Food & Drink

The Best Cocktail Bars in Nashville

Lower Broad is still the spot for a shot, and the remaining fern bars in the ‘burbs will happily whip you up a drink more notable for its color than its flavor, but Nashville has definitely evolved into a great cocktail town. The best development has been the wide variety of spots to enjoy a properly made drink, ranging from elegant lounges to Polynesian tiki palaces to down-and-dirty holes in the wall that happen to serve balanced classic cocktails without the accompanying pretentiousness. It’s a great time to be thirsty in Music City. These are the best cocktail bars in Nashville.

Husk 

Rutledge Hill
While some diners think of Husk as the restaurant where your server is most likely to know the astrological sign of the farmer who grew those roasted beets on your plate, downstairs in the bar, they’re all about the cocktails. The mixologists work hand-in-hand with the kitchen staff (well, not really… that would be awkward) to source unique local and seasonal ingredients to use in their innovative cocktails. They are also quite fond of incorporating drinking vinegars, or shrubs, into their recipes to add complexity and acid to cocktails like the prickly pear shrub that makes the Shrubs N’ Roses sing.

The Crying Wolf

East Nashville
What you're getting: Grizzly Adams
This no-nonsense watering hole is a spin-off by some former employees of its neighbors at No. 308, but with slightly rougher edges; you’ll be more than welcome to order just a PBR tallboy and a shot as you will be to sip down one of its house cocktails made from an admirable store of high-end liquors. The bartenders work fast, so don’t expect a shaker show. Try one of their moonshine-based drinks like the Grizzly Adams, made with local American Born Dixie Moonshine, and tastes like a jacked-up glass of sweet tea.

Sinema

Melrose
Located in the old Melrose theater, the restaurant and bar at Sinema still maintains the ambiance of the Golden Age, with soft furnishings and gilded accents. True to its heritage as a grand theater, many of the cocktails feature pun-laden, movie-themed names. How Rande Met Cindy is an homage to noted restaurateur/bar owner Rande Gerber and his supermodel wife Cindy Crawford, and the vodka-based cocktail utilizes cayenne and pineapple to offer something as sweet and hot as she is.

Rambler Cocktail Bar

Melrose
This subterranean lounge is accessible from The Sutler restaurant above or its divey pool hall neighbor next door through a semi-secret passageway, but it’s worth the effort to discover. The cool, yet still flashy, decor befits the modern mixology going on down there. Try the smoky Uncharted Territory infused with CBD to help you plot your course through the rest of the evening.

Attaboy

East Nashville
An off-shoot of the famous Lower East Side Manhattan speakeasy, Attaboy drops almost all pretentions, including the concept of offering an actual menu. Instead, once you find the place and figure out how to get in (hint: knock on the door), submit yourself to a quick psychological assessment interview by one of the talented mixologists and prepare to enjoy the cocktail you didn’t know you needed. You can certainly express your preferences, but it’s better to be surprised.

Gertie’s Bar

Gulch
Unquestionably Nashville’s best bourbon bar, the back wall of this shrine to whiskey is literally covered with hundreds of bottles of rare brown liquor. While neat pours of whiskey are always encouraged, don’t skip the cocktails, especially their signature Old Fashioned made using homemade brown butter and a roasted pecan syrup that renders the drink a glass of liquid cake. Boozy, boozy liquid cake.

Bastion
Bastion | Andrew Thomas Lee

Bastion

Wedgewood-Houston
Chef/owner Josh Habiger is renowned as one of the premier culinarians in Nashville, but he also focuses on the drinks in this no-frills bar attached to his signature restaurant. Designed like an extension of the chef’s own living room, Bastion is a popular gathering spot for serious cocktail fans who don’t dig on ceremony. Order up some of the best nachos in town and enjoy them with friends and the mezcal/rhubarb/orange masterpiece called a Cowgirl in the Sand.

Chopper

East Nashville
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, and together they mesh for a truly unique experience. Their deeply complex Agricole Mojito depends on a blend of rums to stand above most versions of the minty lime cocktail you may have tried before.

Old Glory

Midtown
It’s hard to believe that a three-story bar built in the boiler room of a former dry cleaning facility could be hidden, but that’s the case with Old Glory, tucked away in the interior hallway of Villa Place. Shafts of light beam through high windows across exposed stone and tile walls adorned with living plants during the day, but you’ll probably want to be part of the late night crowd anyway. Descend down the sweeping staircase and join the party people who are deadly serious about their cocktails. The Second Base is a fine introduction to the bar staff’s dedication to premium products and fresh ingredients with a lovely balance of gin, Thai basil, lime, lavender, and cucumber.

The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club

East Nashville
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.

Pearl Diver
Pearl Diver | Matt Spicher

Pearl Diver

East Nashville
This nautically themed bar and restaurant is reminiscent of Captain Nemo movies through 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’ve revived the classic Hotel Nacional as one of their house specials, and the rummy cocktail is perfect for the vibe.

E3 Chophouse
E3 Chophouse | Christen Clemins Photography

E3 Chophouse

Hillsboro Village
There are actually three bars in this mountain ski chalet themed steakhouse. The ground floor bar is a nice place to meet friends or grab a drink while you wait for a table, and the second story bar is actually hidden inside the kitchen to offer well-made drinks to accompany meals in the main dining room. But the top floor is where the action is, offering the best views of Hillsboro Village in the neighborhood from an expansive outdoor deck or from tables near the long bar. True to the grilled beef mission of the restaurant side, the talented mixologists love to incorporate smoke into their cocktails in various ways. The Palabra is a Latin take on the classic Last Word and gets its smoky essence from the base spirit, mezcal.

Mother’s Ruin

Germantown
It’s nice that Nashville has moved on from the high falutin’ cocktail culture that just took everything too seriously. We’re seeing more and more places where the drink is the star instead of the mixologist on center stage giving a shaker show. Nashville’s Mother’s Ruin is the second outpost of what will be a growing NYC-based chain of bars where the emphasis is on fun drinks from a menu that changes weekly and some of the best bar food around. Seriously, get the wings and the fries, they’re top-notch! Since the drinks menu is constantly mutating, you’ll have to put yourself in your bartender’s able hands, but you can always ask for the sweet and briny Corduroy Jacket, a unique cocktail made with bourbon and a smoky scotch syrup.

Bar Sovereign

SoBro
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 wildly eclectic decor includes rad art on the walls and what appears to be parts of an exploded pianos hanging behind the bar. Just give in to the B.S., the house cocktail which is like a whiskey sour augmented with lovely amari.

Earnest Bar & Hideaway

Wedgewood-Houston
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 you bartenders or just go with The Girl with the Green Eyes, a light, low-ABV drink that will allow you to have another, and another.

Never Never

Wedgewood-Houston
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 nicely balanced and ingenuitive. They also serve a short menu of comfort foods to accompany their drinks, so you can make a whole evening of it.

Skull’s Rainbow Room

Downtown
For Nashvillians of a certain age, Skull’s Rainbow Room in Printers’ Alley is where your dad went to party during the Nixon administration. However, it has been reborn for a new generation as an elegant cocktail bar and chophouse with delicious little throwbacks to history. The ornate bar could be a show-stopper, but there’s no stopping the dancers in the burlesque show when the rollicking live band starts to play. Try Skull’s namesake spicy ginger, pineapple, orange, and pineapple vodka cocktail, and you’ll realize that maybe the old man did know what he was doing back then!

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Chris Chamberlain is a contributor for Thrillist.