The Kentucky Theater prepares to reopen amidst new multiplex atmosphere

The Kentucky Theater prepares to reopen amidst new multiplex atmosphere


After a two month hiatus, The Kentucky Theater is preparing to reopen on Monday, June 1 among a whole new landscape.

While The Kentucky Theater is a historic venue that can never be replicated, downtown Lexington has never had a multiplex option for movies—until now.

The forthcoming mega theater dubbed LexLive plans to make its long awaited debut this summer. Better known as an entertainment complex than a movie theater, LexLive will also feature a sports bar and bourbon bar, thirteen lanes of bowling, and an array of arcade, video and virtual reality games.

The Kentucky has been the heart of Lexington’s downtown revitalization for decades, but it has also been the only theater our downtown has ever known. All that will change when LexLive opens.

The Kentucky Theater’s reopening on Monday won’t be the first time the theater has had to close its doors temporarily. The theater opened in October of 1922, but a fire in 1987 caused a “temporary” shutdown that kept it dark until 1992.

Ace’s very first issue in May of 1989 featured an article titled, “Kentucky Theatre: Revival or Just Plain Survival,” that explains the theater’s revival was delayed “not because of a lack of interest on the part of its loyal followers, but rather because of the complex legal aspects of its ownership and operation.”

Movies We’ve Missed While the Kentucky’s Closed: Jean de Florette, Babette’s Feast, Salaam Bombay, Lair of the White Worm, House of Games, Sammy and Rosie Get Laid, etc

The reopening of the theater in April of 1992 brought improvements, but it wasn’t until 1999 when the theater changed from what Kakie Urch referred to as a “repertory art house cinema” to its current status as a “movie theater that focused on first-run movies not often seen at other theaters in the city.” 

Part of that transition was led by manager Fred Mills, who has been “the face, the backbone, and persona of The Kentucky” since he was first hired as movie usher in 1963.

The reopening of the theater in May of 2020 might not bring improvements, but it will bring staff wearing masks, marked seating in auditoriums, and potential competition down the street.

In 1989, one film fan claimed, “There are no alternative cinemas in the area offering that variety of great independent and foreign films. That’s what made The Kentucky so unique.”

The Kentucky is known for its ever-popular series like Summer Classics. It’s beloved by loyal fans for showing pictures from various studios’ libraries and archives, and its support of local filmmakers. 

Bethany Brooke Anderson said it best when she brought her film Burning Kentucky to the theater last summer, “To be able to watch my movie in The Kentucky Theatre is a dream come true, even more than the Oscars.”

As longtime supporters of The Kentucky Theater believe, “all through its long and varied history, The Kentucky has been a factor in forming the special ambiance of downtown Lexington. What its contribution will be in the future remains to be seen.”

Fred Mills by Forrest Payne

No matter what the future holds, or even the rest of this year, it’s certain that The Kentucky is irreplaceable, but it needs the community’s ongoing support.

Mills, who has been with The Kentucky through two temporary shutdowns, would agree. “I feel even in these trying times, ’the show must go on!’ for this community. I feel that together we can make this happen.”


To learn more about the safety measures and updates, follow The Kentucky Theater on Facebook & Instagram, and watch their website.


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