Street and a local favorite.
Regardless of where you choose to dine, you are sure to be full and happy and in need of a post-lunch stroll. Look to the corner of Fourth and Main streets and make your way toward the century-old, stately building that was once home to the post office and later served as the city’s federal building. This Main Street landmark became the Community Arts Center in 2004 and boasts rotating art exhibitions featuring works from local and international artists. Pay the suggested $5 per person donation and tour the various galleries.
Feeling crafty? Take an art-themed break and paint your own pottery. Drop-in pottery painting sessions are available on Saturdays from noon to 5 p.m., with pottery pieces starting at just $6.
Now that you’ve experienced a bit of Danville’s artistic side, head back down Main Street, dropping into the various shops and specialty stores occupying the two-block stretch from Fourth to Second streets. Don’t pass up a chance to indulge in some healthful fuel at Plank, Danville’s new boutique fitness studio, juice bar and café. Select one of the signature “no junk” smoothies or handcrafted cold-pressed juices and order it to go, giving you something to sip as you stroll through Constitution Square. There, you will discover a treasure trove of history, from the first post office (built pre-1792) and schoolhouse (1820) west of the Allegheny Mountains to beautifully constructed replicas of the courthouse where Kentucky’s Constitution was ratified, the jail and the meetinghouse. A tribute to all of the governors who have served Kentucky encircles a bronze statue of two men shaking hands, an image you may recognize from the Kentucky state seal and flag.
Continue your dive into Danville’s history with a visit to the Ephraim McDowell House on Second Street, just across from Constitution Square. This beautifully preserved Georgian-style house was once home to Dr. Ephraim McDowell and his wife, Sarah Shelby, daughter of Kentucky’s first governor, Isaac Shelby.
McDowell gained fame in the medical world when he successfully removed a 22-pound ovarian tumor from Jane Crawford, considered the world’s first abdominal surgery. Even if medical history isn’t your cup of tea, the historic home offers a glimpse into how life was once lived, with a replica of the apothecary shop next door.
The sun is beginning to set, and it’s time for a drink! The Beer Engine is a worthy spot to settle in and kick off the evening portion of your Danville adventure. Tucked away just off Third Street behind the Chase Bank drive-thru, the Beer Engine offers up a constantly changing array of taps, pouring regional craft brews alongside its own signature creations. Enjoy a flight of whatever strikes your fancy before making your way back to Fourth Street for dinner at Jane Barleycorn’s. Part restaurant and part wine market, Jane Barleycorn’s is cozy and dimly lit, with a mishmash of local art decorating the walls and a collection of old wine and bourbon bottles repurposed as light fixtures hanging from the ceiling at random.
Locals abound in this eclectic space, and you’ll want to take their lead by ordering one of the restaurant’s signature cocktails (Might we suggest the establishment’s take on a Manhattan?). Snack on the mainstay Brussels sprouts appetizer while perusing the rest of the ever-changing menu. Still thirsty? The wine selection at Jane Barleycorn’s is boutique and spot on, with a highlighted selection of bottles for $25 for those looking for a particularly good value.
After you finish dinner, give Jane Barleycorn’s your regards but don’t call it a night just yet. Make your way a half-mile south on Fourth Street to Brothers’ BBQ, where beer is flowing and live music playing on weekend nights.
When it comes to overnight accommodations in Danville, there is an array of limited-service hotel options, the majority within a few miles’ drive of the heart of the city. However, we recommend forgoing these typical spots and opting for an Airbnb. To truly relax and live like a local, you’ll want to seek out the Bowman Bungalow, an adorable three-bedroom, two-bath home just steps from Main Street. If the Bowman Bungalow is booked, check in with Stay Over Danville, a well-appointed urban loft space located right on Main Street.
After a peaceful night’s rest, your 24 hours in Danville are nearly up. However, you’d be remiss if you didn’t make a stop at The Hub Coffee House & Café. True to its name, The Hub is where Danville locals gather to meet, greet and simply enjoy a cup of joe. Breakfast is available, but you may prefer to save room for a sweet treat from Burke’s Bakery just across Main Street, opposite Constitution Square. This decades-old delicatessen is known for its salt-rising bread and made-from-scratch doughnuts, and is a Danville institution.
Order one of Burke’s signature pies to go and treat yourself to a slice of when you arrive home, savoring a final taste of Danville while you pull out your calendar and pick a date for your return visit. We have little doubt you’ll want to relive the past 24 hours sooner rather than later!