The Best Bars in Nashville
Find the best watering holes for beer, whiskey, creative craft cocktails and more around Music City.
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String lights and funky furniture fill an industrial former warehouse to make up the “big bar” at Bastion — it fits with the vibe of the surrounding Wedgewood-Houston district. Inside the bare bones, unpretentious space, they’re pouring punch of the day and craft beers, and there’s a countertop toaster oven where the bartenders heat up platters of loaded-up nachos. Grab a drink and take your perch on wooden benches along one wall. Or, head to the other side of the bar to seek out the tucked-away restaurant helmed by Josh Habiger, whose intriguing, multi-course menu is prepared by a small team of cooks from behind a bar-like counter.
Whether you’re looking for a boozy brunch, a working happy hour, or a late-night hang, Pinewood Social delivers. The all-day space — complete with a bowling alley, outdoor pool and airstream trailer bar, and karaoke room — does open up early for breakfast, but by midday, the bar is buzzing with folks seeking out a range of seasonal cocktails and local beers, or chilling out back with frozen drinks. Come evening, the large format cocktails arrive. Serving 6 to 12 people, drinks get a base, like the Macho Matcha Man with grapefruit, elderflower, matcha, and lime, and a choice of booze to go with it. There’s a list of spirit-free beverages, too, including an addictive ginger beer, lime and tonic concoction.
Pearl Diver is the creation of four vets of the bar and restaurant industry who turned a former car repair shop into an island-themed escape. The motif features mermaids, palm fronds and nautical details, plus nods to Ernest Hemingway — and the menu of cocktails and small bites aims to match. Go for a sturdy Mai Tai or a deceptively delicate-looking Hotel Nacional while grazing on dumplings, tacos or a PuPu platter complete with a flaming center. You can also take the party out to the patio, where live greenery and the pink-and-green accents make it feel like a rustic Caribbean bar in the heart of East Nashville.
Downtown Sporting Club
You can find live music and cheap beers all along Broadway. But the only spot on the strip where you’ll find axe throwing is inside Downtown Sporting Club, the latest concept from Strategic Hospitality (Pinewood Social, Bastion and more). That’s not all: The four-story fun house also boasts a Crema coffee bar, a seated, diner-like restaurant, a second-story bar with views of Broadway, a rooftop bar, and a 20-room boutique hotel. You’ll discover playful touches throughout, like a photo booth, shuffle board court and killer frozen cocktails like the Whiskey & Ginger. As for the axes, book one of 12 throwing lanes for one stress-relieving hour — it comes complete with a throwing coach.
The Patterson House
One of Nashville’s first serious cocktail bars, the Patterson House is still its best. The reservation-only policy means that there’s never a chaotic scene around the rectangular island bar at the center of the room. A library motif, antique chandeliers, and an army of well-dressed barmen are there to greet you, but don’t let the serious scene intimidate you — the staff is just as happy to pour a gin and housemade tonic as to mix a custom craft cocktail. The menu is organized by spirit, with drinks listed from least to most potent. There’s a small food menu, including mini burgers, truffled deviled eggs and roasted bar nuts.
It was fortuitous that the owners of Walden, Katie MacLachlan and Robyn Donnelly, found a space that had once been a beer bar. Instead of ripping out the wall of taps for their neighborhood cocktail-bar concept, they adapted, and dedicated the menu to draft cocktails. The 36 taps now pour batched drinks, like the Pink Pepper G&T, based on Old Dominick American dry gin, or a smooth and sippable margarita. There’s also wine, beer and cider, as well as a tight menu of bar snacks. Your visit should start with a seat on the patio for a gin-based Eastside Sunset paired with a fig-and-brie grilled cheese.
The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club
Tucked behind and underneath a small stretch of storefronts, The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club is an intimate hideaway dressed up with dark woods, pressed tin ceilings and soft blue-velvet banquettes. Slip in on the early side to avoid a wait, and order from the robust menu of solidly conceived updated classics, made simply. There are a few standards on tap, including a blood orange margarita and a “fancy” mojito. But drinks like the 19th Century Manhattan, made with Wild Turkey 101 Rye, bitters, absinthe and lemon oil, show off the bars teams’ understated ingenuity.
Oak Bar in The Hermitage Hotel
There are about 130 bottles of whiskey on the extensive list at Nashville’s longstanding historical haunt Oak Bar. When it originally opened on the lowest level of The Hermitage Hotel in 1910, it was a private club and later, it snuck through Prohibition, hiding the hooch in tea cups. Today, with its wood paneling and leather-backed chairs, it’s a stately space where you’ll find proper service and your bourbon or whiskey served neat in a glass with ice and water on the side. For a snack, go for the fried green tomatoes served with pimento cheese and pepper jelly.
Looking for live music without the honky tonk vibe? Black Rabbit sits at the heart of downtown near Printer’s Alley and offers that upscale, well-dressed cocktail crowd that avoids the fray of Broadway. A jazz trio usually graces the front room on weekend nights and there’s a cozy, living room-like space for listening. Head towards the bar to watch a bit of action: A wood-fired oven pumps out thoughtful bar fare, like beef or pork tacos and charred okra. On the drinks menu, you’ll find playful tipples, like the Currant Events, made with Old Forester, black current, yellow chartreuse, and hibiscus.
The 404 Kitchen
At the 404 Kitchen, Chef Matt Bolus has curated one of the city’s largest and most-comprehensive whiskey lists, with more than 600 different labels, including 30 private barrel selections. Suffice to say: This an official hangout for aficionados. Their Whiskey Society gives members access to a liquor locker on site, along with first dibs on whiskey tastings and dinners.
Flamingo Cocktail Club & Coffee Bar
The spinning disco ball at the center of this snug, two-story room says it all: Flamingo Cocktail Club is all about a good time. With a short, seasonally rotating list of $12 cocktails, including the Ashes to Ashes with a vodka base and hints of rosemary, and regular DJ sets, it’s a space meant for gathering and letting off steam. (Check out TBT each Thursday for 1950s and ‘60s-era soul and dance beats.) Out front, the Falcon Coffee Bar has a list of breakfast and lunch items to get you through the following morning, too.
Robert’s Western World
Up and down Music City’s main thoroughfare, you’ll find live music, cold beers and maybe a good snack. But it’s inside Robert’s Western World where you’ll actually find locals, too. This long-standing Broadway bar, run by proprietor and performer JesseLee Jones of the band Brazilbilly, is known for keeping things real by bringing in well-respected musicians, some of whom built their careers touring with big guns like Loretta Lynn or Vince Gill, to play traditional country and western and classic honky tunes. Find a spot near the dance floor and order up the famous recession special: a fried bologna sandwich, chips and a PBR for $6. And don’t forget to tip your musicians.
Skull’s Rainbow Room
For a taste of old Nashville, duck into nearly hidden entrance of Skull’s Rainbow Room at the heart of Printers Alley. Inside, there’s a revived 1940s-era speakeasy whose platform stage has been graced by Elvis, Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and more. Home to a nightly burlesque show and live music throughout the week, it’s a swanky spot to grab an Old Fashioned or the signature Rainbow Room, made with vodka, ginger, pineapple and a cava floater. In a nod to the place’s storied past, folks here dress the part — think dapper and dandy. There’s a full menu nightly, too, with options like pork chops and rack of lamb.
Through a nondescript door and down a flight of stairs, you’ll find an otherworldly bar locale — Old Glory is set in what used to be the boiler room of a clothing cleaner. It’s a dramatic entrance, especially with the tile-fronted chimney stack, and threads of climbing plants highlighting the high-ceilinged space. The offerings are just as cool. There’s a strong list of inventive signatures, like the Nature’s Call, an herbaceous blend of mezcal, parsley, celery, honey and yellow chartreuse, plus a classic beer list (think Modelo, Guinness and Oberon) and a tight selection of red, white and sparkling wines. To eat, it’s mainly snacks, like empanadas, which come out of the tiny kitchen space set beside the chimney.
Bourbon Sky Lounge
Soaring 34 stories above Nashville, Bourbon Sky offers panoramic views and windows that open up for a jaw-dropping effect. The bar is an extension of Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak, known for its impeccable service and high-end steakhouse experience. On the cocktail menu, the bartenders riff with two variations of traditional cocktails. The Manhattan can come as you know it, or, under a more “Rebellious” take, gets kicked up with Cognac and chocolate bitters. There’s also a long list of whiskeys and bourbons from Tennessee, Kentucky, Japan and Scotland to peruse, while food items like the Lobster and King Crab Roll rival what you’ll find in the dining room.
Urban Cowboy Public House
There’s a blend of Southwestern rusticity and Art Deco flare at the Urban Cowboy Public House, an indoor/outdoor bar set beside a smartly designed bed and breakfast. The bar itself, made from repurposed wood, is set in an old brick stable with exposed beams and dried herbs hanging overhead. Order food and drinks at the bar (go for the Rose Paloma for a grapefruit-spiked refresher) and then grab a seat inside at a communal table; outside by the fireplace; or near the smoky, wood-fired grill that acts as the bar’s rustic kitchen and pumps out wood-fired sausages and other snacks.