Late Night Burgers at Tolly-Ho in Lexington

Never underestimate the compelling nature of a great dive cheeseburger joint. Just ask the folks at Tolly-Ho, a late-night Lexington institution for University of Kentucky students and burger aficionados, tucked away near campus in a former dry cleaners at 606 S. Broadway.

Day in and day out this 24/7 restaurant churns out big breakfasts, oversized sandwiches and its signature Ho Burgers with reliable authenticity, keeping customers coming back for more.

It was 1985, when as a freshman at Eastern Kentucky University, my dorm-mates and I would drive the 40 minutes north from Richmond to buy cheap vinyl records at Cut Corner, over by UK where Tolly-Ho was. It didn’t hurt that the beer was cold, but inside was filled with a special mix of characters, ambience and the wafting fragrance of sizzling cow.

The restaurant sat at 395 South Limestone for about 25 years, having originally resided on nearby Euclid. There is an adequate display of UK blue on the interior that meshes warmly with the Formica table-tops, still damp from a fresh wipe. A distinctive row of engraved wood fraternity and sorority pledge paddles dangles above the ‘order up’ window.

Glance right and follow the pinball echo to the opposite wall by the arcade games. Ms. Pacman, Donkey Kong and Galaga – all the old stuff. Anyone feeling off-kilter may step down past the ‘pick-up order line,’ and visit the Ho Mart. Here a full-service convenience stand is bathed in blue by the Wildcat neon, where customers can get cigarettes, lighters, pain relievers and a mess of other aids to help the afflicted. Minus the cure for a broken heart of course.

It’s no small feat to happen upon an out of the ordinary cheeseburger. It may not sound difficult, but simple is hard. It makes location and time of day disappear. No hurdle is too great. Sacrifices will be made to secure these endangered species. Age no longer matters. It becomes about the quest to obtain. Many of these other greasy spoons, lunch counters and fast food chains – fail to ever rise to notability. The vast majority cut away quality, originality and flavor off the top, never needing to apply for competition again.

Like anything down South, time moves slowly. It’s breath is precious especially when establishing one’s reputation. Like a fine bourbon whiskey, a restaurant ages into a reliable guarantee. Whether at college, working third shift or cops on overnights. They are all in here, with the horsemen, jockeys, farmers and power brokers. They start bringing their kids too. That’s tradition, just like those boys who play at Rupp Arena a few blocks over, representing the storied Blue-and-White.

It may just be cheeseburgers, but a good one can change around your whole night. Besides, we’re talking Ho Burgers now, their specialty. These substantial 1/4 pound hamburger patties come with lettuce, onion, and a secret sauce, all pressed between a soft sesame seed bun. I personally am a huge fan of the Super Ho, a 1/2 pound double with cheddar cheese and bacon. Absolutely order a side of the cheddar tots. It will make everything right as rain.

I hear myth of a Mega Ho. Three-quarters pound of stacked meat. I haven’t had the courage to inquire. Something must have gone terribly wrong if eating such a creation sounds reasonable.

The chili is homemade and a perfect consistency to accompany fries with cheese, or take it solo. If breakfast sounds good never fear. The Ho got you covered all day. Order one of the huge pancakes with chocolate chips and try not to smile.

Doesn’t matter if it’s your first try or back again so soon, the friendly folks at the Tolly-Ho are waiting. Do yourself a favor and take them up on their invitation.

TOLLY-HO | 606 S. Broadway | Lexington, KY | 859.253.2007

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