Home Cover Story Tourists and travelers love Lexington’s Airbnb Scene

Tourists and travelers love Lexington’s Airbnb Scene

woman in pink shirt smiling with greenery behind her
Photo by Megan McCardwell/ Ace

Air’bnb’ my neighbor

Make yourself at home with Lexington Superhosts


With Fall fast approaching, along with football and basketball season plus Keeneland, thousands of visitors are on their way to the Bluegrass. Many of those guests will be in search of unique accommodations that help capture Central Kentucky’s unique flavor and culture. From Kentucky cabins, horse farms, and stately Victorians to Airstream trailers and tiny houses, Lexington has a surplus of interesting Airbnbs.

Airbnb is the worldwide house- sharing service, designed to deliver a “live like a local” experience to travelers and tourists, whether that experience is crashing in the host’s spare bedroom or stretching out in a French chateau or Italian villa, via the Airbnb Luxe tier, launched in June. (Travel and Leisure reported this summer, that the “luxe listing must also include local experiences or activi- ties, such as helping harvest olives or grapes with local farmers in Tuscany, or being close to cultural meccas like some of the urban listings available in London, New York, or Los Angeles.”)

The city of Lexington defines short- term rentals, including Airbnbs, as a dwelling, unit or room that is rented, leased or assigned for less than thirty consecutive days and where no meals are served. It can be owner occupied or non-owner occupied.

If you’re thinking about offering your home, or a room in your home as an Airbnb — potential hosts are asked to obtain a business license, pay the transient room tax, receive a Certificate of Occupancy, and review their property deed for restrictive covenants.

Fran Taylor’s Airbnb in downtown Lexington

Lexington has no shortage of Airbnb Superhosts, and they all have stories to share.

Fran Taylor’s Urban Victorians

If there’s anyone who knows what it takes to be a good hostess, it’s Fran Taylor, who wrote the book on it. After 15 years as executive director of the Keeneland Foundation, she published the coffee table book, Keeneland Entertains, sharing bluegrass hospitality advice and menus. In 2015, she launched Lexington Silver, formed to produce new products inspired by the work of Kentucky silversmith Asa Blanchard (1787-1838).

Taylor and her husband, architect Tom Cheek, devote two one-bedroom apartments to Airbnb, among their many rental properties near their own home in Woodward Heights just down the street from Rupp Arena.

In 2014, Taylor was inspired to put one of her vacant apartments up on Airbnb, and by the end of the day she already had bookings.

woman in pink shirt smiling with greenery behind her
Photo by Megan McCardwell/ Ace

Not surprisingly, she says, “we roll out the red carpet for our guests.”

Her travelers are typically guests in town for Keeneland or the Horse Park, business people on conferences, or graduate students doing their residencies at UK. But the South African golfer, Dylan Fritelli, almost stayed during the Barbasol Championship (he ended up winning The John Deere Classic that day and flying out for the British Open rather than checking in to her Airbnb).

She points out, “as someone who travels, internationally and all the time, he likes staying in someone’s home versus a hotel. A lot of people want something more intimate, and that’s the whole Airbnb experience.”

A group of bridesmaids recently rented one of her spots to get ready for a wedding, which she admits resulted in great photographs of the place.

In her 20s and 30s, Taylor says all she wanted to do was travel. Now her favorite way to spend getaway time is at her horse farm in Sadieville, Kentucky with her horses and cats.

Taylor stresses that it’s a lot of hard work to maintain the status of Super-host. “You have to go the extra mile, it has to be eat-off-the-floor clean.” She admits ironing pillowcases makes a huge difference, and she’s become such a pro at correctly making a bed that even an innkeeper who stayed at her Airbnb confessed it was one well-made bed.

Attractions she recommends to guests include the Visitor Center inside the old courthouse, a trip to Keeneland to watch the early morning workout, The Secretariat Center at the Kentucky Horse Park to see where they retrain thoroughbreds, the old and new Capitol building in Frankfort, and the Legacy Trail.

She believes Airbnbs can coexist in residential neighborhoods, but it’s how the neighbors market their Airbnb properties that determine whether it’s a good experience for the neighborhood or not. She adds that, “most people who have Airbnbs are people you’d want to have as a neighbor.”

Take a glimpse at Superhost Fran Taylor’s Urban Victorian.

George Gatewood’s Lexington Cabin

George Gatewood is the owner of Longwood Antique Woods, a wildly popular architectural salvage that began offering ‘green’ wood in 1991. He’s been in the business of reclaiming and recycling old wood (from area barns, fences, etc.) for 23 years, and claims he was country before country was cool.

man and woman dressed up
George Gatewood and Haley Harris

His Airbnb is right next door to his own home in Kenwick, a spot he calls the “Lexington Cabin,” which he describes as a museum full of old reconstructed wood from famous Kentucky horse farms and structures — filled with books, artwork, and collections from Kentucky’s bourbon and horse history. As a rental, it is offered as an entire house with two bedrooms, three beds and one bath.

His typical guests are visitors in town for equestrian and evening events at the Horse Park and those doing the Bourbon Trail.

As an Airbnb traveler himself, his favorite spot is 15 minutes outside of Nashville. It’s a reconstructed, old log cabin bunkhouse full of cowboy, Indian and Elvis embellishments.

The worst (and priciest) Airbnb he’s stayed at was in the Hamptons for ten days. He describes it as an “awesome old 80s house right on the water,” but “the owner was weird.” He kept showing up at the rental to use the Wi-Fi, and he left his toothbrush and razor on the sink. Another time in South Carolina, Gatewood arrived at his Airbnb to find someone asleep on the porch.

Asked how he maintains his Super- host status, it comes down to cleanliness and communication. “Some guests want to be private, and some want to learn more. As someone who loves to meet people, I enjoy talking to them and giving them recommendations on what to do and where to go.”

Some of the attractions he recommends to his guests include the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Ashland at the Henry Clay Estate, our Distillery District, and Goodfella’s Pizza (he provides the signature wood for their interiors).

cabin with green grass

Among his favorite Lexington “classics” are Dudley’s, the Kentucky Horse Park, The Burl for live music and The Burl Arcade, and a visit to Red River Gorge for guests who have the time.

He believes Airbnbs and hotels can coexist peacefully, adding that “some people visit a vacation destination city, but want to have that homey experience. Hotels don’t give you that private back porch.”

His thoughts on Airbnbs coexisting in residential neighborhoods varies
on a case by case basis. Gatewood lives right next door to his Airbnb. In his case, he is his own neighbor and knew an Airbnb was coming. “I tell my guests it is part of the rules to treat it like their home and respect the neighbors. It’s up to people to behave.”

He hasn’t had to accommodate any especially crazy requests, other than making a Kroger run for one woman who would not use the half and half creamer unless it was dairy-free.

Josh Nadzam’s downtown b and b

Josh Nadzam’s typical guests are travelers in town for conferences at UK, or those making a pit stop in Lexington on a road trip. Deviating from the norm a little, one recent guest asked if she could bring along her four cats and pet stroller because she was entering her cats into a cat competition.

man in a light sweater holding a trophy
Lexington Superhost Josh Nadzam

Nadzam is the co-founder of On the Move Art Studio, a nonprofit that brings free art classes to low income neighborhoods via a renovated RV trailer. He teaches in the College of Social Work at UK, where he ran track as a student.

His Airbnb is a cozy private bedroom and bathroom in his down- town Lexington home.

Nadzam was inspired to become an Airbnb host because he believes opening your home to someone is the most welcoming thing you can do, especially if that person is a stranger. “For me, Airbnb is my whole expression of I don’t know who you are or where you’re from, but I don’t care. You’re a fellow human, and you’re welcome in my home. That’s what motivates me to do it; that’s what I love about it.”

His Superhost status may owe a lot to this philosophy of hospitality, “they know that while they’re in my home, it’s their home too.”

He also appreciates the boost for the local economy. He says, “It’s given capital to people who didn’t have it before. Now suddenly, if you have an extra guest bedroom, you can make money from it. A lot of hotels are off of highways or interstates, and not even connected to the community. Airbnb allows travelers to stay in the heart of areas.”

As a host, Nadzam’s recommendations start with A Cup of Commonwealth, “their coffee, as well as who they are as people, is a true taste of Lexington, who we are and what we’re about.” He follows up with Kentucky Native Cafe, Goodfella’s Pizza, the Arboretum, and Keeneland if it’s during the fall or spring.

On his to-do list of Lexington “classics,” Nadzam makes sure all of his guests know about Crank and Boom ice cream. He also recommends tours of the UK campus and Kentucky distilleries, Woodland Park, and the Distillery District.

Of course there’s room for both hotels and short term rentals in the tourism landscape. He says, “No matter how comfortable Airbnbs get, there’s a certain segment of society that’ll never be comfortable going into someone’s home. There’s always going to be a need for hotels, but Airbnb is fantastic.”

As an onsite host sharing his own home, not surprisingly, he hasn’t experienced neighbor complaints. But he can understand issues arising when people start buying up houses only to turn them into Airbnbs. “If people start taking away from the family aspect of neighborhoods and there’s an influx of strangers nonstop, I can see why there would be frustration.”

Mark Williams’ Old Kentucky Home

Mark Williams is the owner of the Airbnb, “My Old Kentucky Home, Downtown Lexington’s Premier Kentucky Themed Experience.” From complimentary cock- tails and local chocolates to plush bathrobes, Williams prides himself on offering a luxury experience at his unique Kentucky themed cottage, available as an entire guesthouse for two guests with one bedroom, one bed, and one bath.

bourbon barrel that says welcome to my old kentuc ky home

Williams moved to Lexington in 2004 and has been renovating historic properties here off and on for the past 15 years. He works closely with the Lexington Historical Society and strives to preserve older homes, inspire community development, and create new residential and business growth.

Williams has traveled around the world for work and at times spent up to 90 nights a year in hotels.

“After all my extensive hotel stays,” he says, “I know exactly what I want
in a great stay and I want my guests to also have that same great experience, from the varying types of pillows (soft to hard) offered on the bed, to the complimentary and convenience items (such as chocolates, Bourbon, and nail clippers for example).”

He admires the personal touches and interactions provided by small and boutique hotels, and is similarly inspired. “As opposed to the impersonal big chain stays, I enjoy providing a personalized service and experience for others to enjoy our beautiful city.”

Asked how he maintains his status as a Superhost, he says, “that’s a trade secret, but it has to do with service and quality, the two things all people want.”

Local hubs he recommends include Manchester Street, West Sixth Brewery, the Henry Clay Estate, the Arboretum, and of course, exploring downtown shops and restaurants.

back porch patio

His Airbnb is located in the heart of downtown, and is within walking distance of his Lexington classic recommendations: Rupp Arena, the Opera House, Town Branch Distillery, Country Boy Brewing. He adds, “of course you can’t forget to drive to Keeneland while it’s racing season and also hit a few distilleries.”

Williams absolutely believes Airbnbs and traditional hotels can co-exist. “They are two completely different experiences,” he says. “I find that people who want the personal experience tend to lean towards Airbnb,” while “big hotels have their own positive benefits.”

Williams’ Airbnb is located near his house, and he’s never experienced any negative feedback from neighbors. He admits that most of the time, his guests are so quiet that he never knows when they leave or arrive. He thinks Airbnbs can coexist in residential neighbor- hoods, but it’s up to the host to notify guests that they need to be respectful and obey any rules to make sure the neighbors are not adversely impacted.

Airbnb connects people with places to stay and things to do around the world. Hosts are not only authors, non- profit founders, and craftsmen, but they’re other in-the-know locals ready to give their guests a glimpse into the life of a local in the Bluegrass through the activities and places hosts are most passionate about.

From ice cream to bourbon and hoops and horses and everything in between, the Lexington Airbnb community makes travelers feel at home.


This article also appears on page 9, 10, and 11 of the August 2019 print edition of Ace Weekly.

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