My Town: Jon Carloftis’ Lexington, Kentucky

The world-renowned landscape designer shares his favorite hometown haunts

Photo: Caroline Allison

Landscape designer Jon Carloftis grew up in rural Livingston, Kentucky—an hour or so outside Lexington. “We did pretty much everything in Lexington except grocery shop,” he says. But after graduating from the University of Kentucky in 1988, Carloftis packed his bags for the Big Apple and spent the next twenty-five years up North, building his business from the ground up. “I always missed Kentucky,” he says. “The quality of life down here is wonderful—and it’s so beautiful. I can get in my truck with my two yellow labs, and I can be out in the country surrounded by horse farms in just ten minutes.”

Photo: Caroline Allison

Jon Carloftis.

On a trip home in 2012, he fell in love with a historic home minutes from downtown Lexington called Botherum, which he first visited when he bartended a party there in college. “It took a couple of years to get the house restored,” he says. “Once I did there was no way I could leave.” He and his partner, Dale Fisher, permanently relocated in 2015. Today, Carloftis has taken on the role of town booster, and when he’s not digging in the dirt on a new garden project, here’s where you can find him:

7:00 a.m.

Start Your Day with a Local Roast: “I always have my coffee at home. David Barnes, the husband of Marianne Barnes—the distiller at Castle & Key—owns Archetype Coffee Co., and his coffee is so good that house guests always comment on it.”

8:30 a.m.

Photo: Courtesy of the Lexington Farmers Market

Fresh produce at the Lexington Farmers Market.

Fresh from the Field: “Once I’m moving, I would go down to the Lexington Farmers’ Market and go see my friend from college Ann Bell, whose family owns Elmwood Farms. I buy organic chicken, organic vegetables, you name it. Then I go see Val Schirmer at Three Toads Farm. She’s the “bulb queen.” From spring on, she grows ranunculus, daffodils, tulips. She grows peonies and anemones, too. And her Casa Blanca lilies are the size of my head. I don’t know what she is doing…Voodoo, maybe. But no one grows bulbs like Val.”

11:30 a.m.

Break for Brunch: “I bring my haul back to the house. And then I go to one of two places for either brunch or lunch. Stella’s Deli has six items on the brunch menu. We might order as many as four, but the chipotle biscuits and gravy is hard to beat. Or their farm egg. Honestly, I love it all. For lunch, we might do Blue Door Smokehouse—it’s crazy good. There’s usually a wait and by 2 p.m. they’re sold out, so go early. It’s the best brisket I’ve ever had.”

Photo: Courtesy of Blue Door Smokehouse

A hearty helping of barbecue at Blue Door Smokehouse.

1:30 p.m.

A Taste of the Bluegrass: “After lunch, do the Bourbon Trail, which is close, so we often do that with out-of-town guests. Or jump on the Horse Farm Tour or the Garden and Architecture Tour, which Dale and I helped put together. Of course, during three hallowed weeks in April and October, you have to go to Keeneland. Some of the best memories in my life have happened there. It’s especially special when you bet and win. But even if you spend and lose, it’s still a great day.”

Photo: Jennifer Roberts


4:00 p.m.

Talk Shop: “Any other time of year, I might do some shopping in the afternoon. I’d go by Scout, which is my favorite antique store in town because it carries a lot of mid-century modern pieces. It’s one of those places that is priced so well, though, that they really move their stock—don’t hesitate. L.V. Harkness is another favorite. I go there to buy beautiful glasses like Artel. A beautiful glass makes drinking that much more fun. It’s a great spot if you’re looking for unique gifts. To me, L.V. Harkness is like a miniature department store.”

Photo: Caroline Allison

Inside L.V. Harkness.

8:30 p.m.

Drinks and Dinner: “We love Dudley’s on Short for dinner. The atmosphere, the interiors, the wait staff, the bartenders are all just right. And they just got an amazing new chef last year. I typically order the steak frites—no ketchup for dipping, though. Just a little mayo, please, with cracked pepper. Blue Heron is another favorite. It’s right down the street. My dirty little secret is that I eat fried chicken every day of my life—even if it is just a little piece. At Blue Heron, they fry it the old-fashioned way. If anyone can make fried chicken better, please call me.”

Photo: Courtesy of Dudley's on Short

An outdoor table at Dudley’s on Short.

10:00 p.m.

Listen up: “After dinner, walk over to Parlay Social for live music, especially if Joselyn and the Sweet Compression is playing. Her voice is like magic.”