Laid-back, vintage atmosphere and fantastic nachos
Chef and proprietor Josh Habiger claims he designed this Wedgewood-Houston lounge as an extension of his own living room. If that’s true, he must have a really kickass condo, because the eclectic decor of Bastion includes raised platforms used like bleacher seats, funky mid-century furniture, and walls covered with art pieces hung from thin slats of wood running the length of the main room. Behind the bar, shelves are filled with high-end spirits used to create fantastic cocktails and plenty of vintage vinyl for the turntable to keep the party going. The only food item on the bar menu is a surprisingly awesome order of nachos, but the food in Habiger’s attached restaurant is some of the best in town.
MORE: Check out Nashville's best restaurants and avoid drinking on an empty stomach
Like drinking at a (quiet, relaxing) yard sale
Finding this quirky Downtown bar is half the battle. Tucked away in a tiny strip mall next to an actual strip club, the entrance is marked only by a tiny brass sign. Once you’re in, though, you’ll be rewarded by a visual riot of fine art covering the tall walls and wacky wall hangings to draw your gaze in every direction. Attentive bartenders, on the other hand, will gladly draw your attention to the bar menu or make you something up on the fly using exotic ingredients and techniques. Either way you go, you’re bound to be delighted. Despite being only a couple blocks away from the neon lights of Broadway, Bar Sovereign is definitely more of a locals hang than a tourist trap, so if you’re looking for a slightly quieter escape, take a walk on the mild side.
Our first and only bar dedicated to the pursuit of absinthe
Absinthe, “The Green Fairy” spirit of lore, has been associated with hallucinations and madness, but rest assured that The Green Hour is all too real. The modern incarnation of absinthe is tamer but no less interesting, as it’s the main component of signature cocktails or presented in a traditional ritual known as La Louche where the spirit is dripped with water over a spoon holding a sugar cube. By day, the building containing The Green Hour is a chocolatier and café, so you’ll need to check for the green light in the window to know when the absinthe starts flowing.
A perfect spot for shots and dancing
East Nashvillians who are serious about their drinks often frequent this bar, where the cocktails are thoughtfully inspired and well executed, but where you’re just as likely to see a round of rail whiskey shots lined up along the bar. Five “Writer’s Block” shots are named after famous authors/drinkers and priced to move at $5 apiece. Later at night, the mood becomes more festive as DJs spin vinyl and patrons start their own impromptu dance parties.
A spirits emporium that feels like a library
The first popular proponent of classic cocktails in Nashville, The Patterson House is where many Nashvillians learned that a velvet rope doesn’t necessarily mean a bar is trying to keep people out to create buzz for entry. Instead, this cozy speakeasy with a library vibe seeks to limit the number of patrons so that their talented staff can really pay attention to each individual customer and every finely crafted drink. It’s nice to enjoy a quiet coupe full of rye without some obnoxious bro digging his elbow in your back while trying to order 11 Jäger bombs.
Powerful drinks in a cavernous space
Pay attention to your cocktail glass in this dramatic drinking space. You’re liable to spill as your head rocks back to take in the 40+ foot tall ceilings of the converted dry cleaner boiler room. The late-night party people jam the space in front of the intimate bar as well as nooks and crannies of the multi-level main room. The cocktails are cleverly designed but not overly cute. Instead they aim to kick you squarely in the teeth with bold flavors and great booze.
A world-class whiskey collection in a former movie theater
Sinema’s two bars each have their own distinct personality. Downstairs is glitz and glam with a full view of the sweeping lobby that once held crowds waiting for the screening of the latest Hollywood blockbuster in the former movie theater. An elegant staircase leads to the upstairs bar with a more intimate loungey feel. Soft-upholstered booths and headshots of music and cinema stars create the ambiance, and a quirky “concessions” menu of snacks accompanies delicious cocktails cheekily named after movie titles. And although it’s a bit swanky, nobody takes themselves too seriously at Sinema.
Come for the drinks; stay for the burlesque
Don’t call it a comeback, since Skull’s has been around for decades as a Printers Alley stalwart (other than a period when the bar was closed for a few years). It reopened in 2015, and new visitors can appreciate the renovated space and old-school atmosphere at this elegant cocktail emporium, plus the chop house menu and nightly PG-13 burlesque shows. A list of specialty cocktails are named as homages to past characters and locales in downtown Nashville’s history.
The best spot for sake in Nashville
This East Nashville izakaya faithfully recreates a Japanese after-work eating and drinking spot, kind of like the Nipponese equivalent of an Irish pub. Decorated with dark woods and organic materials, Two Ten Jack feels cozy, cool, and masculine at the same time. The bar offers one of the best selections of Japanese single malt whiskeys in town plus shochu, sake, wine, beer, and cocktails. The izakaya tradition is to pair different types of drinks with courses of small plates to build an entire dining and drinking experience, and Two Ten Jack will gladly take you on that journey.
Sustainable Mediterranean food to go with the excellent bar
Most of the attention on this cozy East Nashville spot is deservedly on the kitchen’s Israeli and Mediterranean small plates, but don’t sleep on that long bar. The drink menu features plenty of regional craft beers on tap plus a selection of crafty cocktails, including a cheeky “choose your own adventure” option.
Rooftop drinking and dining with a view of the Gulch
On busy nights, the line to get into this rooftop lounge at the hip Thompson Hotel often extends through the lobby 11 floors below. It’s worth the wait to reach the top because floor-to-ceiling windows offer an expansive view of downtown and the bustling crowds skittering around The Gulch. The vibe is sort of a Miami Vice meets old Southern mansion parlor feeling, and there are plenty of fun decor accents to attract the eye. A clever menu of small bites complements a tight list of beers, cocktails and wines so there’s nothing left to do but sit back and enjoy the view.
As good for the coal-fired pizza as it is for its drinks
The focal point of this comfy eatery is the huge, colorful tiled coal-fired oven named Enrico that pumps out pizzas, pastas, and charred vegetables. But the chef’s bar isn’t the only hot spot at Nicky’s -- the bartenders’ bar is also quite enjoyable, and features one of Nashville’s most extensive selection of aperitifs plus an international array of beers. The wine list includes some nice surprises not normally found at your average pizza joint, the creative cocktail program includes terrific frozen drinks like the Fernet & Coke.
A fancy cocktail bar that doesn't need a menu
No, it doesn't have a website, or a published phone number, or even a drinks menu at this buzzy cocktail bar that’s an outpost of the original Attaboy in New York. If you know, you know. Knock loudly on the door so the hostess can hear you and let you in, tell the bartender what you’re in the mood for, and put yourself in their capable hands as they invent a “concoctail” just for you. It’s honestly not nearly as pretentious as it sounds; just a place to hang with people who are deadly serious about great drinks.
Small bites, fine drinks, and a warm wood stove
Not quite a full-service restaurant, Black Rabbit is intended to be more of a hang where you can begin or end an evening of Downtown festivities. This isn’t to say that the food and the drinks aren’t outstanding. They are! The emphasis is on shareable plates and elevated bar snacks cooked on a fascinating open fire wood stove in full view of the bar. There are more places to stand than to sit, so take a lean and enjoy the show!
Intimate boozy clubhouse featuring precision mixologists
This clubby cocktail venue is oozing with cool -- all leather and dark woods and marble and crushed velvet. The only thing sexier than the decor is the menu, filled with inventively boozy, nuanced drinks, and featuring international ingredients from Tennessee whiskey to exotic amari. A thoughtful selection of beer and wine complements the cocktails and a smattering of food options to make for a complete drinking and dining experience.
High-end comfort food with art on the walls and in your glass
Hotel bars get a bad rap for serving overpriced drinks designed for patrons on an expense account looking to spend their bosses’ money taking the edge off the day before heading up to the room to watch a movie whose title will not appear on the room bill. (Or so we’ve heard...) Gray & Dudley at the 21C Hotel is exactly not that sort of bar. There's an edgy ambiance to its vibrant, high-ceiling space and the cocktails are thoughtfully designed and prepared. They are also reasonably priced, considering the real estate they’re served in.
Where to drink like Papa did
This ground floor food and drink spot literally feels like a hideaway, thanks to exposed stone walls and a quaint little conversation nook hidden away at the back of the dining room. Papa Hemingway inspires many of the cocktails on the list, including his namesake daiquiri, which is available on tap. Rather than going into painful detail about each drink on the menu, the list merely mentions the base spirit and then describes the overall vibe of the drink. Enjoy the mysterious adventure, especially on holidays when they create special food and drink pairings for the occasion.
Seersucker-appropriate cocktail lounge
Designed like a veranda bar in a Southern mansion, Henley places its focus squarely on creative cocktails that feature top-shelf spirits including many small-batch bourbons. Special attention is also paid to the visual elements of the cocktails, so they are a treat for the eyes as well as the palate. In addition to a selection of interesting wines plus local and regional craft beers, you can also select a treat from a list of brandies, amari, and cordials that don’t appear on most bar menus.
Sleek art deco cocktail spot
The third leg in Maneet Chauhan’s restaurant-and-bar empire in the same North Gulch building, The Mockingbird is a modern diner serving international fare and clever drinks. Despite the ultra-cool art deco decor, the bar doesn’t take itself too seriously, offering fun drinks like large-format punches to share, and adult juice bags that change seasonally. The classic cocktails are spot-on as well, so don’t feel compelled to order something wacky.
Take a trip to a mythical Polynesian island of robots
Created by a partnership of beverage professionals and a local screen printing artist, Chopper is more than just another tiki bar. They have created an entire mythology around “Island X,” a hidden tropical oasis filled with robots and spacey technology. As weird as it sounds, it works as they carry these themes through the striking decor including a robot staring down at bar patrons and tropical totems surrounding the bamboo bar. The menu of inspired updates of tiki classics rises above gimmickry with some seriously thoughtful cocktails.
Where the locals hang in an old welding shop
Don’t look for a sign at this converted industrial building at 4th and Houston Street, because you won’t find one. You won’t find any drink names on the menu, either. Instead, the mixologists will just ask what spirit you’re in the mood for and then mix you up something special on the spot. Their cocktails are nuanced and balanced, and always a surprise. Enjoy one in the laid-back vibe of the bar or adjourn to the spacious back patio for some al fresco fun.
Classic doesn’t have to mean stodgy
This subterranean hideaway in the basement of the grande dame of Nashville hotels at the Hermitage was serving classic cocktails before it was cool. In addition to an already impressive brown liquor collection behind the bar, The Oak Bar takes advantage of the hotel’s purchasing power to pick up special single-barrel selections of bourbons and Tennessee whiskeys that you’ll never find anywhere else. And make sure to check out the nearby men’s room. It’s spectacular!
Mind-blowing cocktails featuring local seasonal ingredients
No bar in Nashville works more closely with the chefs in the attached restaurant kitchen than the mixologists at Husk. The bar manager and executive chef riff off each other to swap ideas and ingredients from the restaurant’s attached garden for elements that might turn up on the plate or in the glass. If you’re a fan of the tangy bite of drinking vinegars or shrubs, the talented bar staff at Husk stir up some magnificent cocktails with those ingredients.
The focus is on what’s in the glass
In chemistry, pH is the measure of acidity or alkalinity, with a level of 7 being neutral. The mixologists at this lovely cocktail lounge aim for exactly that sort of balance in their drinks that they serve across the bar beneath the Edison bulbs in this sleek ambiance. They pride themselves on the use of fresh juices and premium spirits, and their efforts shine through in the form of clean flavors and inventive recipes.
Head downstairs to go uptown
Hidden away beneath the dining room of sister restaurant The Sutler and adjoined to the divey underground Melrose Pool Hall next door, Rambler exudes a different kind of cool from its corporate cousins. The lounge vibe is amplified by cool lighting and lots of comfy plush seating areas where friends can meet up for an after work drink or some late night canoodling. The menu of cocktails, craft beers, and wines is full of excellent options without being too intimidating.
Island vibes plus tropical food and drink
Pearl Diver doesn’t claim the classification of tiki bar, and we’ll give them that. Instead, it’s more of a tropical/nautical theme mashup decorated in the hues of the sea and the jungle, plus round windows reminiscent of portholes. The drinks menu does feature a lot of ingredients that you might also encounter in “Don the Beachcomber’s” classic tiki drinks, but the bar staff uses them in brand new ways. Food options skew toward seafood with some Asian snacks, the perfect accompaniment to the drinks and decor.