LIFE, in the city of Paducah, flows the same direction as its creeks and streams—straight to the cradle of the Ohio River where you will find far western Kentucky’s heartbeat in downtown Paducah. Downtown has remained the focal point of our area through the ebbs and flows of successive eras and their changing trends. It has consistently reinvented itself, finding new ways to endear its charms into the affections of new generations.
For many years, the buildings in the first block of Broadway just off the river bank were industrial in purpose. It didn’t matter much in the late 1980s and early 1990s when downtown experienced a major downturn in building occupancy. Many staples of downtown had moved to the newly constructed mall area, and Paducah, like many towns, faced a crisis over what to do with their historic buildings. Then, a group of concerned citizens stepped in, and by the end of the decade, life slowly returned. Layers of false facade were removed from the buildings on the 100 block of Broadway, revealing the original architecture behind. Some businesses returned, and, for a time, downtown entered into a renaissance.
By the second decade of the 21st century, things were holding steady. But slowly, one felt a newfound buzz of excitement ripple across Paducah. Businesses sprouted in historic buildings in the oft-neglected midtown area. Then came the sense that downtown was due for yet another metamorphosis. Now, through those who want to bring their passions to the city within the framework of our history, downtown Paducah is once again flowing with new life, starting along the first block of Broadway where something delectable has developed.
Confleur has been brightening up the block’s west corner since October of 2018, serving up inventive cocktails and southern fare with European flair. Sweet treats, ice cream, brunch, and afternoon teas became staples of a downtown experience. Now, a bourbon bar with the largest bourbon selection in the country along with a new craft cocktail bar are bringing the block’s east corner to life for the first time in ages. After years of sitting dark and quiet past 5 PM no matter the day or season, the first block of Broadway is returning to its lively roots.
As local author and librarian Matt Jaeger pointed out on his Local and Family History blog, the 1912 Paducah City Directory alone listed seven distilleries, five wholesale liquor distributors, and 66 saloons, almost all below 13th street.
“We’re not bringing these things to Paducah the first time around, we’re just bringing them back in a modern way,” said Peter Barnett, who co-owns Confleur and the Fox Briar cocktail bar, with wife Amber Barnett.
“There’s such a rich history here,” said Brian Shemwell, Paducah Bourbon Society co-founder and owner of the Broadway bourbon bar, Barrel and Bond. “If you look out at this river, before the invention of interstate highways and trucking, in order to get whiskey and bourbon out west it flowed right past the foot of Broadway.”
“What we’re both doing is to take 90 percent history and put our own mark and spin on it,” Peter added.
Though Peter and Brian have essentially opened bars within a block of each other within a year of one another, they see only chances for friendly neighborhood collaboration, not competition.
“Paducah already has so much to offer, we just want to add to it and enrich it,” Peter said. “I think it’s important to approach business in a non-competitive way. We’ve only seen success working together within our community.”
“We’re all here for one common purpose,” Brian added. “I see it as a chance to bring people together through food and drink.”
And it is occurring beyond the cornerstone of the 100 block of Broadway. In this edition of Paducah Life Magazine, we explore some of downtown’s newest additions. So raise a glass as we discover those who are helping bring downtown a new sense of LIFE. Cheers.