|Columbia's Steakhouse - Lexington, Kentucky|
The steakhouse was set up as a 'front' for the true operation: a gaming hall in the back room which was frequented by local officials and police. Today, that back room is referred to as "the Mafia Room." Yes, the lore behind Lexington's Columbia's Steakhouse is deep. Walking into its North Limestone location, one can easily imagine the many rooms being filled with smoke and deals being struck. Not a lot has changed since Columbia's first opened sixty-four years ago. There is no pretense. Just an old-school steakhouse.
|Manager Flo Cowley|
The same could be said for Columbia's former maitre d': James "Smitty" Smith. He was the subject of many news articles as his "smile that helped make the restaurant one of the most popular in town." Smitty was, like Columbia's itself, a "Lexington legend." In 1993, Smity received the Smiley Pete award which is given to someone who "makes people feel good about being downtown."
|The Nighthawk Special|
You have to go back many years to remember when Columbia's Steakhouse was not the occupant at 201 North Limestone. One customer, however, remembered growing up in the back room when it was an apartment and the front of the building was a grocery store. The building, built ca. 1870, typifies post-Civil War mixed-use (commercial-residential) design. And it remains mixed-use with apartments on the upper floor.
If you haven't been to Columbia's, go. If you haven't been in awhile, go back. For more pictures, check out flickr.
Sources: Columbia's Steakhouse; local.lexpublib.org; @managerflo; NRHP
This post previously suggested that James "Smitty Smith" was deceased. The error wasn't noticed for over 18 months, but it has been corrected. An obituary for Smitty's brother shows him alive and well as of June 2014.