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Bardstown: Bourbon & Beauty (& Bart)

Very few people know that Bart has attained a certain status in life that sets him apart from most others. He is a Kentucky Colonel. Armed with this official commission from former Kentucky Governor Paul Patton, Bart is entitled to all the rights and privileges this honor conveys to him. In other words, nothing. But it's cool, right?

Now, on to the famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail. We began our road trip from St. Charles, MO to Bardstown. But, to get there, we had to go through Santa Claus, Indiana, known as America's Christmas Hometown. Who doesn't want to live in a Christmas village all year long! This small town was even featured in the Hallmark movie "Snowed-Inn Christmas". Everywhere you look, there's a nod to the holiday. There's a Santa Claus themed church, Post Office, museum, grocery store, huge Holiday World amusement and water park, and so much more. We got to experience all the joy without one speck of tinsel (Rorie's favorite) or snow.

As we continued along our route, Bart was thrilled to see French Lick, IN (population 1,739). It's the hometown of NBA legend Larry Bird, known as “The Hick from French Lick”. Here he is "back in the day" in the Boston "Gah-din" with our dear friend Mike Abelson. Wonder how many points LB would have spotted Mike in a one-on-one matchup? LB appears to have a height and wing span advantage.

The rest of our drive took us past Louisville and eventually to the rolling hills in and around Bardstown. Let the Bourbon Trail begin, because those hills are home to bourbon distilleries - lots of distilleries. Known as the Bourbon Capital of the World, Kentucky has more than 70 whisky distilleries, 11 of them within 16 miles of Bardstown, the birthplace of bourbon. Since the first alcohol-filled, oak barrel rolled out over 230 years ago, bourbon is a way of life in Bardstown...not just a drink.

Jim Beam was our first encounter with the "water of life". Jacob Beam sold the first barrel of his father's distilled corn-whisky recipe in 1795. Known as Old Jake Bean Sour Mash, it was a local favorite. Seven generations later, they're still going strong and are one of the best-selling brands of bourbon in the world.

We didn't realize that the James B. Beam Distilling Company makes so many different bourbons, including Knob Creek, Basil Hayden, Booker's, Old Crow, Old Grand Dad and, of course, Jim Beam.

After our brief distillery visit (no we didn't sample any), we headed to Bardstown. Settled in 1780, this is the second oldest city in Kentucky. As we approached the downtown area, it immediately became clear why it was voted the most beautiful small town in America by Rand McNally and USA Today in the "Best of the Road" contest. With almost 200 of its buildings on the National Register of Historic Places, the town's extraordinary architecture, history and plain old beauty were on full display. This is the Old Courthouse on Courthouse Square, which - ironically - sits on a large traffic roundabout.

We wandered by the Old Talbott Tavern. It was built in 1779, and is not only the oldest western stagecoach stop in America, it's also the oldest bourbon bar in the world. Famous visitors who bellied up to the bar for a shot of whiskey included Abraham Lincoln, General Patton, and our outlaw buddy Jesse James.

Everywhere we looked, there were more signs - literally and figuratively - that this place was "old". The shootout in downtown Bardstown with the Jesse James Gang was the "youngest" thing we saw. I wonder if the shootout happened before or after the visit to the Old Talbott Tavern.

Even the local pharmacies are old. Established in 1852, Crume has been a dispenser of drugs for more than 150 years.

Another old-timer, Hurst Discount Drugs, has been serving the community for over 100 years. It's right out of an episode of the old TV show "Happy Days". One side of the store houses the original old-fashioned soda fountain, complete with black and white checkered floors, laminate counters and bright red stools. It wasn't open so we'll go back tomorrow to have lunch. OK and maybe an ice cream sundae too.

It was getting late and we were "hangry". It was time to "call it a day". But first, we need to give a well-deserved "shout out" to Bart's old friend and colleague Stuart Meyer, who often sang the praises of this iconic town. Without Stuart's encouragement, we might never have found this off-the beaten-path gem. He produced an award-nominated, original web TV show about Bardstown called Small Town Flavor. Have a look:

There's so much to experience in Bardstown and we can't wait to explore more of this really interesting place tomorrow...

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