A trip to Kentucky’s Red River Gorge and Daniel Boone National Forest isn’t really complete without a stop at Miguel’s. This pizza shop has been feeding climbers, hikers, locals, spelunkers, and visitors since 1984, and probably has the distinction of the only pizza parlor and rock climbing shop on the planet. The gravel parking lot is usually filled. Volvos and SUVs and ramshackle Civics (and at least one token VW Bus at any given time) with plates as far flung as Montana, Vermont, and Ontario. Several from Colorado and New York. Most splaying bumper stickers – markers, really – of past outdoor conquests and treks, or allegiances to jam bands. A dancing bear. Some Phish icon. The packed lot speaks to the quality of the place.
The pizza itself is a well-made and unique semi thin crusted pie, and bears a vague resemblance to pizza indigenous to the East Coast, and harkens to eponymous owner Miguel Ventura’s former residence of Connecticut. A heady hint of oregano tops off the pizzas, with a grand permutation of possible additions including chorizo, corn, pasta spirals, rice, beans, tofu, and zucchini; orders are made at a counter flanked by 200 foot coils of specialty climbing rope, carabiners, headlamps, and displays of high end rubber toed climbing shoes. Tables inside are surrounding by repurposed bench seats from school buses worn and frayed from years of use, and patched loosely with red duct tape. The overall ambiance of the place exudes a well worn, comfortable, and inviting feel, and is well in line with the rugged yet inviting ambiance of the Red River Gorge.
Outside, around back, Miguel’s offers a table area for eating, and a wall of Ale-8 deposit bottles braces against the outer wall of the basement, and clutches of friends huddle over a steaming pizza and soft drinks. A half court basketball setup to the side seems to have a constant game of pick-up, and occasionally hosts tournaments comprised of teams of rock climbers. The 24 hour accessible basement is a tiny cove of a room evocative of a mid nineties coffee shop. Replete with worn paperbacks of Dragon Lance and Anne Rice novels on a shelf, the ubiquitous chess sets in various disrepair, in colder weather the basement provides extra dining space, and also presents a kind of living room for campers.
Behind Miguel’s one can’t help but notice acres of tents. Some of them appear well established with wooden platforms, blue tarpaulins heavy with leaf sediment, and guy wires anchoring to stakes and trees. Campers can camp for $3 a night, and do – attracting climbers from around the nation and globe, offering a sense of community while they participate in events on and around the numerous crags and rock faces at the Red River Gorge. Amenities include shower facilities, laundry, wifi and computer access, and even cooking facilities. There are also a few bedrooms for rent for around $40 a night. It’s like a modern, rock climbing oriented equivalent of a medieval tavern or inn, offering a sort of one stop shop for travelers and climbers. Miguel’s is an experience, and is almost emblematic of the Red River Gorge.