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Another piece of Lexington restaurant history is gone: Demolition began on the building that once housed the storied Brooking’s lunch counter near the corner of Euclid and Woodland avenues.
Brooking’s was famous for its chili, which legendary University of Kentucky basketball coach Adolph Rupp declared “the best chili in town.”
Rupp ate lunch there, always in the third booth on the left, regularly for decades, as did many UK Wildcat players. Most subsequent UK coaches continued the tradition until the restaurant closed in 1991.
In 1985, when the NCAA Final Four was in Lexington, millions of Americans saw Brooking’s when sports commentator Al McGuire did his network TV show from the restaurant.
John Connelly of Diversified Demolition said Tuesday that he remembers the old restaurant fondly.
“I grew up on Park Avenue between Main and Central, and I used to come here as child eat chili on a regular basis,” Connelly said. He remembers seeing Rupp as well as players often, including at nearby Woodland Park, where they would play during the off-season.
He took the demolition job “just to say I did it.”
Brooking’s restaurant almost franchised
Founder George Ed Brooking opened the 24-seat restaurant as a soda fountain in 1938 and added chili to the menu after World War II. He died in 1982 and the place was run by Myra Brooking and her husband, Harold Brooking, until Harold died in 1990. Myra Brookings died in 1995.
Harold Brooking was credited with developing the mild chili’s secret recipe, although he said his father later adapted it. In the 1980s, the restaurant sold about 250 gallons a week, much of it to UK students, past and present.
The restaurant was popular enough that in 1982 John Y. Brown Sr. proposed a plan to franchise it but the plan never came to fruition “because I don’t know the franchising business and, well, I guess I just didn’t want to change anything,” Harold Brooking said at the time.
The restaurant closed in June 1, 1991, after 53 years. On the last day, hundreds turned out to get one last serving or a last cold beer in the frosty mugs. The cook, Sonny Perry, limited takeout orders to four bowls but still ran out of food to serve at 6 p.m. and had to close four hours early.
Adolph “Herky” Rupp Jr., son of the UK basketball coach, stopped by for his last Brooking’s meal. “It’s a big part of my father’s life, this is their last day and I wanted to be part of it,” Rupp told Herald-Leader reporter Kevin Osbourn. “My father brought me here sometimes when I was quite young.”
In recent years, the building housed a hookah bar, which burned in an arson fire in September 2020. It is unclear what the owners of the building plan to build on the spot. John Tresaloni, who runs the Fishtank next door, said that building owner Sam Said plans to build the bar a patio there.
According to a 1998 column by Don Edwards, Rupp’s private chili bowl from Brooking’s is in the UK Library Special Collection, along with photos and other memorabilia.
Brooking’s chili recipe
But not one special item: The booth where he sat was inherited by G.E. Brooking’s granddaughter Jayne Sharp, who met John Dance, who’d purchase the chili recipe from Myra Brooking, at Myra’s funeral in May 1995. They later married and decided to sell the chili seasoning: It is still available online at brookingschili.com.
For a time, the booth was in the Dances’ Good Ol’ Days BBQ in Versailles. They joked that they had to marry: Jayne had been living in Tennessee and the booth needed to come back to Kentucky.