Despite its position across the street from University of Kentucky’s Rupp Arena, one of the nation’s most energetic college basketball venues, with one of the most fervent fan bases, Bigg Blue Martini—at street level in the Lexington Hilton—was throwing nothing but airballs. The location had Bigg Blue toeing the free throw mark, but it just wasn’t getting the points, right at the epicenter of Wildcat country.

New Castle Hotels & Resorts took over the hotel and its Bigg Blue Martini cocktail bar in 2010 (New Castle owns a portion of the hotel; the majority shareholder is Denver-based Madison Capital). Business in the venue was so-so, but they weren’t attracting UK fans. By doing some detailed recon and improving Bigg Blue accordingly, New Castle bounced the ball in a different direction.

The upgrades were part of a 2010 renovation and cost somewhere between $200,000 and $400,000, Bryan Kersey, director of F&B at the Lexington Hilton, recalls.

Court and Spark
Before the tip-off of the revamped Bigg Blue, they might have one good night a week, says Vince Barrett, VP of F&B for New Castle. The first year after taking over was a “discovery” period, to see how the venue did. “We spent a good three to five months figuring out what the perception was in the community,” says Barrett.

“We did some surveys out on the street. We talked to local leaders in the marketplace, asking why they thought our venue wasn’t successful, what its reputation was. They said the name was really recognizable, but the perception was that it was a high-end cocktail lounge—for special occasions when people dress up to be there. Although that was the perception, that wasn’t the reality or the intent.

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