Low key, unpretentious and off the pop culture radar, The Beaumont Inn & Old Owl Tavern in Harrodsburg has remained one of Mercer County’s most refined retreats for both sophisticated locals and informed Lexingtonians for close to a century. As Kentucky’s oldest family operated inn, this prominent estate was already a landmark in 1919 when Dixon Dedman’s great-great grandparents, Glave and Annie Bell Goddard, converted the property from private girl’s college to country inn. Today, the original three-story mansion, built in 1845, still stands as a testament to true Greek revival style architecture and genuine southern hospitality.
But while posterity is never beyond reach, “The Owl,” as it’s known by its regulars, is a modern-day tavern (connected to the main building) where top-shelf Bourbon, fine wine and draft beer has never flowed with greater opulence. As Dixon works the bar, he does so fully aware of the current economic state and conscious of the dark fiscal clouds that many can’t help but lament. However, as a fifth-generation restaurateur, Dixon has literally grown up in the work place and witnessed firsthand how to not only maintain a healthy customer base, but create a generational relationship between patron and host.
“My parents have instilled in me the concept that the job is truly never done,” said Dixon. “You’d better think of this as a lifestyle, not a career, or you won’t survive in this business.” Noting that a nine-to-five, Monday through Friday mindset is as alien to the Dedman/Goddard heritage as linoleum décor, attention to detail is a hallmark that can quite literally be experienced with the eyes and pallet, as when witnessing the birth of the classic cocktail done right. The legendary Manhattan, made famous by Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, often takes center stage at The Owl, where your choice of bourbon, sweet or dry vermouth, bitters and ice will intoxicate the soul, among other senses. As the perfect balance between presentation and substance, the lost art of the cocktail is alive and well in Harrodsburg, Kentucky.
The Owl, however, is more than your typical cocktail bar, where southern cuisine is served up hot and with a smile. Dixon’s parents, Chuck and Helen, understand this concept and have never strayed from a basic philosophy that’s worked for almost a hundred years. “Without a doubt, the three most important qualities one should possess to thrive in this business are common sense, a sense of humor and a people-person personality,” said Chuck Dedman. As a family in perpetual motion, he lends some old school insight before multitasking his way off to another chore. “Since the early days of taverns, public houses and inns, these entities were located at the central core of the community,” he said. “Even today, a healthy community supported by its business constituents contributes to the success of all business.”
And perhaps this sense of community is what makes such an indelible impression on first-time visitors to The Owl and overnight guests at The Beaumont Inn. Harrodsburg is not only a small town, but located in a “dry” county. Only since 2003 have drink sales been allowed in a select few establishments, and liquor stores are strictly verboten. Therefore, it’s not unusual for The Owl to take on an eclectic array of local personalities where neighborhood politics, history, or even gossip are openly shared with any interested party. In this sense, first-timers often comment on how this regional camaraderie is so very reminiscent to small town pubs in Ireland, England, Wales or Scotland, where the pastoral watering hole takes on the role of community center and social club. Here, cordiality and geniality are extended to the outside world and visitors are welcomed as friends.
Obviously this formula works for the Dedmans, and there’s no arguing with a track record that’s succeeded for the better part of nine decades. But is it possible complacency could set in? After all, even Man O’ War lost one race.
“I don’t know about complacency, but you certainly do have to change with the times,” said Dixon with a smirk as he opened the doors to the Beaumont Inn’s latest creation. Located just above The Old Owl Tavern is the brand new Owl’s Nest, which takes on more of a lounge-type atmosphere and is described by a proud Dixon as “intimate and cozy.” Asked if their new bar was an indication of a transformation, Dixon’s response was both pragmatic and nostalgic. “I’d say generation after generation has to tweak their image, not necessarily reinvent themselves.”
But if it’s a 164-year-old time portal you’re looking for, spend the night at The Beaumont Inn’s main building, where rooms give way to Victorian comfort, but with all the subtleties of modern existence not spoiling the overall ambiance. When Helen is asked what overriding factor goes into each room, her response is immediate. “We absolutely strive for rooms that our guests will remember long after they leave.” And indeed, individuality is the game plan, as all 31 rooms feature a very distinct feel, whether you choose the Main Inn, Greystone House, The Bell Cottage or Goddard Hall. “But perhaps the best feeling is when guests tell us how our rooms provided the best night’s sleep they ever had,” said Helen. “Compliments like that truly make being an innkeeper well worth it.”
Helen, however, is quick to acknowledge it’s more than just the last five generations that had an input in their business’s success. Like husband and son, she understands the significance of being a part of a business community, particularly among peers. “As an independent inn, we recognize the importance of networking with other inns and sharing input while discussing trends. Sure, we’re competitors,” admitted Helen, “but we’re also friends.” And friendship is alive and well at the Beaumont. After all, that’s what their customers become and what this family’s lifestyle produces.