Hair of the Dog
1831 12th Ave. S. 386-3311
11 a.m.-1 a.m. Mon.-Sat., late-night menu until 11:30 p.m.
Price range: $-$$
Not once in the 22 years I've lived in Nashville have I gotten directions from anyone that didn't end with this line: "You can't miss it." As directionally challenged as I am, that assurance has almost always proven to be true, so much so that it is a regional colloquialism I have added to my Yankee vernacular.
Hair of the Dog, the new bar/restaurant/club that opened earlier this year on the outer perimeter of the 12 South neighborhood, has proven the exception to that rule. Even as I was telling a friend the address, adding more precise navigational aids"It's on the corner of 12th and Acklen, one block south of Wedgewood"I didn't conclude "You can't miss it," because I knew there was a pretty good chance she would miss it.
Sure enough, as I was heading there to meet her recently, my cell phone rang. "Where the hell is this place? I've driven up and down 12th three times and don't see it." It was the same phone call I had received from other friends whom I'd previously directed to Hair of the Dog. I repeated the instructions slowly and clearly, adding it was next door to Nashville Door Closer and catty-corner across 12th Avenue from Nashville Fire Department Station 8.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that there is no signat least not on the 12th Avenue side of the building. There is a small sign than hangs over the entrance on the Acklen Avenue side, but otherwise, there's nothing that would prompt anyone traveling this rapidly developing stretch of road to say, "Hmmm, I wonder what Hair of the Dog is...."
That brings up another problem. This squat, corrugated-steel, warehouse-looking place, painted a dull rust and set back a little from the road, doesn't exactly beckon interest. The exterior of the building is so nondescript, so indistinctive, so, well, drab, that one can drive right past it a hundred times and never notice it.
The good news for Hair of the Dog is that once people do stumble upon it, they'll not only want to go on in and stay a while, they'll likely come back again and again. Because this welcoming, comfortable, friendly-funky neighborhood place offers many reasons for people to put it on their personal road map.
Whether it's a quick lunch or casual dinner in the cheery dining room, drinks or late-night snacks at the small bar, a game of pool with pals, or live entertainment in the large room on the far side of the building, Hair of the Dog offers something for almost everyone. It's just the latest reason for residents of the 12 South neighborhood to be patting themselves on the back for their remarkable foresight in choosing to live in such an increasingly hip yet still homey part of town. (Actually, Hair of the Dog isn't technically in the 12 South neighborhood, which runs along 12th Avenue South between Linden and Kirkwood. But, knowing a good thing when they see it, 12 Southians are only too happy to claim it as their own.)
Hair of the Dog, or Hairy Dog as regulars fondly refer to it, is owned by Tracy and Jai Crawford, who also have possession of two small children. So how they find time to do something as ambitious as thisand do it so wellis beyond me. Experience counts for something, I guess: The couple met while working at Bar Nashville, one of the several downtown clubs on their professional résumés.
Deciding to strike out on their own, they looked at a couple of other groovy 'hoods, but liked the vibe of 12 South best. Though lacking in curb and sex appeal, the building they found had the space and potential for the multilayered environment they were seeking to create.
Hair divides its 5,400 square feet into two distinct areas, with the bar immediately inside the entry door. A narrow wall stands between the bar and the dining room, which is spare and contemporary, with a slick concrete floor and seating at tables and in booths. Original art and photography decorate the walls. The large, windowless music room is to the left, with a pool table, another bar and more seating.
Songwriter nights and open-mic poetry are presented every Tuesday, and bands are booked some weekdays and on weekends, with an occasional comedy showcase as well. I haven't spent much time in the listening room, but from the vantage point at the bar enjoying drinks with friends, one can't help but notice the remarkable diversity of the people who do head that way, a reflection both of the neighborhood and the eclectic talent presented here.
The menuwhich stays the same from morning till, well, morning againis spare in language, but fairly broad in scope, offering light fare, heartier fare and a creative sandwich board. Even before anything came to our table, we were impressed with the printed note that their meats are from Peaceful Pasturesa local farm raising grass-fed, hormone-free livestockand their breads are from Provence.
If I had to give directions through the menu, I would steer diners first to the steamed mussels, briny morsels of goodness in a savory broth that carb-counters can finish off like soup, while starch-hounds will find it the perfect sop for lightly grilled slices of sourdough. Consider the zucchini fritters as well, puffed up and deep-fried to a golden crisp, served with a ranch-dressing-type dipping sauce.
The bleu cheese burger delivers upscale taste for minimal cost (at $7), thanks to its distinctive Angus beefiness, complemented by the generous amount of tangy blue cheese mixed right in with the meat and oozing out of the grilled burger onto the Kaiser-type bun, which handles the potentially messy construction with ease.
Some of the other sandwiches would benefit from less bread, particularly the grilled eggplant. I loved everything about the interior: thin slices of eggplant, roasted red pepper, fresh baby spinach leaves and a light smear of olive spread. But the dish was overwhelmed by the inch-thick slices of focaccia that sandwiched it. Next time, I'll ask for it on grilled sourdough. The hearty rib-eye muffaletta with provolone, olive spread and grilled sweet Vidalia onion, and the kid-friendly tuna panini were also over-breaded. But the terrific oyster cluba BLT with a bonus of pan-fried oystersneeded something a little sturdier than maple wheat bread. On our visit, the kitchen was out of the prosciutto and corn cake salad, and the Italian hoagietwo good reasons to go back and dine again. The addictive, crisp, salty chips that accompany every sandwich are homemade, and make a great snack to go with a beer at the bar.
Speaking of beer, while customers can drink themselves silly with a large selection of high-alcohol-content beers, along with a full bar (including 10 specialty martinis) and a small but inclusive wine list, thanks to Metro Nashville's antiquated and ludicrous beer laws, you can't get a Coors Light at Hair of the Dog. Otherwise, as its growing legion of patrons know, you can get pretty much anything else you want here. Once you figure how to find the place, you can't miss it.