A large hand is arched stiffly over the top of a garbage bin, and two black-shoed feet protrude out from behind it. It's a sight that would be cause for alarm to most people in most places, but not to the regulars of Bobby's Idle Hour, who are sipping (or swigging) their ice-cold, $2.25-a-bottle domestic beer at Bobby's new location, just down 16th Avenue South from the old one. Regulars know that the hand and feet are three appendages belonging to The Big Man, the super-sized likeness of a country music fan that used to stand out front of the legendary Music Row joint to wave curious passersby inside. Currently, the poor fellow is lying inert on his side, wedged between one exterior wall of the building and the garbage bin.
Nor does anyone bat an eye at the fourth appendage, propped on top of an electronic game of chance inside the squat building. Customers ask Dianne Herald several times a night when The Big Man is going back to his post out front, and she consistently responds, "Not until I can make him some new clothes." The dismemberment was one of the casualties of the move, and the left hand needed a safe place to park for a spell lest it end up missing altogether, and then how would anyone know where to find Bobby's? After all, in the space of less than five months, the building at 1010 16th Avenue South had been shut down, bulldozed to smithereens, then miraculously resurrected a few doors down. Folks from Altoona and Pittsburgh and Waco and Omaha and all the way from Calgary, for crying out loud, who pilgrimage to Nashville once a year for Fan Fair (or whatever it's called these days) might get disoriented, dispirited and downright disgusted if all they were to find left on the legendary street were big office buildings, fancy townhouses and a bunch of banks. And what about that Roundabout? Idle Hour people, who seem to have all the time in the world to shoot the shit at the bar, don't have the time of day for Gravity or On The Rocks. And Musica? You can have those nekkid fairies, son. Big Man, now that's art.
Idle Hour, which sat there on a little grassy lot minding its own business and keeping its mouth shut about everybody else's for more than 30 years, seemed as rooted to its spot as the big trees with drooping branches that shaded its black roof. Dianne and Bobbywho met across the bar themselves in 1978, fell in love, bought it the next year, and married theresure thought is would be there forever. The call from their landlord telling them he had sold the place (on their 14th wedding anniversary, no less) shook them to their shoes.
They started the mechanics of shutting down. There was one notebook for customers to place bids on some of the more popular artifacts, and another to record contact information so everyone could keep in touch. They had a going-away, thanks-for-the-memories blowout on Friday, Nov. 12. Everybody was hurting so bad Saturday that they put off packing 'til Sunday. On Nov. 15Black Mondaythey walked out for the last time.
At the last minute, just as the front door was closing, a window of opportunity opened. Bartender Randall had noticed that Kim's Market, a few doors down, didn't seem to be re-stocking their shelves. Queries were made, calls were placed and a landlord was located. "His name is Mr. Hong," Dianne says. "I think he's a radiologist in Clarkesville. He's the nicest man I've never met." The deal was struck via cell phone andbada-bing, bada-boomthey signed the papers on Dec. 15. Renovation ensued, and a couple weeks ago Bobby and Dianne emailed a bunch of their regulars and invited them to a moving party. Subsequent emails announced the grand opening weekend, April 15 and 16, an occasion that knocked a quarter off the price of a beer, and laid out a spread of barbecue on the pool tablejust like the old days, no charge.
Other than that, the difference between a party at the Idle Hour and a typical night at the Idle Hour is negligible. Aside from some rather startling cosmetic changes, the difference between the old Idle Hour and the new Idle Hour is negligible as well. It is frightfully clean, as everyone notes in the same incredulous tone upon entry, nearly blinded by the sight of sparkling, freshly painted yellow walls. Chuck the bartender reassures them in his endearing deadpan fashion, "We're working on that. Give it time."
A big refrigerated case behind the bar remains from the market, though it now has the words Bobby's Idle Hour across the top band. Inside the cooler is a new drink, Sparks, which no one can quite define except to say that it contains alcohol, caffeine, ginseng and orange flavoring, a notion that confounds the bartenders. Eyes will roll if anyone has the audacity to order one. Wine cooler drinkers are regarded as sissies at Bobby's.
There's plenty of the old and familiar on site to soothe the anxiety of the regulars. The well-worn Naugahyde booths come together at one corner, with the "$4 a pack/that's 16 quarters!!" cigarette machine at the point where they meet. The upright piano is against one wall, right beside the Sterling Marlin standup. The big Bud sign with the Clydesdale horses hangs from the ceiling, the hands of the clock permanently stopped at 2:30; Dianne used to keep it at 3, which is closing time, but customers kept setting it back 30 minutes, so she gave in. Doesn't matter; as Lizard once observed, at the Idle Hour, it's always too late to leave early. The ancient cash register still rings up the beers. If you feel a drunk coming on, and need to put something in your stomach, you can still load up on the free peanuts at the bar, or buy a Slim-Jim, a tin of sardines or a can of beenie-weenies; the green phone that has no dial pad, used only for incoming calls (an extension of the one behind the bar), is back on the wall, and the phone number is still the same. The aloe plant that thrived in the dark and the smoke, sitting incongruously on a windowsill, is in the Heralds' basement, but she swears she's bringing it back any day.
Randall, Jonathan and Chuck are still taking shifts behind the bar, though Chuck has a new baby5-month-old Lilyto brag on. And most importantly, on this Friday night, Dianne is still holding court from a bar stool, her hair pulled back in a ponytail, a baseball cap on her head. Mickey, the FedEx driver and one of the most regular regulars, has already come and gone, but Pete is there, playing a song. And Jerry, who met Dianne years ago when he owned the Paradise Lounge on Nolensville Road and she worked across the street at the Chariot Restaurant, is camped out at a table. He is telling tales on, explaining the origin of her nickname Ding Bat, which she famously earned when she drove her red VW Beetle far out onto the frozen surface of Percy Priest Lake one winter. "She was half-drunk," Jerry says by way of explanation. "No," Dianne quickly corrects him. "I was two-thirds drunk."
The newest news though, which weighs heavily on everyone's hearts that first night of the grand reopening weekend, is the biopsy result Bobby received that very afternoon from his doctor; he has throat cancer. Dianne is optimistic, but she heads home earlier than usual. "He didn't have the heart to be here, and I don't want him to be alone." The two have spent almost 27 years of their lives at the Idle Hour. As she said last November when they thought it was over, "There's been a lot of life lived here. We've had a good past and present."
So, on this night, at the grand reopening, let's drink one to the future, to the Big Man standing in a set of new clothes out front (reattached hand extended in welcome), to bartenders that know your name, to old friends and new beginnings, to clocks that no longer count the minutes, to aloe plants that refuse to die, and to Bobby and Dianne together at the Idle Hour, taking their own sweet time.