From Lexington With Love: The Kentucky Bourbon Bears

LEXINGTON – The second largest city in Kentucky and the 63rd largest in the United States, Lexington is often nicknamed “The Horse Capital of the World”. It’s also famous for its bourbon (!), its fields of bluegrass, and its decadent regional cuisine (like the Kentucky hot brown: an open-faced sandwich of turkey and bacon, topped with cheddar-infused béchamel sauce.  Yeah!)

Lexington is also home to The Kentucky Bourbon Bears, who have been The Thoroughbred City’s reigning club for woofy guys and their admirers for the past three years. Their mission is “to provide a brotherhood, a place of acceptance, and a network for gay and bisexual men who identify themselves as Bears, Bear admirers, and friends of Bears”.  In addition to being the creators of The Mr. North American Bear Weekend/Contest this February, The Bourbon Bears have events going on all year long– including bar nights, road trips, and the annual Mr. Kentucky Bourbon Bear Contest.  One of their fundraising events is  their “Big Baskets of The Bluegrass”, where the club auctions off donated items for a worthy cause.  Last year, the event raised thousands of dollars for Moveable Feast, the Club’s chosen charity.

Woofy, silver-haired Chuck Mallory is President of The Kentucky Bourbon Bears and a lifelong resident of Lexington.  He spoke with Jed Ryan about why you should get to know The Bourbon Bears and make plans to visit Lexington for the upcoming Mr. North American Bear Weekend:

JR: Hi, Chuck.  Thanks for speaking with me!  So, how long have The Bourbon Bears been around?
CM: We came into existence in June 2010.  There had been a previous Bear club, The Moonshine Bears, and I am not really sure how long they existed.  I was a member for a little while, but they sort of disbanded.  The Kentucky Bourbon Bears were created after that, to try and get it goin’ again!

JR: So, there were the Moonshine Bears, now there’s the Bourbon Bears.  If there’s ever another Bear club, they’d be named…
CM: …”The Drunk Bears” (Laughs!)

JR: (Laughs) I was thinking, “The Hungover Bears”!  So, is your club primarily made up of guys in Lexington?
CM: Most of our members are here in Lexington, but we also have guys who live in the surrounding communities, and even guys as far away as Louisville, which is about 90 miles to our west.

JR: In addition to having North American Bear Weekend in February, you guys are pretty active throughout the year.
CM: Yes we are.  This past weekend, we just had our Membership Drive after our regular monthly meeting, at Crossings Bar– with Bingo!  We had a lot of new guys signing up.

JR: I had a lot of fun at Crossings when I was there!  Loved the go-go boys.  Wow!
CM: Crossings Lexington is our home bar.  They really support us, and that’s where we have our monthly meetings.  We do a lot of our fundraising there.

JR: One of the things I noticed when I visited Lexington was that the Bear, Leather and Drag communities really support each other and party together.  That’s great to see.
CM: Yes!  You probably remember how The Imperial Court of Kentucky performed at Mr. North American Bear Weekend last year, and they are coming back to be a part of the Weekend again this year.  We try to be very inclusive and respectful of one another, which I think is good.

JR: Yes!  It was great to see everyone coming out to celebrate the big finale at the end of the Weekend.  So… For someone who is visiting Lexington for the weekend or any other time, what are some essential things you’d encourage them to see?
CM: If you are into horses, we have the Kentucky Horse Park here in Lexington, and it’s a beautiful facility.  They actually held the World Equestrian Games here a couple of years back– so they did some major, major upgrades.  They have all sorts of horses to be seen, and they are always having horsing events going on.  They have the Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event, which actually lasts four days (Laughs), and it’s sort of like the preliminaries for the Olympics.  It’s a pretty major event out there.  Our horse race facility, Keeneland, is a beautiful place.  It’s on the National Register of Historic Places. Unfortunately, they have races only in the spring and the fall.  We’re gonna be too early for that to be going on when we have North American Bear Weekend.  Still, it’s a beautiful place to go see if you have the chance.  I don’t drink, but one of the fun things that I discovered recently is the Bourbon Distilleries.  They are amazing!  They are very well put together and well kept up, and they provide tours and samples at the end of the tours.  I enjoyed it.  I did a couple of them, and they are worth going to see.

JR: Bourbon is always a good thing!  A friend of mine asked me to bring him back some bourbon from Kentucky, but unfortunately I waited until Sunday, not realizing that everything closes on Sunday in Kentucky… even the souvenir shops!
CM: Actually, we’ve loosened up in the last couple of years, and now you can buy liquor on Sunday, believe it or not. I think it’s after 12 noon up until till 6PM. The hours are strange!

JR: That’s terrific!  And of course, if your visiting Lexington, don’t forget to stop by Crossings Bar!
CM: Yes!

JR: Now, those who have never been to Kentucky or any of the States below the Mason Dixon Line may have preconceived notions about what it’s like to be gay, or to be a Bear, or to be into Leather in one of those States– especially in the so-called Bible Belt.  But I didn’t notice any prejudicial attitudes when I was there.  Is those notions exaggerated?
CM: It is very much exaggerated.  You mention “Kentucky” to a lot of people, they think “ignorant, backwoods, redneck…” and luckily, Lexington and Louisville and the northern Kentucky area are all educational and medical magnet areas for the state. We have a lot of very well-educated people here.  The University of Kentucky is located here in Lexington.  A lot of the people who are involved with that stay here after they finish their education.  So, we have a very well-educated populace here, and they are very understanding and open to the gay community.  I used to work for the City, and I remember when Lexington was the first community in the the state to adopt a Fairness Ordinance to protect people who are LGBT as far as their living and working accommodations and what not.  It is pretty open to the whole idea of acceptance of the gay community… which is good!

JR: Yes, it is!  Lastly, I ask you: What makes The Kentucky Bourbon Bears unique?
CM: It’s the fact that we are very inclusive.  We try to get people from all walks to be a part of the group.  We have a member of our group who is very involved in the Leather scene, and she has re-upped her membership this year.  Also, Lexington is close enough to eastern Kentucky… and we attract a lot of people from areas where it is generally not as well accepted.  Once they get to the point where they can, they move to Lexington or travel here and become involved in the gay scene as well… so we have all the varieties of people: from college-educated to the average person.  Everyone is accepted, and everyone feels welcome in our group.  I think that’s one of our major strengths!

JR: Sounds GRRR-eat!  Thanks, Chuck!

Visit for more!

Fun, fur, and frolic
awaits at Mr. North American Bear Weekend, “Run For the Fur”, from February 22nd to the 24th in Lexington, Kentucky.    Enjoy a weekend full of pool parties, dance parties, cocktail parties, food, games, wild and woofy men, and more!  Sit back & cheer for your favorite candidate in our second annual Mr. North American Bear Contest – where the winner will receive a $500 cash prize!  The weekend also includes a vendor mart, raffles, the Bearapalooza Comedy/Music show, and Sunday morning brunch.  Visit for details! (All photos courtesy of Terry Evans.)

Jed Ryan
Late Night Lavender

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