DAY TRIP: Paducah

In March of 2000, the city of Paducah, Kentucky made a bold and unique move: finding themselves with a once-prosperous neighborhood now experiencing high levels of crime and significant blight, the city — at the urging of artist Mark Barone and others — renamed the neighborhood as the Lower Town Arts District and started the Paducah Artist Relocation Program (ARP). The ARP, which emerged from a city- and artist-led brainstorming session, offers home ownership opportunities for visual artists who can apply to purchase blighted properties for as little as $1 along with long-term fixed-rate loans for renovation. Many of the properties have been fixed up, and storefronts in the neighborhood host galleries showcasing a variety of media.

Advertisements for the Artist Relocation Program, which were sent to artists nationwide.

Financially, the program has been a win for the city — artists/residents have invested over $30 million into the neighborhood, and the financial impact on the rest of the city is greater. But in a larger sense, what this program accomplished was turning this river town into a name synonymous with arts and culture — the town other towns name drop with aspiration. The Arts District has emerged as a model neighborhood, and it’s also the perfect place to start your 24 hours in Paducah.

LUNCH: KITCHENS CAFE

Start your time in Paducah with lunch at Kitchens Cafe, the student-run cafe located on the campus of the Paducah School of Art and Design. Led by chef Jessi Donaldson, this lunch-only spot boasts a rotating menu of salads and sandwiches in an industrial space that definitely feels like it is part of a school of design. The pulled pork sliders are a must.

Kitchens Cafe patio (photo: Kitchens Cafe Facebook page)

AFTERNOON: NATIONAL QUILT MUSEUM

National Quilt Museum (photo: National Quilt Museum website)

Recognized as one of the best quilt displays in the world, the National Quilt Museum is a $2.2 million facility which sees 110,000 people per year. It also contributed to Paducah’s involvment in the UNESCO Creative Cities Network, which promotes cooperation among cities which recognize creativity as a major factor in urban development — for Paducah, that creativity being crafts and folk arts. Open 10am-5pm Monday — Saturday, 1pm — 5pm Sundays March — November.

LOWERTOWN ARTS DISTRICT

Included in the city’s work around the arts district was signage and lighting such as what is shown above
Left: a house for sale in the Lowertown Arts District. Right: A former Texaco station now serving as the info center for Lowertown (photo: Paducah Main Street)

While many galleries are only open for events or by appointment, even if you don’t step foot in a single gallery it is worth wandering around the Lowertown Arts District for the architecture and historic preservation alone. Make sure to stop by Artist in Residence (A.I.R.) Studio Paducah, PAPA Gallery, Working Artists Studio, and my favorite, Raven & Moth, where you can find anything from soaps to clothes to great gifts, all locally made.

Raven and Moth knows how to do wallpaper

DOWNTOWN PADUCAH

Afterwards, park your car in downtown Paducah and explore the art galleries, antique shops, and boutiques which dot this historic downtown. Stop by Bricolage Art Collective, “a space for artists to consign work which offers a location for patrons to acquire a variety of unique items,” and meet the awesome owner Landee Bryant (more about her later). Next door, go to the Art Guild of Paducah.

On Broadway, antique lovers will have their hands full. Personal favorite: Paducah Antique Mall. While you’re on Broadway, be sure to take a breather at Silent Brigade Distillery, where you can do bourbon tastings until you decide that it is, in fact, a great idea to buy that vintage University of Kentucky bomber jacket at Paducah Antique Mall.

Finally, stop by The Silver Bullet for some pool before dinner.

Downtown Paducah

DINNER: FREIGHT HOUSE

Freight House, a farm to table restaurant in a converted vegetable warehouse, is worth the trip to Paducah alone. The rotating menu is based on what’s available locally, including fish, burgers, bourbon pecan pie, and a cocktail list to pair. Chef Sara Bradley is currently competing on this season of Top Chef, and she and her team have put Freight House on the map. Read more about Sara here: https://styleblueprint.com/everyday/sara-bradley-freight-house/

Freight House (photo: Freight House website)

EVENING: MAIDEN ALLEY CINEMA

The same Landee Bryant of Bricolage also runs the Maiden Alley Cinema in Paducah, a one-screen independent movie theater nestled in an alley next to the Fox Briar Inn. As a 501(c)3 nonprofit, the cinema hosts new independent films, live music, children’s programs, a vintage movie series, and occasional pop-ups of movies often hard to find in theaters. Maiden Alley is a true gem, driven by the ethos they share on their website: “The artistic ability and heart and soul it takes to create a film without support from the mainstream film industry is proof positive that there is more behind what we show than an interest in money and “cool action scenes”. Be it foreign or domestic, we strive to offer the best in filmmaking, and the best in films.”

Maiden Alley Cinema

MARKET HOUSE THEATER

Alternatively, catch a play at Market House Theater, a 501(c)3 community theater in Paducah, voted one of the top 25 community theaters in the country. From classic plays to modern plays — even a recent play written by executive director Michael Cochran — the Theater sets the bar high for community theaters. They’re currently in the middle of a campaign to expand with new classroom space, costume shop, and additional facilities, right in the heart of Paducah.

Market House Theater currently — L: Theater building, R: Administration
One of the spaces proposed for the Market House Theater expansion. Right: the interior of the old Fair Stores building, which will be a new black box theater

BEFORE BED: One more at Silver Bullet.

Silver Bullet — the best pool table in town

LODGING: DOWNTOWN ARCHITECTURAL GEMS

The 1857 Hotel is a 10-room hotel housed in an 1857 building in downtown Paducah, walking distance to basically everything on this list. Alternatively, the Fox Briar Inn is a historic inn with a exposed brick, wooden floors, and lots of creaky charm.

DAY 2

Start your day with a walk to the floodwall on the banks of the Ohio River. The wall, built in 1937, contains over 50 murals by acclaimed artist Robert Dafford, and they chronicle the history of Paducah.

Floodwall murals

BREAKFAST

Stop by Kirchoff’s Bakery & Deli, which opened in 1873 and is currently run by the fifth generation of the same Kirchoff family.

Or, if you’re in for something heartier, fill your plate at Gold Rush Cafe, where the Calamity Jane (biscuit with fried chicken tenders, 2 over-medium eggs & cheese, gravy, and potatoes of your choosing) will be the only food you need for the day for your trip home.

GETTING THERE: Paducah claims to be a few hours from everywhere, and they’re not wrong: 140 miles from Nashville, 170 from St. Louis, 180 from Memphis, 220 from Louisville. Most easily accessed on I-24, and while you’re there cross the river to Metropolis and check out the home of Superman.

A major shoutout to Paducah for being an exceptional small-town city, and for the artists, city administrators, and other visionaries who planted the seeds for a river town renaissance.