To help you fill the idle hours between showcases, Scene writers, a.k.a. the Committee of Insiders, a.k.a. your local bar association—along with an appropriate cadre of designated drivers—set out to find our favorite watering holes that go beyond the basics of booze and butts. We made a list of the things we like to do—eat, dance, flirt, etc.—then found the best place for doing each of those things plus throwing back a few drinks.
So, as 5 o’clock approaches—somewhere—we raise our glass to the barkeepers who make our evening hours happy. Save us a stool. We’ll be there in a little while.
Eric Church’s top five watering holes
1 Fiddle & Steel “This is the first bar I went to when I moved to Nashville. Everyone knows me there—it’s like Cheers.”
2 Springwater “The first photo session from my debut album, Sinners Like Me, was done there.”
3 Douglas Corner “The most songwriter-friendly bar in town.”
4 Broadway Brewhouse “Where else can you get drunk and play shuffleboard?”
5 Tootsie’s “Are you kidding me?!? It’s TOOTSIE’s—that’s all you have to say.”
When looking for one special person, it’s best to start in a crowd
It’s 6 p.m. on a weeknight and the scene at Cabana feels like the calm before the storm. Clusters of men and women are scattered throughout the expansive establishment, and, at least for the moment, they’re chatting exclusively with their own parties. More than a dozen men are bellied up to the dark wood bar. Despite the range of ages—mid-30s and beyond—they all look strikingly similar, sporting golf shirts and seemingly expensive wristwatches. A cursory check of their left hands as they throw back draft beers and bourbons reveals that either A) the majority are not married, or B) they don’t wear their wedding rings out for drinks. Let’s be optimistic and assume it’s the former, which means this is a great place for single gals to meet that special someone, or at least score a free drink after work.
A lone woman finally sits at the bar, and an hour later she’s still there, gulping an appletini and conversing intently with a man seated on the stool to her right.
Outside on the deck, the crowd is a bit younger and dominated by ladies. Five women in their mid-20s occupy one table, each wearing high-heel sandals, flirty skirts and tank tops, and all with shoulder-length hair. They nibble on a shared a pizza and, remarkably, all sip on glasses of white wine. Two women across the deck bypass appetizers, instead ordering beers and lighting up Marlboro Lights when their drinks arrive. Then there’s a group of six ladies clad in corporate attire. Their table is littered with martini glasses, and it’s apparent from the volume of their conversation that they’ve been here a while. Every few minutes, a light mist falls from a sprinkler system above the deck, cooling the crowd on this warm spring evening without frizzing, flattening or otherwise futzing up anyone’s hair.
By 7 p.m. the crowd is picking up both inside and out on the deck. Two guys in a black Jeep Wrangler slowly drive by to check out the scene. They approve and stroll in a few minutes later. Two more men walk through the door, one wearing a blue blazer and button-down shirt, the other removing a Bluetooth from his ear. As the evening progresses, the crowd becomes noticeably younger, and the great divide between groups of men and women milling about seems to narrow. As the drinks flow, so does conversation. Whether any lifelong matches will be made tonight is anybody’s guess, but one thing is certain: Cabana is a veritable playground for singles.—Sarah Kelley
If this Hillsboro Village haunt isn’t quite your scene, here are a few other suggestions:
- Tin Roof: a live-music spot crawling with an early-20s clientele. 1516 Demonbreun St.
- Virago: a sleek, sushi-heavy restaurant that serves up great martinis to a young professional crowd. 1811 Division St.
- Tribe: a mainstay nightclub in the city’s thriving gay business district. 1517 Church St.
- Lucky’s Garage: the newest addition to Nashville’s gay nightlife scene, offering drag shows and DJs on the weekend. 207 14th Ave. N.
- Lipstick Lounge: East Side hang originally opened as a lesbian bar, a great place for trivia, karaoke or music. 1400 Woodland St.
Hitting the High Notes
Karaoke may not sound good, but it feels so right
In the popular American imagination, karaoke isn’t exactly glamorous, or even respectable. It’s often thought of as kitsch at best and, at worst, just kind of sad. Think Bill Murray in Lost in Translation, a maladroit outpouring of untrained melody. But karaoke is cathartic fun, and pulling out the stops to belt your favorite megahits serves an important bodily—as well as societal—function: making you feel awesome. And isn’t that why we work for the weekend?
Even though, sadly, there is no more karaoke night at Pla-More Lanes, with cosmic bowling and incongruous videos forming a surreal backdrop—I once saw a video by Canadian lesbian folk duo Tegan & Sara play over the lanes as a group of hammered housewives powered through “Redneck Woman”—there are plenty of other options around town. The Fieldhouse Bar & Grill offers karaoke five nights a week with Mama Becca, and there’s always Printer’s Alley. Many local Asian restaurants double as karaoke bars—large speakers flanking a television at one end of the dining room hint at a croon-friendly establishment. Prefer less of an audience? The Korean style of karaoke, norae-bang (literally, “song room”), offers a private space where you can call all angels, welcome your friends to the jungle or fall to pieces without having to face a bar full of people waiting for their turn. If you’re more prone to hikikomori (a hermetic life) than karaoke, you can pop CMT’s Karaoke Revolution game into your PlayStation.
But the only place in Nashville where you can really live out your lead singer fantasies (with the possible exception of the ones involving groupies) is Everyone’s a Rock Star live-band karaoke at Mercy Lounge. With a full band behind you instead of the cheesy, Nintendo-esque MIDI sound you often get from a karaoke machine, you can really let loose. Luckily, on top of having well over 100 songs in their repertoire, the band you’re fronting is quite good. From “Darling Nikki” to “Ace of Spades,” they’re ready to rock. (Fellas, you’d better squeeze yourself into your best pair of nut-huggers if you’re going to take on Iron Maiden’s “Flight of Icarus.”)
While everyone who takes the stage to sing may not be a rock star, per se, plenty of people take it plenty seriously—at least seriously enough to add a layer of intrigue to the proceedings. Hours before the able house band takes the stage, you can see EARS regulars bellying up to the bar, warming up their pipes—or at least lubricating them. There may not be a panel of judges, but there is certainly competition among performers. Sure, the only prize on the line is pride, but at the end of the day, that’s worth more than any record deal. —Steve Haruch
Looking for a great bar to see a band? Follow your nose.
If, as Henry Miller said, going to the movies is like a dose of opium, then a good club is a lot like a few Jäger Bombs: it’s an over-stimulated romp where you can also chill for a couple hours—and like any good addict knows, it’s all in the mix. So if you’re going to while away your nights, your liver and your ears, you’d best find a room that rises to the occasion.
In Nashville, there are rooms of the less-talk-more-rock variety where you won’t speak a word that isn’t shouted (The End). There are rooms where you won’t speak a word that isn’t shushed (The Bluebird). There are rooms where you best leave your pretensions at the door, lest you want them vibed (or worse) out of you (Springwater). There are rooms where you and your ears will be reminded without charity that you are no longer, in fact, under 30 (The Muse). And there are rooms where you will be reminded that, even though you’re so over 30, you may as well still be 21 (Family Wash).
You can avoid all these existential dilemmas at the Mercy Lounge, bar/venue of vast parking, cheap drinks, two bars, three pool tables and good bands. Sure, thanks to some funky ventilation, if one guy orders a beef patty, we all order a beef patty, but it’s a small price to pay for one-stop shopping. To wit:
HAPPILY DIVIDED Too many bars feel like high school: you walk in, get sized up and spend the rest of the night trying to avoid the douchebags. The Mercy Lounge is more like college: sure, there are still douchebags, but there’s plenty of room to avoid them. And if the band sucks? Take it to the outdoor balcony, where there’s ample seating and a sweet view of the city skyline.
FEARLESS BOOKING On any given night, you might catch a DJ dance party, a hot indie-rock buzz band like Ratatat, seminal reggae act Toots and the Maytals, or a sizzling Long Players set. Plus, it’s one of the few clubs in town offering a rock short-sets with its Monday night “8 off 8th” series, and live-band karaoke. (“Ace of Spades,” anyone?)
MIXED CROWDS Hipsters and fratitives blend seamlessly on Cannery Row. Nobody really knows your name, and that’s a good thing. 20-somethings mingle with 40-somethings, and neither group elicits suspicion. Come sporting a silver jumpsuit or a polo and pleated khakis and be equally embraced by the fuzzy warmth of indifference.
SONIC MARVELS The sound is solid and the stage is small enough that bands could tear that shit up if they wanted to. It’s elevated enough for the appropriate band-to-audience mythmaking ratio, but low enough to jump on for an impromptu dance number.
BACKSTAGE PASS What most clubs here call a backstage is actually a fluorescent-lit pit of despair doubling as a storage space with a 12-pack of lukewarm domestic beer and some bottled water. Mercy Lounge’s green room is not only pleasantly decadent, but it’s the sort of place you could actually imagine yourself trying to get laid—and succeeding. It’s dimly lit, stocked with a cooler of booze, a couple of couches, a bathroom and a kitchenette—and the occasional chance to smell a rock star’s hair, which is great, as long as no one ordered any beef. —Tracy Moore
When cocktails spill over into supper-time, The Gulch is the place to be
Among people with young children, there is perhaps only one thing more lamented than the loss of the full night’s sleep: the loss of happy hour. And there is a special brand of nostalgia for the springtime evening on a patio when one cocktail pours into a second, maybe a third, and finally leads to a boozy dinner.
So if you don’t need to beat the closing bell at day care or race to drop a toddler off at soccer practice, it’s practically your job to enjoy cocktail hour while the rest of us endure the witching hour. And there’s no better place than the patio of Radius10 in The Gulch to let the warm buzz of a perfectly chilled martini wash away the guilt of turning a quick drink after work into a full-fledged gastronomic affair.
While Radius10’s exquisite menu of artfully composed main entrées doesn’t come cheap (the 7-ounce filet with blue-cheese-and-walnut crust clocks in at $32), chef Jason Brumm is bending over backwards (read: slashing prices) to attract happy hour traffic. “I don’t want late-night business. I want to serve dinner between 5 and 10 and go home,” says the jovial restaurateur, who selected Nashville as the site of his maiden solo venture after working through upscale Florida haunts Cafe Thirty-A and Fish-Out-of-Water.
The bar menu, which highlights a handful of Brumm’s ocean-inspired plates, ranges between $5 and $7. But between the hours of 5 and 7, everything on the bar menu is $2 off, which means tuna tartare with tomato fennel jus and avocado sorbet is $5, and seared lamb skewers with chimichurri and tzatziki sauce are $4. That’s less than a combo in the Wendy’s drive-through. Couple the cut-rate snacks with two-for-one domestic beers, well drinks and house wines, and you’ve got yourself a veritable gourmet fire sale.
Or if you’re not watching your beer money, there’s the martini menu, with decadent $12 drinks along the lines of the Love Potion #9—pink vodka Stoli Strasberi, strawberry puree and a splash of bubbly—and a Scrubs-worthy appletini of apple vodka, apple liqueur and Sprite. Knock back a few tall drinks at the sleek radial bar, then graduate to a table for a no-holds-barred feast of low country shrimp and grits or short ribs.
Located in the bustling Gulch, which continues to gain critical mass with restaurants such as Watermark and chic residential projects such as Velocity and Terrazzo, Radius10 will soon be joined by neighboring Agave Tequila Lounge, slated to open in August.
As the Scene prepares to move its headquarters to The Gulch, we’re looking forward to logging a few happy hours and early suppers at Radius10, lounging on cushioned benches as the shadows stretch toward Union Station. Of course, some of us still have to sprint to day care and soccer practice, so we’ll be knocking off work a little early.—Carrington Fox
The Late Pleasantness
Who says nothing good happens after midnight?
There is this feeling that comes over an East Sider when crossing one of Nashville’s glorious bridges after midnight on a weekend: I’m home, and now I can get really drunk. And if it’s already getting late, they might as well head straight to the corner of 11th and Forrest.
More often than not Red Door East doesn’t even get going until after 11 p.m. Oh, you can go there early, secure a prime spot at the classic wooden bar and guarantee some prime time on the Megatouch machine, but it is late-night that the place comes to life.
By 1 a.m. on a Friday or Saturday (even a Thursday), the place is bustling with an eclectic cross-section of Nashville’s night owls. You’ve got the fratters in their crisp button-ups, rockabilly kids, plenty of dudes who look like they’d be more than happy to tell you all about their band (and said band’s side project), girls giggling about how “dirty-hot” boy-who’s-probably-in-a-band is, and everyone in between.
But it’s not too crazy: there are no college girls throwing up their salads in the bathroom or guys trying to pick them up as they come stumbling out. The music is just loud enough that it feels like a weekend, but not so loud that you need to shout.
When the weather gets warm, the porch bustles with drunk, chattering folk sitting at the long, wooden picnic benches and elbow-height round tables or perching up against the deck’s railing. When the night is cool and the drinks are cheap, it’s easy to watch the hours slip away and find yourself being asked to, please, close out.
Red Door East also has a comforting familiarity. On the weekends, it’s always the same excellent bartenders working the signature U-shaped bar (perfect for making eyes), and the place is usually chock-full of regulars, sipping 16-ounce PBRs or downing a third Jäger Bomb of the night. And there are lots of people you’re pretty sure you’ve met before, even if you don’t quite remember when. (Hint: it was probably at the Red Door, late at night.)
And the best thing about Red Door East as a late-night bar—and 5 Points as a late-night neighborhood—is that if you get bored, there are always a couple other options just down the street. —Lee Stabert
Know a place to crow about your pseudo-intellectual superiority?
With trivia games running all over town almost every night of the week, finding the perfect game is more about a bar’s clientele than its beer specials. Dollar Buds are great, tables of sparsely clad co-eds too drunk to put pencil to paper without giving each other lap dances first are not. The absence of the latter is what makes 3 Crow Bar’s Thursday night trivia stand apart.
A lot of the appeal can be attributed to Trivia Time, the hosts of 3 Crow’s competition, which runs from 8 to 10 p.m. The company emcees games at 10 bars across the city, which puts them in front of about 1,000 people each week. But owners Julian Hinson and Laura Wilson want to know you—and that’s how they get it so right. Their thorough analysis of each audience translates into a tailored 20-question intellectual brawl, uniquely suited to the room. Trivia Time runs a refreshingly vintage game in which contestants actually write answers on paper and foot them up to the hosts before the end of a song, which also means the music selection’s key.
At 3 Crow, the 25-to-40 crowd is fairly eclectic, but polo shirts, cascading cleavage and the frat pack are few and far between. So Hinson and Wilson have created a game where you’re more likely to hear a Postal Service song than a Salt-N-Pepa jam. (My research, unfortunately, also led me to a sports bar on the outskirts of town where I saw two tank-topped trivia-goers sporting mom jeans and grinding to “Let’s Talk About Sex” near the dart boards.) You won’t see any of that at 3 Crow Bar. These gamers don’t take their trivia lightly.
When posed with a so-called “lost lyrics” question in round three, members of five teams tore out of the bar and took to the street, fingers in ears, singing it out and chattering in frustration: “I know it’s U2, but is it ‘Walk On’ or ‘Mysterious Ways’?” And in this crowd it’s acceptable to kick at the sidewalk while you belt it out. Yeah, it’s that serious.
With first place taking home $50 in bar cash—hardly enough to make a dent in your 10-person tab—things get crazy competitive, with rampant shushing and self-policing. (One girl who stepped outside one too many times with her Blackberry came under immediate suspicion. Phoning a friend is strictly disallowed.) Course, this isn’t the largest trivia game in town. Hinson says it usually draws anywhere from 80 to 120 people. But with chronic high scoring competitors like team Hepatitis C, a few points shy of a perfect 150, you need to bring your A game.
So get there early. Tables usually fill up by 7:30. And if you don’t have a large team in tow, get there even earlier to recruit. The most successful trivia runs are all about assembling a crack team. With topics ranging from sports and science to celebrities and lost lyrics, the best teams are strange amalgamations of polar opposites, like the car-racing über fan and the IMDB junkie, clinking mugs and embracing in victory.
With two environmental engineers, a Northwestern master’s grad and a guy who made it to the third round of auditions for VH1’s World Series of Pop Culture, you would think team Dick Cheney Shot My Mom in the Face would be a lock for 3 Crow’s top three. Or at least it’s halftime competition for best team name. But we learned the hard way. When it came to the final Double Down round, team Cheney’s ultimate undoing began with a NASCAR stumper and ended with a question about BBC’s Absolutely Fabulous. So in the end, we didn’t know that Lowe’s Motor Speedway is in North Carolina. That’s trivia death. But in life, that’s something to be damn proud of. —Elizabeth Ulrich
Insider’s Tip: Trivia Time posts a new clue each day for a Double Down round question at myspace.com/triviatime.
Some places make you feel like part of a team
Noon is too late. 11:55 a.m. is a tad risky. But arrive at Sam’s in Hillsboro Village at 11:50 a.m. on a Sunday during football season and you will have the place pretty much to yourself. You can pick a prime table, with perfect views of the largest TV showing your team’s game, and get in a drink order before the swarms descend.
There are sports bars—TVs, cheap beer and buffalo wings—and then there are sports bars—tons of TVs, pitchers of beer and, well, buffalo wings. Sam’s falls into the latter category, and its location adjacent to Vanderbilt assures its designation as a home away from home for sports-hungry transplants. (It also means you don’t need to worry about being surrounded by pesky Titans fans, who have their local broadcast and home couches keeping them busy.) The sprawling, dimly lit, sloppily decorated place provides all the cheap drinks and solid pub food one could need for surviving the many hours of a football game (often with a brain still hazy from the weekend’s excesses).
Besides the large booths, the small tables clustered in the center of the room allow you to hog one all to yourself if you’re rolling solo (though don’t be surprised if someone asks to sidle up—especially later in the season when the playoff race heats up), or you can sit at the bar, where the panoply of screens allows you to keep tabs on pretty much every play being made in every sport in the country.
But the real charm of frequenting a sports bar like Sam’s is the bootleg community that develops. You start to see the same people every week, decked in their team colors—there’s that drunk Raiders fan that loves to shout at the refs in some very un-Sunday language, the kid in the glasses and full Browns garb drinking Coke and looking like he’s on the verge of some kind of botched-punt-return-induced seizure, or the couple in the Bucs hats that double high-five after every score.
Last year my Eagles started off strong, 4 and 1, and those in green and black would eye each other across the bar, offering the occasional high-five. Then things fell apart. McNabb, our star, our savior, went down for the season, and we traded woeful glances and shrugs of condolence as we endured unimaginable hardships, like that woeful 13-6 loss to the Jaguars. But then the unlikely hero—the aging, freckled, red-headed signal caller Jeff Garcia—took the reins, and the Philly phaithful began to commandeer a semi-regular area of the bar, introducing ourselves, jeering at Cowboys fans, talking about that ’05 Super Bowl run, cracking jokes about Bobby Hoying and watching our team win its last five and scoot into the playoffs.
That’s the magic of a sports bar: whether you want to watch a midseason college basketball game or take in Yankees vs. Red Sox in the company of like-minded douches—oh…I mean souls—you can rest assured that one of the TVs will be able to hook you up. You can train your eyes on the same flickering images as the faraway folks you love, and feel a connection—both to home and to the diaspora of fans who also made sure to get there a little bit early. —Lee Stabert
Jolly Good Fun
Hillsboro Village cues it up for the snooker-loopy crowd
For the moneyed classes, there are genteel diversions such as Steeplechase, Swan Ball and golf at Belle Meade Country Club. But for us gentlemen—and ladies—with baseball-cap budgets and top-hat taste, our leisure options are more limited.
One of the more refined local low-budget activities is snooker at Sportsman’s Grille in Hillsboro Village. Never mind the riffraff—in this case, drunken Vandy undergrads oozing all over each other—snooker has been a dapper diversion for British military officers since the 19th century.
The game itself is simple. Like pool, it’s played on a green felt table with pockets in each of its four corners and another one on each side. But a snooker table is longer and narrower than its more common cousin and the pockets are smaller.
And then there are the balls: 15 red ones, a white cue ball and six others of various colors.
Like all gentlemanly parlor games—whist, euchre, that one with the little pegs in the wooden board—snooker is a game of points. The red balls are worth one point, while the other colors range from two to seven points each. As long as there are red balls on the table, you must sink one before you can take aim at a ball of higher value. Also, you don’t “sink” the balls, you “pot” them. It’s all very jolly, innit guvna?
Aside from the drunken undergrads, Sportsman’s provides the perfect redoubt for a snooker tourney. Before your match, you can feast on roasted quail or pan-fried trout while surrounded by giant stuffed and mounted animal heads, just as they do in the English countryside (or so I’ve read).
After your meal, climb the formidable stairs—once referred to in these pages as smelling like a YMCA locker room—make your way past the glassy-eyed sorority drones queuing up by the loo, grab a cue and chalk up.
On some nights there will be music. On one recent evening, a jazz trio burned through some straight-ahead standards. Another night a bluegrass band kept the commoners distracted with whatever one does to a mandolin while the snooker-loopy nuts potted balls to their hearts’ delight.
In all, snooker at Sportman’s is a smashing good time, and the price is right, which is to say, free. So polish up your monocle and iron your ascot. Pocket a few quid for pints and catch a livery to the Village. It’s a cracking good time. —P.J. Tobia
Where the Grrrls Are
Lesbians take the night at open-arms dive bar
At the mention of a gay bar, most people’s thoughts turn to enclaves of shirtless men dancing the night away to thumping house music amidst go-go boys and laser beams. And while this cliché, like most, is founded in fact, there is a wide variety of bars to be found in Nashville for gay men. Just witness the Church Street Gayborhood, anchored by the ever-popular Tribe and stretching from the entertainment-oriented Lucky’s Garage to the laid-back Blue Gene’s.
But what about the gals? Of course, they’re always welcome to party with the boys, but what if they want a place to call their own? Apparently Nashville has only one lesbian bar—East Nashville’s Lipstick Lounge, whose popularity resulted in the Scene’s Best of Nashville Readers’ Poll: Best Gay/Lesbian Bar category being broken into two separate ones in 2005. That year, the two runners-up for Best Lesbian Bar were still gay men’s bars. But last year number 3 was the non-sexuality-specific Alleycat. Turns out Nashville’s lesbians, faced with a dearth of ladies-who-love-ladies hangouts, have a tendency to find places where they feel comfortable and set up camp there.
The hippest new spot is none other than the landmark dive bar Springwater Supper Club. Every Tuesday, as the karaoke night hosted by Chris Aubrey and Jack Skeen starts to hit its stride, Springwater gains a certain sapphic vibe.
It all began when local musicians Tiffany Minton of Six Gun Lullaby and Lauren Gilbert of Trampskirts were regularly gigging there and started hanging out on karaoke nights last October. Minton said that Lipstick wasn’t really their scene. “We’re just rock chicks who like to have a good time.”
Over the past few months, their crowd has organically grown as friends brought friends, who brought friends, and so on. Their presence hit a critical mass about three months ago. A straight male patron who lovingly refers to the girls as “cock-blockers” says he noticed their ever-growing crowd about that time.
Springwater, with an eclectic crowd ranging from neighborhood alcoholics to hipster kids, is among the most accepting environments in town. According to Minton, there’s “nothing eccentric about anyone because everyone is.” No one bats an eyelash when a guy shows up in a faux-fur loincloth and matching boots. No one gasps when mainstay Dave Cloud starts humping the back wall or ad-libbing raunchy lyrics during a karaoke performance. This laissez-faire attitude allows the lezzie fair to proceed with no hassles.
Even though this is a karaoke night where the crowd is half lesbian, don’t expect to see mullet-headed dykes singing Amy Ray or Melissa Etheridge. These girls are rockers—think Joan Jett and Pat Benatar. When Minton’s girlfriend, singer/songwriter Jordan Caress, performs “We Belong,” Springwater’s tolerant atmosphere agrees. And then there’s the crowd favorite: Minton and Gilbert’s rendition of Prince’s “P Control,” complete with simulated sex acts.
And gay guys are just as welcome as the girls, though only a small group is present. Caress’ gay brother belts out “Stand by Your Man” without anyone shouting “faggot” or trying to beat him up—always a plus in the South.
So, daughters of Lesbos, if you’re looking to get out and have a great time with your sisters, get thee to Springwater on Tuesdays. Not a lesbian? Go anyway; after your first Pabst Blue Ribbon you’ll feel like you’ve just wandered over to a party at your best friend’s house. You may end the evening covered in a film of sweat, secondhand smoke and cheap beer vapors, but you can let your freak flag fly, with no fear of forced furling. —Brent Rolen
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