Kentucky Native Café is an urban oasis

By Joshua Huff

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The door opened and I entered what I thought was going to be the Kentucky Native Café. I had heard good things about the place and decided to try it out.

I walked into what turned out to be the entrance to the 113-year-old Michler’s Florist and Greenhouses. A simple mistake, as it turned out the café was in the back. I took a side door and meandered my way through two greenhouses full of flowers and plants until I reached the back of the building.

I wasn’t expecting what opened up before me.

The best way to describe it came from the fifth-generation owner himself.

“We wanted it to be a neighborhood oasis,” owner Robin Michler said. “A spot for people to enjoy the outdoors in the city.”

An oasis it was.

Sandwiched between East Maxwell Street and East High Street, the greenhouses opened up to a grove of trees that provided solace amid the bustle of rush-hour traffic near downtown Lexington.

Paths sprinkled throughout the shade of trees and bushes offered a relaxing jaunt through what could be best described as a beer garden. Despite the café in the title, the open-aired bar flush behind the greenhouses and main store offers local craft beers and a selection of food ranging from Bavarian Pretzels to salads and desserts.

“The dish that we do really well, that we make from scratch everyday are pretzels,” Michler said. “And German style beer cheese. It’s great because it’s a dish that you can share. You can just grab, bring it to a table and share it all around.”

As an oasis in nature provides relief from the harshness of the surroundings, the café offers relief and a moment of respite from the bustle of life. There are tables throughout the paths and around the garden. Some are scooted into back corners for privacy and some are in what could be best described as the courtyard under the frame of an aged greenhouse.

“It’s great to see that we can be kind of a neighborhood gathering spot,” Michler said. “You don’t realize where you are when you’re back here.”

He was right. For a moment, on a hot Thursday afternoon during rush hour, I closed my eyes and heard the chirping of the birds, the rustle of the trees in the wind and the soft chatter and laughter from fellow guests. And for a period, I was whisked away from the stresses of life and was transported to a state of relaxation. The beer helped expedite the process, of course.

That was exactly what the architect’s, UK Architecture professors David Mohney, David Biagi and Bruce Swetnam, envisioned when they helped design the place.

“The material selection and the actual form and placement were all about the history of the place and the fact that it’s a florist,” Swetnam said.

Michler also played a large part in the design. He was inspired by his world travels.

“I spent many an afternoon in beer gardens in Germany,” Michler said. “And I thought, ‘people love coming to Michler’s and they love the space, why don’t we make a space where people can come, relax, socialize and spend their lazy weekend, come meet their family and friends and have a pleasant outdoor evening during the week.’”

The culture shift in Lexington has allowed for entrepreneurs to experiment in ways that seemed to only catch on in cities like New York or San Francisco.

“People are really getting out more,” Michler said. “People are looking for spaces to socialize. The social life in Lexington is becoming a social scene. I think we’re seeing a lot of takes on that. There are a lot of different ideas and a lot of them are well thought out. I think Lexington is going in a lot of neat directions. People just want to go out more and spend time in beautiful spots.”

Kentucky Native Café is a beautiful place, one that should be visited more than once. Grab a beer, snag a pretzel, pick a spot and soak in the aesthetics of this truly unique experience.

Just remember to park in the back.