Where to Drink in Nashville Right Now
From whiskey libraries to a new absinthe lounge, these are the bars you should patronize immediately.
While it’s a town maybe best-known for its honky-tonk “beer and a shot” party culture around the likes of Lower Broadway, Nashville’s cocktail culture is surprisingly strong city-wide. Talented mixologists from around the country have come to town to entertain tourists and locals alike with impeccable bar service and a dedication to the craft. The local outpost of NYC-based Attaboy was recognized with a James Beard semifinalist nod for a national “Best Bar in America” recently, but it has plenty of friendly competition from other establishments looking to raise the bar on bars. For your own judging consideration, here are hotel bars, rooftop bars, sports bars, dive bars, cocktail bars, and more—all of which are the best of the best.
There’s no menu at the bar on the floor above chef Sean Brock’s modernist Appalachian restaurant, Audrey. Instead, patrons are presented with a basket containing five different pieces of fresh produce that will be combined with a single spirit and some creation from the restaurant’s R&D lab to create a quintet of fascinating complex cocktails of the day. The atmosphere is zen-like and the drinks can be life-changing, so give in to the experience.
Airport cocktails are one of the few remaining treats of travel, and this aviation-inspired bar leans into the theme with bold murals, neon accents, and plush seating. Harkening back to the heyday when taking a trip was something glamorous, you can’t help but feel pampered at this unique bar with its affordable modern takes on classic cocktails.
EG & MC
Brought to you by the team behind the popular pizzeria/craft beer bar Slim & Husky’s, EC&MG exudes the same playful attitude as its sister restaurant. Serving Southern-inspired tapas and elegant cocktails in a lovely ambiance accented by works from local artists, this chill spot has quickly become a neighborhood hang. Ladies’ Nights on Wednesday are a particularly popular time to stop in for great deals on wine and spirits.
Even after chef Ford Fry opened up his Nashville location of The Optimist after an almost interminable delay, there was still more to look forward to with the announcement of Le Loup. True to the seafood-centric focus of the restaurant below, Le Loup serves oysters, clams, mussels, and a few other small plates that are the perfect accompaniment to the menu of inventive cocktails. In addition to elegant highballs and other drinks served straight up in a coupe glass or over rocks, the bar offers a fun selection of various iterations of the martini throughout history. Sipping on a vesper with some raw oysters and mignonette in the lush lounge-y atmosphere of Le Loup is a perfect way to put the troubles of the day behind you.
Bay 6’s name has a double meaning. It is indeed a microbar located in a food court constructed in the bays of a converted car wash along with five other walk-up restaurants, but it’s also a pun on the “basic” nature of the cocktails on the menu. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t complex and layered. It’s just that in such a small space, much of the work is done beforehand so that drinks can be served quickly without the fuss of a mixologist trying to put on a show for patrons. House syrups, fresh juices and even cocktails on draft make the experience expeditious and delicious.
Mel's Overlord Bar
A few years ago, East Nashville probably wouldn’t have imagined that it needed a watering hole inspired by WWII-era France, but that was before owner Melvin Arnt opened his classic French bistro Once Upon a Time in France, combining the cuisine, culture and history of Paris. With this new sister bar, Arnt trunks back the clock to the days of the Normandy invasion with a menu of champagne cocktails, classic drinks and Euro-centric beer and wine lists. The walls are covered with historical newspaper clippings and various artifacts, and you’ll leave wanting to find a rideshare in the sidecar of a retro motorcycle. Vive La France!
This late 18th-century blacksmith shop has been thoughtfully converted into a lovely restaurant and bar that still pays homage to the original business where food is cooked over an open fire like a forge and drinks are crafted with the precision of a master craftsman. The outdoor champagne garden and courtyard is an ideal spot to enjoy affordable cocktails crafted using top shelf spirits and exotic ingredients. The “Tourist Trap” features Nashville’s iconic hot chicken seasoning to add a kick to an elevated margarita, and it’s a trap worth falling into.
Rosemary & Beauty Queen
Situated in a classic yellow East Nashville bungalow, Rosemary & Beauty Queen really does feel like being invited into someone’s home for an evening of fun and frivolity. Well, if your host invited pumping DJs in to entertain and added an outdoor deck with another bar and swings to sit in while you sip on seasonal cocktails or partake in cheap craft beer deals and shot specials. You can even order a Bloody Mary made with Grateful CBD mix, and you’re sure to feel right at home until they remind you that you can’t sleep over.
Green Hour Cocktails and Absinthe Lounge
Absinthe is a polarizing spirit. The anise-flavored liqueur has a history of causing madness, but it’s been a long time since anyone made it using any ingredients that might drive you crazy. But a properly mixed absinthe cocktail can still knock you on your butt, like being hit by a pillow wrapped around an anvil. Absinthe drinks are the specialty of the house at this semi-secret bar that’s a chocolate shop by day and cocktail emporium whenever the green light is illuminated in the window. The talented bar staff uses absinthe with restraint to create balanced drinks that showcase “the green fairy” along with other complementary ingredients.
From the outside, Otto’s doesn’t try to conceal that the former tenant of the building was an auto repair shop, and the service station theme continues indoors with fun little details like gas station signs and plenty of heavy metal furnishings. The nearby Syplan Heights and Nations neighborhoods have quickly adopted Otto’s as a gathering spot for fun cocktails that don’t break the banks and crispy tacos to nosh on while catching up with friends. The boozy Painkiller is the most expensive drink on the menu, but it will definitely clear your mind of whatever has been troubling your worried mind. Just make sure to arrange a ride home first.
The downstairs bar in the lobby of the converted art deco-style movie house that is Sinema is pretty dreamy, but head upstairs to the dead sexy lounge for a real treat. Boasting one of Nashville’s best whiskey collections and a fun menu of movie-inspired drinks like the gin-based “We’ll Always Have Paris” and a nautical rum and port “Old Man + the Sea,” the master mixologists at Sinema know how to put on a show. They also offer an extensive menu of creative non-alcoholic adult beverages that go far beyond most “mocktails.”
The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club
The Fox is what happens when a few friends come together and decide to build their own kick-ass bar. The vibe is like settling in for an excellent post-dinner drink in a really rich friend’s library, decorated with old volumes of literature and history and plush velvet seating. They accept reservations for early seating, but after that you’re on your own to wait your turn. Their Left Handed Banana with local bourbon and chocolate blending with banana and bitters makes the wait worth it.
Chef Sean Brock’s latest restaurant is an homage to the classic elegance of hotel dining, and the beverage program at The Continental is deadly serious about honoring the traditions of iconic spots like The Waldorf and The Ritz on their menu of historic cocktails with the occasional modern twist. Bar Director Jonathan Howard has created a remarkable martini and caviar pairing tasting experience with The Vesper Club, and hour-long journey through a flight of globally sourced caviar and accompanying cocktails.
Never Never basically looks like a trailer that somebody added a wooden deck to, and in truth, it used to be an old welding shop before transforming into an amiable neighborhood hang. Like a few other local bars, they prefer the “choose your adventure” sort of menu, listing just the spirit and leaving it to you and your bartender to work out the details from there. Luckily, they know what they are doing, and their cocktails tend to be creative and nicely balanced. They also serve a short menu of comfort foods to accompany their drinks, so you can make a whole evening of it.
Willie B's Kitchen & Lounge
The historic Buchanan St. corridor was once a creative center for Nashville’s African-American population, with Black-owned businesses stretching up and down the street. Recently a new generation of entrepreneurs has made strides at restoring “The Buc” to its former glory by opening new bars and restaurants in the neighborhood. This sleek lounge highlights drinks made using ingredients from other Black-owned businesses plus a wall of frozen boozy drink machines to keep the party pumping.
After a tough 2020 that included closing for a tornado and a pandemic, Attaboy is back at it with some of the city’s most talented mixologists behind the stick. They're again offering custom cocktails created without the benefit of a predetermined menu. After a quick psychological assessment interview by the bar staff, enjoy the cocktail you didn’t know you needed. You can always express your preferences, but it’s better to be surprised. Attaboy was a finalist for the James Beard Foundation’s national Best Bar Program in America award, so you know they’re on top of their game.
Bar Sovereign is one of those sorts of places where if you know, you know. Most locals don’t even know about this SoBro lounge, and the tiny sign out front to mark the front door doesn’t offer much in the way of illumination of the pleasures to be found inside the shadow of the many tall buildings springing up around the squat commercial strip. The wildly eclectic decor includes rad art on the walls and what appears to be parts of an exploded piano hanging behind the bar. Just give in to the B.S., the house cocktail which is like a whiskey sour augmented with lovely amari.
This nautically themed bar and restaurant is reminiscent of Captain Nemo movies throughout history, complete with windows that look like portholes and walls festooned with tropical prints and aquatic color schemes. The drinks menu features tiki classics, and the food offerings are also straight-ahead Polynesian fare. They offer a $2 “Happiness Upgrade” to their already excellent piña colada with the addition of coffee grounds and a sherry floater.
Earnest Bar & Hideaway
This bar used to be called Hemingway’s, and Papa would have been proud of the old-school daiquiris from this solid cocktail bar and restaurant. The rough-hewn stone walls make it feel like a subterranean fortress, but it’s really on the ground floor, and the friendly staff adds needed warmth to the atmosphere. Rather than painstakingly list every ingredient and process used to create their delicious drinks, the menu is fairly cryptic. That’s OK, trust your bartenders or just go with the “Steve McQueen,” a boozy take on a Manhattan that’s spicier and more complex than you’d expect.
The whole concept of the Kimpton Aertson’s main drinking and dining spot, Henley, is intended to be like being welcomed into a convivial Southern home, and the bar is appropriately stationed near the front door next to the patio. The bartop is cozy enough to allow for constant interaction with your barkeep who will craft up the cocktail of your dreams or offer a specialty from their ingenious menu of custom creations. Respectful of both the craft and the needs of the customers, Henley strives to create exactly whatever experience you’re looking for.
Walk through the front door of this East Nashville hotspot and you’ll find yourself in a magical, mystical world where robots rule a Polynesian paradise. Yeah, you read that right. The drinks trend toward tiki, and the gestalt is more Fritz Lang-ish. Together they mesh for a truly unique experience. Patrons are limited to just one Robo Zombie apiece, but that’s all you’ll need to get where you want to go.
Mother’s Ruin Nashville
When the popular Manhattan watering hole Mother’s Ruin announced they were opening a second location in Music City, Germantown residents wondered how the new neighbors would fit in. They needn’t have fretted, because the staff at Mother’s Ruin knows how to please with delectable bar food like those addictive Old Bay Waffle Fries and a menu of fun cocktails that are designed to be prepared and poured quickly and in volume. It’s become an irreplaceable hang for people that like good food and strong drink without the wait or the pretentiousness of some other cocktail bars.
The entire back wall at Gertie’s is covered with floor-to-ceiling shelves filled with hundreds of rare whiskeys, including some special private single barrel picks that are literally not available anywhere else in the world. Whether you’re sipping it straight or as part of a mixed drink, the selection of brown liquor here is unrivaled. Half-price deals on selected featured whiskeys from the expansive list on Wednesdays and make mid-week particularly advantageous for a visit.
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. In a welcome reaction to the uncertainty of these times, a new popular brunch service features food created by their upstairs neighbors at the innovative chef’s table tasting restaurant, The Catbird Seat.
Skull's Rainbow Room
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 performances by cool jazz combos. A list of specialty cocktails are named as homages to past characters and locales in downtown Nashville’s history.