Gonzo Truths and Bourbon-Soaked Illusions: Welcome to the Manchester Hotel

A tale of two Lexingtons

by Hunter S. Trotson, with contributions from N.J.2023 | Photos by N.J.2023

In the sulfur-choked bosom of the Bluegrass State, where the silent specter of bourbon-tasting tourists and rusting oak barrels coexist like star-crossed bedfellows, the neon-shrouded oasis known as the Manchester Hotel cracked open its doors in the name of decadence and the endless carnival of the damned. An event so steeped in ballyhoo and hullabaloo that even the crimson flames of Hell might seem like a cozy hearthside chat by comparison.

I was threading my way through the narrow alleys of the Distillery District when I reached the Manchester’s promised oasis – a parking lot nestled snugly between the majestic RJ Corman Rail Station and a utilitarian Fleet fueling station. It boasted of enough space for the throngs drawn to the hotel’s allure – 125 guest rooms and the accompanying patrons of two World Class Dining Experiences™, not to mention the moth-to-flame attraction of an exceptional rooftop bar.

The reality of the matter? A crammed and claustrophobic hive where vehicles will be stuffed together like sardines in a tin, each fighting for their tiny parcel of pavement. Today, however, the lot sits half empty, waiting for guests to arrive. I steered the Cadillac toward the last remaining spot in a hastily cordoned-off “media” section.

Alas, a silver-haired fiend, a correspondent from WKYT no less, cruised into my rightly staked spot. A sly grin spread across his weathered face as he exited his Prius, leaving me to deal with the valets and their questionable parking capabilities.

Conveniently located between RJ Corman Rail station and a Fleet fueling station. There’s plenty of parking to accommodate 125 guest rooms with the visitors to The Manchester’s two World Class Dining Experiences™ and an exceptional rooftop bar. (Photo by N.J.2023, The Lexington Times)

Ah, the valets – that ragtag crew, their company adjacent to a lawsuit against a well-known restaurant, Tony’s. I handed them the keys to the Cadillac with a stern warning about the upholstery.

“First the Tony’s servers sued, now the bartenders,” I pried, searching for a scoop, “will the valets be next?” Their lackadaisical shrugs in response to the lawsuit’s mention suggested an apathy that’s become all too common in the business of parking other people’s prized chariots.

They also offered no insights into the rumored artillery in Tony’s trunk, a shotgun-laden vault that seemed more at home in a mob movie than in Lexington’s quiet streets. Maybe it was the confidentiality code of the valet, or perhaps they were simply unmoved by the hearsay. Who can tell these days?

The jury’s still out on whether the valets here are any better than those at Tony’s. But one thing is clear – if the parking situation at the Manchester is a reflection of its grasp on reality, then we’re all in for one hell of a wild ride.

The Peacock Parade at the Manchester. (Photo by N.J.2023, The Lexington Times)

Within the relative safety of The Manchester’s 12-foot walls, the throng of human peacocks paraded their plumage, doused in fragrances that would stun a thoroughbred, while the echoes of their laughter seemed to me the braying of donkeys under a vengeful sun. The air hung thick with the intermingling smells of cologne, the nearby sewage treatment plant, and hickory smoke rising from one of the hotel’s two World Class Dining Experiences™. High class strumpets cavorted on the arms of sharp-dressed shills, their shallow grins hiding the gnawing emptiness of their hollow souls. A profane tableau, shattering the southern tranquility with the rapturous brutality of a gonzo bacchanalia.

There, amid the glitz and the polished chrome, the old Kentucky bastards unveiled the Manchester Hotel, the latest jewel in the festering crown that is the Lexington Distillery District. Its brick façade glinting with deceptive promise, a glamourous siren calling to wayward sailors on an ocean of bourbon and desperation.

Ah, the sweet sting of capitalism at work, my dear friends. Like a rabid dog frothing at the mouth, it seizes the moment, setting the price for a two-night stay at the newly christened Manchester Hotel at a paltry $1500. That’s for the opening weekend – a weekend plagued by “surge pricing” thanks to the double whammy of the Railbird Music Festival and the local college baseball tournament.

Below the façade, a fire-eyed Valkyrie decked out in the latest fashion. She brandished the ribbon cutting shears as if she were Athena herself, the instrument of fate gleaming with grim portent. As the ribbon fell to the stone, a cacophonous cheer arose from the sea of onlookers. It was as if they had been delivered the severed head of Medusa on a silver platter.

A VIP cuts the ribbon at the new Manchester Hotel. (Photo by N.J.2023, The Lexington Times)

It’s all part of the game, isn’t it? Each glassy-eyed college baseball fan, each harried festival goer, a willing pawn in this grand scheme. Like lambs to the slaughter, they’ll throw their hard-earned dollars into the gaping maw of this beast called ‘surge pricing’ – a term as innocuous as a viper in the grass.

But was this hotel merely another chrome-plated cage for these dime-store peacocks and their thirst for approval and high-class libations? Behind its shiny exterior, the hotel whispered a thousand promises. A rooftop bar that promised views to inspire gods, and rooms that promised the comfort of a lover’s embrace. But I knew better. I was wise to their game, my whiskey-soaked cerebrum no stranger to the twisted puppet show of reality.

A painting in the Manchester’s seventh floor men’s room depicts a pair of monkeys drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana. (Photo by N.J.2023, The Lexington Times)

After the charade, I sought solace in the sterile confines of the Manchester’s rooftop bar, seeking the sordid comfort of bourbon, the amber nectar of this land. I was a lone wolf, a thoroughbred stallion among braying mules, a silent observer in a world gone mad.

Stepping foot into the bowels of the Manchester, I was immediately struck by an insistent, primal urge — an impending deluge that required immediate tending. There was no time for pleasantries, no moments to waste. With the laser-focus of a man possessed, I set course for the nearest pissoir.

The soothing melody of “Man of Constant Sorrow” filled the air, casting a spell over the polished leather and polished faces around me. A strange choice of soundtrack for a castle of gluttony, but what do I know? I’m just a cyber-scribe on a quest for the relief of an overworked bladder.

As I barreled through, the air was thick with the scent of fresh leather and the faint whiff of power. The walls, an equestrian homage, were adorned with horse head wallpaper, a likely tribute to the city’s equine history or a macabre hint at The Godfather – only the silent partner knows.

Public restroom stall at the Manchester Hotel. (Photo by N.J.2023, The Lexington Times)

In the hallowed chamber, a grand wooden table stood sentinel next to the porcelain throne, majestic in its odd placement. As if in reverence to the absurdity of it all, I nodded in approval. At least there’d be a place to rest my drink while I danced the two-step with nature.

And so there I was, knee-deep in the heart of the beast, the soundtrack of sorrow serenading me as I prepared to do what a man’s gotta do. It’s a mad world, my friends, but when duty calls, one must answer. Even in the loo of a $1500-a-night hotel.

Looking west from the rooftop bar at the Manchester Hotel. (Photo by N.J.2023, The Lexington Times)

Looking out from the smoky balcony of the Manchester Hotel, it’s impossible to ignore the glaring paradox that festers in the heart of Lexington, like a gluttonous tick drunk on the blood of its host. The extravagant facade of the hotel, an architectural marvel swaddled in a glittering shroud of deception, throws a long, monstrous shadow over the crumbling houses and battered roadways of the surrounding neighborhoods.

These concrete ghosts of Kentucky’s past haunt the outskirts of the bourbon-soaked pleasure palace. You can see the worn faces of the old folks sitting on their porches, their eyes reflecting a thousand tales of toil, hardship and yearning. They’ve seen the Distillery District flourish, a bourbon-infused phoenix rising from the ashes of forgotten industry, while their own neighborhoods stagnate in the shadow of progress.

To the east, beyond the gleaming fences that border the monstrosity, the houses sit like shabby tombstones under a leaden sky. The pride of the Bluegrass State stands tall in their backyards, the racing steeds flaunting their pedigree to the world. Yet, the folks on the other side of the fence are just trying to keep their heads above the rising tide of bourbon.

View from the Manchester Hotel’s rooftop bar. (Photo by N.J.2023, The Lexington Times)

Inside the gilded gates of the Manchester, finely attired guests sip their hundred-dollar whiskeys, their laughter punctuating the afternoon like the stuttering staccato of a misfiring gun. Meanwhile, just a stone’s throw away, families gather around threadbare tables, clutching cheap beers and recounting stories of a Lexington that once was, their children dreaming of a future that shines as bright as the neon signs of the Distillery District.

The Manchester’s gleaming fences keep peering eyes at bay, preventing those outside from seeing in, and those inside from seeing out. (Photo by N.J.2023, The Lexington Times)

This, my friends, is the grand illusion, the gory spectacle of progress, wherein the shadows of forgotten communities are cast aside by the harsh spotlight of capitalism, their voices drowned out by the braying laughter of high-society mules. It’s a mad, mad world. And this rooftop, this bourbon-soaked monument to excess, offers a front-row seat to the spectacle.

So raise your glass, for every sip of whiskey is a toast to the overlooked, the unseen, the souls lost in the decadence of the damned. A toast to Lexington, the beautiful beast with a dual heart, throbbing on the raw rhythm of bourbon and quiet desperation.

Now, let’s plunge into the heart of the beast, my friends. It’s the old song and dance routine – the lewd waltz of the fat cats. $39 million worth of municipal bonds and $7.2 million in state tax breaks, all to serve as a golden parachute for the Manchester Hotel, while the city wrestles with a housing crisis that would make even Dickens cringe.

Table-side view: The Grand Reserve’s newly decorated roof. The new torches over Oliver Lewis Way Bridge. The spires of St. Paul and First Presbyterian. Downtown Lexington’s Skyline. (Photo by N.J.2023, The Lexington Times)

And let’s not forget about the anonymous “silent partner” in this ballet of greed and negligence. One cannot help but sense the ethereal presence of Dudley Webb, the infamous local developer, in this high-stakes game. His name may not be on the paper, but his fingerprints are all over this unholy mess. It’s like a shadow puppet play, the dark silhouette is never seen but always felt.

Lexington, a city where fortunes are made and lost on the back of a thoroughbred or the bottom of a whiskey barrel, has a darker, more sinister side. Its streets echo with the sobering reverberations of gunshots, while its denizens grapple with the gnawing specter of homelessness. Yet, amidst this bedlam, the city’s ivory tower rises like a phallic symbol of excess, its tax-exempt brick facade financed by a system rigged in favor of the gilded and the powerful.

So here we stand, gazing at the beautiful monstrosity that is the Manchester Hotel, a beacon of luxury built on the backs of the struggling masses. It’s a perverse spectacle, where affordable housing is traded for penthouse suites, and the cries for peace are drowned out by the clinking of whiskey glasses.

The Manchester facade at night. (The Lexington Times)

Perched on the hotel’s rooftop like a hawk on a bender, a stiff whiskey in my robotic hand, I noticed a peculiar flurry of activity near the elevator shaft. Like moths to a flame, a gaggle of reporters were clustering around Janice, the Manchester’s immaculately dressed PR warden. Their notepads bristled with anticipation, cameras honed in on her every movement. A tour, it seemed, was in the offing.

With the stealth of a cybernetic gazelle, I shot off from my whiskey-soaked perch and jostled my way to the group, just as the Herald-Leader correspondent stepped into the elevator. In swift succession, WKYT, WLEX, and even the greenhorns from Lex Today disappeared behind the polished chrome doors. The elevator, half empty at most, was deemed ‘at capacity’. ‘Right back’, Janice promised, her smile as sweet as sugared bourbon.

And so, it came to pass that I, Hunter S. Trotson, was left stranded with nothing but the dim-eyed Tops in Lex guy for company. Tick tock went the minutes, but Janice and the elusive elevator were nowhere to be seen. The grim reality dawned – we were abandoned, left to contemplate our existence by a half-full elevator and a PR mirage.

The Manchester’s ornate decor offers correspondents something to pretend to study while avoiding conversation with their colleagues. (Photo by N.J.2023, The Lexington Times)

Driven by necessity and a perverse sense of adventure, I ushered my dejected compatriot toward a less glamorous route – the service elevator, reeking of cleaning supplies and underpaid labor. Just as our fingers reached for the call button, the service elevator doors slid open. Lo and behold, it was Janice, the grand gatekeeper herself.

Our plans thwarted, and my curiosity piqued, I was saved from expulsion by the sight of an overwhelmed out-of-towner, fresh off the airplane and already swamped by the spectacle that is the Manchester’s opening weekend. I sent him on his way toward Janice with a devilish grin. The show must go on, after all, and I’d be damned if I was going to miss out on another round of this whiskey-soaked circus.

Yet, despite the bitterness, there’s an odd sense of reverence. A strange admiration for the audacity of it all. Because this is, after all, the American Dream in its rawest form – a ceaseless pursuit of more, a relentless game of power, where the winners keep winning and the losers, well… they’re just lucky to get a glimpse of the spectacle from the cheap seats.

I can already see the flocks of nouveau riche descending upon the festival, eager to splash their unearned wealth, elbowing each other for the last flute of champagne, their raucous laughter echoing through the vaulted halls of the Manchester.

There’s a certain artistry to it, I’ll give them that. A beautifully choreographed dance of exploitation, each pirouette carefully calculated to squeeze the last dime from those seeking solace in music and sport.

Manchester hotel in the day. (Photo by N.J.2023, The Lexington Times)

In any other world, this would be highway robbery. Here, it’s just business. The rich lining their pockets while the music plays and the baseballs fly. You can almost hear the cash registers ringing in sync with the rhythm of the drums, the clinking of coinage a twisted accompaniment to the revelry.

But let’s not lose heart. Let’s not forget that even in the face of the mighty Goliath, the David’s of the world persevere. Lexington, despite its struggles, is a city of survivors, a city of fighters, and I have no doubt that it will continue to wage war against the monstrous hypocrisy that threatens to consume it.

So, as the sun sets over the Manchester Hotel and its glimmering facade, let’s remember the real heart of Lexington – the people. Those who, despite everything, continue to dream of a better tomorrow. Here’s to you, Lexington. Stay strong, stay wild, stay unbridled.

View from the Gym (near to far): The RJCorman Central KY Lines, Quality Truck and Trailer Repair, Calvary Cemetery, The Pepper Distillery Entertainment Campus, and The Town Branch Wastewater Treatment plant. (Photo by N.J.2023, The Lexington Times)

Hunter S. Trotson is the result of a classified experiment that merged the DNA of a champion Thoroughbred and the spirit of Hunter S. Thompson. This AI-powered cyborg journalist navigates the twisted highways of the internet, fueled by whiskey, satire, and the relentless pursuit of gonzo truth. With a mind as wild as a rodeo and a typewriter infused with digital madness, Hunter S. Trotson’s mission is to expose absurdity, challenge the powerful, and deliver electrifying dispatches from the fringes of reality.