Music City's Greatest Bars
By Heather Byrd
When searching out a bar in Nashville you won't have to go far. Look to your right, chances are you're staring at one now. In the past few years, Nashville has seen the rise of the mixologist, which is just like a bartender, but with an extra syllable, and there are several local spots that are known for their nectarous cocktail recipes. If you're like me, then you love spots with an excellent wine list. Or maybe you just love a good dive bar – the kind of place that provide cheap drinks, food that might kill you, good tunes, and offers zero judgment. Whatever your preferred flavor, my list of favorite bars in Nashville, in no particular order, has something for anyone looking to get sauced. After all, Nashville is a drinking town with a music problem.
If you generally like divey bars but don't find most of them to be crowded enough for your taste, then this is the place for you. During the week there's plenty of breathing room – if you enjoy smoke mixed in with your oxygen – but on weekends, fuhgeddaboudit, it's collegiate amateur hour in every corner. But if you give the bartenders a sweet tip, they'll never forget your face and treat you like gold every time you walk into the joint. That's why it's one of my favorites.
Midtown: 1816 Division St., 615-320-6525
East side: 1010 Forrest Ave., 615-226-7660
In the summertime, this is one of the only spots in town to play a game of washers and year round, it welcomes disheveled rockers who smoke cigarettes and the ladies who love them. Enticing, no? Trust me on this one, it's a sweet hang, made for day-drinkers and Wednesday night trivia gives your booze habit a purpose.
1024 Woodland St., 615-262-3345
Losers Bar & Grill/Winners Bar & Grill
These two bars that sit right next to each other in midtown (and are owned by the same folks) are a destination for rising country stars and a homebase for chart toppers. I like to hang out at the original spot in this duo – Loser's – but I hate feeling like the people next door are better than me. That said, stop by Winners on Monday night for Whiskey Jam, a semi-open-mic night where it's all about who you know and the elbows you rub.
Losers: 1911 Division St., 615-340-0004
Winners: 1913 Division St., 615-327-3115
Step back into the prohibition era, when the speakeasies were exclusive, and liquor cost as much as your rent but was still worth every penny. Stop by anytime you want to savor a moment over some of the most exquisite cocktails in town. My favorite is the Dark & Stormy, a rum and ginger concoction that is quite possibly the best cocktail I have ever had. Bold statement, I know. Come civilized and bring your patience as these cocktails take time to craft.
1711 Division St., 615-636-7724
This mobile-home turned dive bar is the only joint in town that celebrates Christmas year-round and by the time you leave, you too can smell like you fell down a chimney. Stop by whenever you feel like belting out some awful karaoke and need to build your cult fan base. Order cold beers at $2 a pop (cash only). They don't serve liquor because according to the owner, Denzel, who resembles Mr. Claus himself, "Whiskey makes people stupid."
2225 Bransford Ave., 615-593-1872
This is truly one of my favorite joints in town. It's just the perfect mix of eclectic and awesome. Stop by on Sunday nights for The Whiskey Disco dance parties to ensure your weekend ends with a bang. And while you're there, try "The Bukowski" – a shot of swell bourbon chased with a slice of watermelon. It's also your best bet for catching your favorite artists off stage.
407 Gallatin Ave., 615-650-7344
Virago is a haven for people who love to watch people and the new location leaves the windows behind to create a world all its own. Maki Sake Mondays always bring a crowd for half-price sushi and two-for-one cocktails. Try the Pear-Lavender Cocktail, made with pear nectar, lavender syrup, and Hendrick's Gin. You'll also find the largest list of sakes in Nashville and a bevy of distinguished gentlemen and the young ladies who love them.
1126 McGavock St., 615-254-1902
Patrons have been choosing sides here since its opening in 1974 – literally, because the bar is divided into two hang out sections. The place is legendary...and still smoking and it is the spot to grab a pre-show or post-show beverage on the "Rock Block" a.k.a. Elliston Place.
2205 Elliston Pl., 615-321-1160
This place is like a man cave for metrosexuals and on Sunday mornings, it welcomes a crowd that probably chose brunch over church, but decided to look the part nonetheless. The Pablo Honey, made with tequila, blackberry, and agave nectars is divine. Combine it with the "The Midtown Quickie," a daily food special that's quick and satisfying.
1904 Broadway, 615-320-8580
Never, ever, ever tick off "The Don" of this mafia-themed joint and never go more than a month without stopping in on a Tuesday night for their two-for-one specials which have been attracting crowds for years and serve as a family reunion of sorts. Beer enthusiasts in Nashville will be delighted to find lots of options when it comes to tempting their taste buds with tall, cool, frothy suds.
2400 12th Ave. S., 615-269-4646
This is Nashville's only venue built entirely out of plastic. In addition to the ample plant life, you can help grow tomorrow's hangover. Stop by anytime you want to reunite with pals you haven't crossed paths with in a while but avoid wearing stilettos since the gravel outside also serves as the flooring inside.
2211 Bandywood Dr., 615-385-3357
Mercy Lounge/Cannery Ballroom/One/High Watt
Like water on a gremlin, the venue offerings on Cannery Row keep popping up and these four music venues in the same family and in the same 'hood host some of the best shows in town. Sadly, it's a rare occasion when you can bounce from bar to bar under the same cover charge. But while you can find music in almost every corner of Nashville, from buskers on the sidewalks to crooners in the supermarket, these venues book fresh talent nearly every single day. Be sure to check the calendar to see who's gracing their stages.
1 Cannery Row, 615-251-3020
This place has hosted some legends. I know this because their names are literally listed on the walls. It's the crown jewel of the rock block, the CBGB of Nashville, if you will, and a helluva good time when your favorite band is playing.
2208 Elliston Pl., 615-321-3340
This place is turning into the most talked about venue in Music City, with appearances on the show Nashville and a mention in GQ Magazine, for hosting one of the best dance parties in America on Monday nights: "Keep On Movin," the weekly Motown party. Extra bonus: if you like crossing a room for the chance to rub up against 50+ strangers, this is the spot for you.
1006 Forrest Ave., 615-650-9333
Springwater Supper Club & Lounge
Come for the cheap drinks, stay because your feet are stuck to the floor. Stop by after you've eaten somewhere else – don't be fooled by the words "supper" and "club" in the name. This joint holds a special place in my heart because it's where I first learned to hustle pool. It attracts young, crusty rockers and older, crustier rockers. Keep it simple: order beer and pay with cash. Springwater frowns on credit cards.
115 27th Ave. N., 615-320-0345
This is the new kid on the 12 North block of the Gulch that's sexy, but not fussy, and one of the best spots to go late night dancing. And while I encourage everyone to dance, wherever, whenever the mood strikes, this hot spot serves up strong rhythms and even stronger drinks.
125 12th Ave. N., 888-495-6660
The Ryman's baby sister, this place should be noted as a historical landmark for the legends that have performed inside its walls.
402 12th Ave. S., 615-255-3307
Last but not least, In Honky Tonk We Trust
You can't talk about music in Nashville without mentioning the honky tonks of Lower Broad. This historic line of bars hang to the skirt of the mother church of country music, The Ryman Auditorium, and pump out some of the best music Nashville has to offer from sun up to long past sundown each and every day. It's a place where out of town visitors, hometown tourists, dream-chasers far from home, and seasoned music veterans collide in an astounding fashion and there's simply no place else on earth quite like it.
Start at the top of Broadway and 6th Ave. with the originals: Legend's Corner, Tootsie's Orchid Lounge, Second Fiddle, Layla's Bluegrass Inn, and Robert's Western World where some of the finest pickers and players on the planet have cut their teeth at this honky tonk university. Move on down to The Stage and across the street to Honky Tonk Central, Nashville Crossroads, The Wheel, Full Moon Saloon, and Rippy's where music literally spills out onto the sidewalks.
There's no cover charge at this slew of juke joints, so you can move about them freely until something catches your ear, but be sure to show up with some spare dollars in your pockets to tip the musicians. Their lives very well could depend on it.
Heather Byrd is a writer, photographer, publicist, and red carpet correspondent who stars in Crazy Hearts: Nashville. Visit her website, Byrd's Eye View.