On almost every corner in Nashville, there’s a bar filled with hopeful musicians trying to make it in Music City. Yes, in some that means there is someone with a tear in his or her beer (and trying to write about it), but it also means that those aspiring singers are drinking alongside agents, bachelorettes and tourists taking it all in. While the list is vast, there are a few that really stand out as favorites for a consistent atmosphere and a unique draw of regulars as well as visitors.
Whether you like a fine-crafted cocktail, with artisan ice cubes (yes, that's a thing) or just a cold beer and a hot dance floor, these are a few places across town that shouldn't be missed.
There's one Music City Golden Rule that holds true, no matter where you drink: If the hat is passed to collect money for the band playing at the bar, don't skimp as you add your tip. Those are the folks who make the city sound great.
Yes, this restaurant/wine bar/live music venue is a chain, with locations in Chicago, New York and Napa, California. But this chain of restaurants/wine bars/live music venues was founded by Michael Dorf, who created the iconic Knitting Factory club earlier in his career. That means even in a city like Nashville, where everyone is a musician, lives with a musician and/or knows a musician, the musical lineup is impressive. The space is designed to be more laid back than other music venues. Tickets typically include seating, so you can eat and drink and not crane your neck to see the acts. (615-324-1010)
Springwater Supperclub & Lounge
The legend is Springwater was founded in 1896, and it claims to be the oldest bar in Tennessee. A former speakeasy near the Parthenon, Springwater is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it building. It may look like it hasn't been updated--or cleaned--since 1896. It couldn't be more no frills/nuthin' fancy. But if you want something different than the Western Swing and country you'll hear at the Lower Broadway bars, Springwater is the experimental place to be. Everyone is friendly, and the crowd varies, depending on the type of music being played. But some things are constant: The music is weird and the beer is cheap. Really cheap. (615-320-0345)
Yazoo Brewing Company
Yazoo Brewing Company has been building a reputation for producing fine beers since 2003. In fact, it got so big, that in 2010 it had to move to a bigger location. Visit the facility and enjoy a free pint after the tour, or lift a glass of more than 40 beers (not all on the same day) while savoring local cheeses and breads in the brewery's taproom. Yazoo beers are also available in more than 100 Middle Tennessee restaurants and groceries. If you're looking for one to try for the first time, know that light, smooth Full Moon Ale is a local favorite. (615-891-4649)
The Bluebird Cafe
Bluebird Cafe is a must-see for all music fans. The quiet, smoke-free venue is a great place to hear Nashville's up-and-coming singer-songwriters perform before they hit the big time (and, sometimes, even after they have). Garth Brooks and Kathy Mattea are just two well-known singers who have played, and since the TV show Nashville started featuring it, the lines have even gotten longer. Since it's a popular spot, make reservations in advance, and don't forget to observe the "Shhh!" rule while the music's playing. Depending on how big the booked act is, the cover can be as high as $50. (615-383-1461)
Corsair Artisan Distillery
Founded by childhood friends Darek Bell and Andrew Webber, the business actually had a much less glamorous beginning. The two had already been homebrewing beer and wine when they hit a snag while working on a prototype for a bio-diesel plant. Andrew remarked that whiskey would be much more satisfying and immersed themselves in distilleries and spirits. Soon after, Corsair Distillery was founded and Nashville rejoiced. Corsair's spirits have been praised by a host of national publications, from Food and Wine to Whisky Advocate to the Atlantic. In fact, Corsair has become so popular, it now has two Nashville locations, one in Marathon Music Works and another in Wedgewood/Houston. (615-200-0321)
The Holland House Bar and Refuge
This East Nashville haunt has been featured in numerous national publications for talent behind the bar and in the kitchen. Yes, newer bars have opened since, and to the point where some of what was once groundbreaking at Holland House now seems expected. But every glass contains a clever mix of hand created or sourced ingredients and the staff's superior knowledge is helpful in finding a new favorite concoction.
The square bar is terrific for watching the craftsmanship in action. The bar is quiet enough so that you can have a conversation, but loud enough to feel vibrant. Come early for happy hour and stay for dinner. (615) 262-4190)
The Patterson House
Perhaps the first place in Nashville to charge double-digits for a cocktail, this cocktail bar is the opposite of, well, most bars you've been to. The idea is that is the place to sit down, relax, and appreciate a carefully-crafted cocktail. So, you must have a seat--that way the staff can attend to you--and you are discouraged from being glued to your phone. Instead, enjoy the atmosphere of things are private, perfect and well, past tense. The throwback to a prohibition-era luxury speakeasy, this cocktail haven draws the most discriminating palettes for precise libations served in a classic fashion. For an additional treat, be sure and order the donuts, a house favorite. (615-636-7724)
The mod decor, with low coffee tables, angular furniture, wood paneling and taxidermy, belies this low-key vibe at this neighbor watering hole. Lounge at one of the back tables if you are with a group of friends. Grab a seat at the bar if you want to sit near the bartenders and watch the mixology magic happen. The menu also tips a hat to literary greats, with drink specials like the Bukowski and the William S. Burroughs. The outdoor seats are popular with smokers all year round.
The food is better than standard bar food, particularly the seasonal pickled vegetables. ((615) 650-7344)
Oak Bar at The Hermitage Hotel
This elegant and historic gathering spot on the lower level always feels cozy no matter what the size of the crowd. It's been a favorite shooting location for movies and the ABC-TV series, Nashville and is equally popular with politicians, business owners and local celebs. This is not a place to pound a few beers before going out on the town. This is the kind of place where you sip a crafted cocktail while getting the low down on the city's comings and goings. Order one of their specialty bourbons or glass of champagne and enjoy the above-average service. (615-345-7116)
Robert's Western World
This historic honky-tonk (which started as a cowboy boot and hat store) on Lower Broadway is known for being the home of traditional country music. Come for a night of no-cover live country music, most often Western Swing, and make sure you grab a sandwich, and a cold can of PBR and Goo Goo Cluster. Even though this is the heart of the tourist strip, beers are affordable, no matter the day. Put on your cowboy boots to fit right in with the locals, and get ready to cut the rug. There's always someone to dance with. Celebs like Vince Gill and Trace Adkins that have graced the stools of this friendly bar. (615-244-9552)
About Margaret Littman
Journalist Margaret Littman is a both a relative newcomer to Nashville as well as an old-timer, having returned to what was her college town as a grown-up.
She is the author of many guidebooks, including Moon Tennessee and Moon Nashville. Her work appears in Nashville Lifestyles, the Nashville Scene, RootsRated and in many other magazine and websites.
Since moving to Music City she has acquired a 1967 Ford pickup and a lot of pairs of cowboy boots, but still not the ability to carry a tune. In her free time, she's working her way through paddling in all 50 states.
Read more about Margaret Littman here.
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