Home Literary 30 years of Ace: Lexington’s oldest independent publication

30 years of Ace: Lexington’s oldest independent publication

Ace Cover by ArtSnake, 1989


‘Faster Horses, Younger Women, Older Whiskey, and More Money’


The year was 1989.

Metaphorical tumbleweeds drifted down Lexington’s Main Street, past a forlorn Kentucky Theatre, shuttered by fire.

If you mentioned you were going to Hamburg, it meant that Preston and Anita Madden had invited you out to their farm. (The first shops at Hamburg Pavilion were still nearly a decade away.)

The Harrodsburg Road corridor ended at Turfland Mall, and Richmond Road was still home to a thriving Lexington Mall (built in 1975).

The big blue skyscraper which has dominated Lexington’s skyline since the 80s was just a baby, having been completed in 1987.

Scotty Baesler (who’d played basketball under Adolph Rupp) was Lexington’s mayor.

Ace cover by ArtSnake 1989

Man o’ War Boulevard was under construction. If you wanted to proceed past Lexington’s inner circle … well, you would’ve had to park your car at a New Circle interchange, saddle up the complimentary horse that was once customarily issued to all Lexingtonians upon arrival here, and ride into the great wide open.

On January 20, 1989 George H.W. Bush was inaugurated as the 41st president of the United States.

RainMan swept the Golden Globes.

The Dow was still recovering from October 1987’s Black Monday.

The first tagline on the first 1989 issues of Jennie Leavell’s Ace, read “a tribute to contemporary and traditional expressions of the bluegrass.”


It’s fair to say that Ace — and many independent publications like it (from the Nashville Scene to the Chicago Reader) — would not exist had it not been for Steve Jobs and the January 24, 1984 debut of the Apple Macintosh. That was quickly followed in 1985 by PageMaker for Mac, officially ushering in the primitive era of “desktop publishing” for independent media producers everywhere.

From a vintage Maker’s Mark ad campaign

Ace is Lexington’s oldest independent publication, but dozens and dozens of small papers and even smaller ‘zines were launched in the ensuing years (Caffeine, Free, CityPaper, Nougat, SubTones, to name a few).

Thirty years ago at Ace— when the very first issue was headed to press — a newsroom was a different organism than it is today. Anyone who worked in publishing in the 80s is inevitably still haunted by the smell of SprayMount and wax and the squeak of the roller during actual paste-up. The oily phantom feel of blue grease pencils never really goes away.


There were no cell phones.

The nonexistent smart phone left newsrooms without access to a smart phone camera, so photographers were dispatched into the field. They returned to their darkrooms and came out with negatives and proofs. All were viewed with a loop and a lightboard. And a local shop half-toned the selected images to get them onto the (black and white) pages, which were later “digitized” on microfilm and microfiche.

Early contributing Ace photographers included Louis Bickett, Melissa Lebus Watt, Peggy Blythe Morris, Guy Mendes, Kopana Terry, and Aimee Tomasek, to name a few.

“Hot Shots” was an early precursor to “Out and About,” where readers and local photographers shared their favorite uniquely Lexington pics with the Ace readers.

Louis Zoellar Bickett “Saving Myself” exhibit at UK Art Museum.
Photo by: Kristina Rosen

The late Louis Bickett said in a winter 1989 feature when he was interviewed about his show at Cafe Max, “Why did I return to painting? I like the physical aspect and it’s easier. I’m claustrophobic and if you create as much sculpture as I do, you had better have a place to put it.” He described a painting as “covered with wax and dirt and it refers to the incident in Tiananmen Square on June 6.” Of a recent mudding performance piece, he said in his interview, “I was a little disappointed in the reaction or lack of reaction from the audience. I really began applying the mud in a very gestural way and found myself wanting to throw mud on the audience.”

In an Ace tenth anniversary issue in January 1999, Chris Webb reviewed a tribute album to Kentucky native, Tom T. Hall, The Tom T. Hall Project, writing that it was an ode to the reminder, “that the finer things in life include ‘faster horses, younger women, older whiskey, and more money.’

Hall’s words represented a dream central Kentucky had long aspired to, and still does.


Throughout 2019’s 30th anniversary programming, Ace will be sharing photos, art, and archives from the past 30 years, and will host a 30th anniversary Best of Lexington celebration. Follow Ace on facebook, twitter, and instagram for more info. Readers are invited to share their favorite Lexington memories and archives along the way from the past three decades. Below is Whitney Pannell’s reminiscence of Lexington Mall, a topic regularly covered in Ace for more than two decades.


Long Live Lexington Mall


Any Lexingtonian growing up in the 70s most likely has great memories of Lexington Mall.

Whitney picks up 2011 Ace Best of Lex Readers’ Poll title

Growing up in Chevy Chase this was my go-to place for nearly everything.

My friends and I have so many great memories from there. I learned to ice skate on the lake right in front of the mall. I remember the big winter storm of ’76 when schools were closed for a month! A big meeting place at the mall was the ever popular movie theatre. It was there where I first saw “Escape to Witch Mountain.”

Upon entering, you could immediately smell the aroma of roasting popcorn from The Karmelkorn. As I recall, the Musicland record store was right around the corner from the popcorn.

I bought my first Donny and Marie album at that record store.

Every Friday at the Hallmark Store, they released a new batch of Smurfs. Collecting was a favorite pastime of mine. My friends and I had whole villages of these blue little people. I spent countless hours hunting down deals at the Fashion Shop and picking out “the” perfect pink satin jacket at Dawahares.

Each year my mother and I would stay up late into the night to be among the first shoppers at McAlpin’s Moonlight madness; those sales were wild. CSC was the anchor store for years. It was later replaced by County Market. This grocery was way ahead of its time! In my eyes, it was heaven. There were aisles of bulk foods. My friends and I called it ” raiding the bins.” My favorite bulk item was the white chocolate covered pretzels.

Lexington Mall carapace
Photo by Michael Geneve

Between 1996-2000, tenants started leaving the mall in droves.

Fayette Mall was growing and the shops at Hamburg were well underway and cutting into the mall’s traffic. I won’t get into all the long drawn out story of the demise of the mall.

I would rather leave you with just good memories.

This article also appears on page 5 of the January 2019 print edition of Ace.

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