Charleston: The Ultimate Local's Guide
Tiny bar, big, big impact
How can a bar with about a half dozen seats be one of the best in town? When it has the breadth and depth of the whiskey collection at 404 Kitchen and talented mixologists to lead you into historical or geographic journeys through the spirits, it has to make the list. And that’s not even mentioning the wine list which features rare bottles that you won’t find in even the biggest restaurant collections. Well, now that we mentioned it, you’ll have to go see it for yourself.
A new Gulch find with shelves upon shelves of bottles
When Chef Matt Bolus moved The 404 Kitchen across the street into much bigger digs, that freed up room to add an additional bar on the ground floor of the sprawling restaurant. That bar is Gertie’s, named after Gertrude Cleo Lythgoe, known as "Queen of the Bootleggers." The cocktail menu will change seasonally, and the opening salvo features drinks inspired by country music movies through the ages. (Think Walk the Line and Coal Miner’s Daughter.) Bolus designed a food menu around the late-night snacks he himself loves, so that everyone can eat a drink like the chef does.
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 real 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 without a doubt some of the best in town.
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.
You'll feel like you’re drinking in a train's elegant bar car
Entering the door at the tip of the triangular building that houses Union Common’s bar is like going back in time. Sleek, art deco-inspired decor and leather stools that look like they were removed from a Porsche call back to the the elegance of bar cars on old trains, accentuated by cars rushing by both sides of the flatiron building. A new rolling bar cart program adds even more class to the proceedings. It’s also at the end of Division St., Nashville’s 2nd biggest party street avenue after Broadway, the perfect place to keep the party pumping.
Four floors of distinct drinking experiences
The four-story Acme Feed & Seed is almost like a trio of different bars, each with its own individual charm. The kitchen and main stage are downstairs, making the first-floor the best spot for a beer and live music, while the second-floor lounge features two bars with classic cocktails and a chiller ambiance. The rooftop offers one of the best views of Downtown, plus tiki drink specials and beer options.
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 bar and a bed-and-breakfast under one roof
Tucked away in the stable house behind the new Urban Cowboy Bed and Breakfast in Lockeland Springs, this attractive and cozy little joint seems as if your rich buddy built the most incredible home bar ever in his garden shed. Except it’s doubtful that he would have such talented bartenders working behind the stick and access to the delicious small plates prepared in the tiny adjacent kitchen. As they say, “we always have campfires burning and chili ready to warm your bones after a long day.”
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!
New, intimate boozy clubhouse in East Nasty
This clubby new 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 an international list of 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, so you’re never more than a minute away from enjoying another one. 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 new 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 if you’re not feeling especially froggy.
The best spot for drinks and disco that's also... a living room?
If you’re looking for a new home bar, why not try a new bar that’s literally in a home? This cozy East Nashville watering hole emphasizes comfort above all else, and the experience is like paying a buddy to fix you great drinks in your own living room. That’s a lot more fun than it sounds. Local beers, a thoughtful wine list, and a few well-chosen snacks complete the menu, but it’s the inventive cocktails that bring all the boys to the yard. Well, that and the disco soundtrack, gorgeous stained glass windows, and top-shelf spirits. The bar is called Rosemary and the sister restaurant, Beauty Queen, is still fighting zoning hurdles, but it can only get better.