Lexington restaurants, bars that struggled through 2020 off to rough start after NYE evacuations

Owners say the disruption could not have come at a worse time.
Published: Jan. 1, 2021 at 6:19 PM EST
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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - A New Year’s Eve bomb scare in downtown Lexington turned out to be a false alarm, but there was still major fallout for some Lexington businesses.

Evacuations lasted a couple of hours Thursday on what had turned out to be a busy night for restaurants, bars and hotels, sending home early many customers patronizing local establishments.

For many businesses, the disruption could not have come at a worse time - finally a busy night after a tough year for their industry.

“The last night you know that this is going to get you to make rent, make payroll and pay some of those bills that you need to,” Debbie Long, owner of Dudley’s on Short, said of her original expectations for the night.

But the evacuations ruined that, emptying her restaurant. Workers came back afterward to food on the table, candles still burning and half-full glasses of wine.

“It was like the world had stopped,” Long said.

Now Dudley’s is hoping a do-over on Saturday - offering their full menu, plus their New Year’s Eve menu at a slightly reduced price - can help cut their losses from the abbreviated holiday dinner rush.

The evacuations came not long after a band had set up at Stagger Inn, preparing to play a set at the bar’s New Year’s party. On Friday afternoon, champagne flutes and party hats still waited for the guests who never got to use them - all signs of a night that ended abruptly.

“Just panic, immediately,” Kyle Fields, a musician, said of what was going through his mind when they were told to evacuate. “Then run out on the streets and hear the sirens and all the people. It was crazy. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Fields and the others had returned to pick up the gear they left behind in the rush to evacuate.

“Somebody asked if it was a joke,” musician Jason Hale described the scene. “And I heard somebody scream and say there was no joke. And everybody ran toward the parking garage.”

The general manager of Stagger Inn told WKYT’s Garrett Wymer that they plan to leave up their decorations and re-do New Year’s on Friday night.

“When they came to evacuate us last night it truly felt like the last wind was taken out of us,” GM MaKenzie Ball said in a message. “But today is a new day [and] a new year.”

Still, the night of lost business is hurting not just business owners but their staff - especially servers and bartenders who rely on tips. Ball says she has started accepting tips for their staff through Venmo (bigmakball) for anyone who wants to support them but cannot make it in.

The RV at the center of the scare turned out to be rented by a family from Ohio staying in one of the hotels downtown. It is unclear what exactly the police K9 ‘alerted to’ to prompt the evacuations, investigators said Friday.

Business owners and others told WKYT that they understand and appreciate police taking the scare seriously. They are just frustrated that 2020 had one more insult for industries already badly injured.

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