***Be advised that Nashville bars are temporarily closed to lessen the spread of COVID-19.
I visited all the honky tonks and live music venues on Broadway to provide you profiles, tips and recommendations.
For starters, there’s no cover charge at honky tonks but the musicians survive on tips and most take requests. Most honky tonks are open to all ages until 6pm. Staying current is tough but I try to keep this updated.
Now let’s walk the south side of Broadway, starting by Riverfront Park.
@101 Broadway. Acme is the original name of the place where some years back you could buy alfalfa and bring your dog in on Saturdays for a flea dip. Today each floor has a different vibe, menu and musical personality. On the first floor, home to Acme Radio Live, you place your food order at the counter and they’ll bring it to you while you listen to live music. The second floor is a sushi bar with salads and other non-country fare. The third floor is home to special ticketed concerts and private groups. The rooftop bar (no food) gives you a gorgeous view of the river. They shake things up musically throughout the week: Mon/”Grateful” cover bands, Tu/Twang, Wed/Guitar singers, Th/Funky Tonk, Fr/Rotating artists and rooftop dance party with a DJ, Sat/Soul brunch and rooftop Dj/dance party, Sun/Blues brunch and rooftop champagne jam. Hours: M-Th 11am-11pm, Fr 11am-2am, Sat 10am-2am, Sun 10am-11pm.
@105 Broadway. Sounds like it’d be a basement but in fact it’s four floors with three stages. The first is spacious with a stage in back and contemporary seating areas. Both it and the second floor tend toward country rock. The third floor has an LED dance floor and wider musical variety. The unique double decker rooftop bar features a raw bar and DJ booth. The menu is more ambitious than most with a selection that runs from hot chicken to in-house smoked barbecue to truffle mac’n’cheese and a grilled brie and pear sandwich. They claim that, at 29° F, they have the coldest draft beer in town. Instead of country memorabilia, the upper floors are sleek with modern furniture and exposed brick–very cool spaces for private events. As honky tonks go, it’s a bit of an outsider–a little too urban for the purist. Hours: M-F 10:30am-1am, Sat-Sun 9am-2am.
@207 Broadway. When I was growing up, this shotgun shack of a building housed Tillman’s Butcher Shop; these days, it’s out with the 80% lean ground round and in with the 100-proof moonshine. The cozy honky tonk offers 29 flavors ranging from jalapeno to apple pie and blue raspberry as well as locally distilled Picker’s Vodka. The first floor features live music ranging from traditional country during the day to southern rock at night. The second floor presents acoustic Americana-ish artists. On Thursday nights, the theme is “Nashville Uncovered,” all original material by the band d’jour. Hours: M-Th noon-2am, Fri-Sun 11am-2am.
Kid Rock’s Big A– Honky Tonk Rock’n’Roll Steakhouse
@217 Broadway. If you’re looking for music that leans more toward rock than country, there’s a good bet that you’ll find it here. The playlist includes ’70s-’90s rock as well as Kid Rock covers. Unlike some places that lean toward acoustic solo performers and duos in the afternoons, Kid Rock’s is all about bands. Don’t come here for intimate conversations but if want fist-pumpin’ fun, give it a look. There are five floors here including a private event space and the rooftop bar with stages on four of those floors. The menu includes more steak options than most places but they also serve chili, burgers and salads. Hours: 11am-3am daily.
@301 Broadway. When Luke Bryan staged a free outdoor concert on Broadway to inaugurate his new restaurant and bar, more than 10,000 people showed up. Things have settled down a bit since but it’s still a hopping joint. There’s live music leaning toward modern country, a bar and limited seating on the first floor. Up top is a huge two-tier rooftop space. The menu might surprise you with choices including sushi, a veggie burger and an elk-burger. Hours: M-F, 11am-3am, Sat-Sun, 10am-3am.
@305 Broadway. It’s a karaoke bar, plain and simple, with a bazillion tracks of popular songs. One rule: no slow tunes. The interior is a bit plain–and that’s fine because all eyes are on the stage. Surprisingly, most people who take the mic can actually sing. When time allows, the tuneful staff will render a number or two. It’s a little tricky to find so look for the Tequilla Cowboy. The website still lists it jointly with the now-departed Tequila Cowboy which has become Jason Aldean’s honky tonk. Note: the website is for all locations of this franchise. Hours: M-Th 6pm-3am, Fri-Sun noon-3am.
@305 Broadway. The “cowboy” part may be a misnomer because the music is the first floor hosts rock bands under a mirrored ball. There’s also a private room for small groups. You can also shoot pool in a sport bar vibe. They welcome private and bachelorette parties. Hours: 11am-3am daily.
@307 Broadway. With a hit song called “My Kinda Party,” I figured Jason’s place would be pretty rowdy. Folks are definitely there to have a good time but the design is more upscale than expected. The honky tonk sits on top of Tequila Cowboy with a balcony above the stage level. There’s a small gift shop, a private event space and a really nice little conversation area. The large rooftop patio is the party place for more live music and their “food in a basket” concept. The menu skews southern with several items based on his mama’s recipes. It’s also among the few places in the Honky Tonk District serving steak and pasta. Hours: M-Sat 11am-3am, Sun 10am-3am.
@329 Broadway. It’s pretty much a three-story party with continuous live music on each floor. There’s a band on the first floor and something more acoustic on Floors 2 and 3. Musically, it leans toward uptempo modern country. Hint: There’s more room for dancing on the second floor. Their most popular menu selections are their Ultimate Appetizer, barbecue and an entree called Church Street Chicken. Fun fact: Twenty years ago the space was home to Cowboy LaCage, a club featuring female impersonators as country stars. Hours: 11am-3am daily. The 1st floor opens at 10am on Fri-Sat.
@409 Broadway. Don’t go in here expecting a strip club. For those who don’t know their couture history, Nudie Cohn was an L.A. designer who never met a rhinestone he didn’t love. His creations were so distinctive a Nudie suit came to describe the kind of stage attire worn by Porter Wagoner, Hank Snow and others. You’ll find some of those over-the-top suits as well as other memorabilia along the walls. At 111 feet, the first floor features the city’s longest bar, plus room to dance to the traditional-leaning live music. Want a little more space? Go up to the balcony which overlooks the stage. The rooftop has a small stage; a DJ spins house/club music starting around 9pm on Friday and Saturday night. Space can be reserved for private gatherings. Eats include a hot chicken sandwich, burgers, hot dogs, tacos, apps and salads. A bucket of six domestics will set you back $25, premiums go for $30. Hours: M-W 11am-3am, Th-Sat, 10am-3am, Sun 11am-3am.
@411 Broadway. Located within the Downtown Sporting Club complex, this intentionally kitschy honky tonk/restaurant has been reborn after locals decried its closing. The menu is low-brow stuff (sandwiches, baskets, appetizers) but filet mignon would be horribly out of place. They’ve rolled out the Astroturf and set up the lawn chairs for your enjoyment. And yep, there’s a stage for live music.
Nashville Crossroads and AJ’s GoodTime Bar
@419 Broadway. Live music all the time; leans toward country by day and rock’n’roll into the night. One patron referred to the vibe as a “more laidback, authentic Nashville evening” than its competitors. The owner recently remodeled the interior with lots of natural wood to create a comfortable, no-frills space. It manages to fill up without the overcrowded feel of a frat party and still allow room to dance. Nice selection of bottled craft beers but the menu is limited to two kinds of pizza. Fun fact: it served as a Union hospital during the Civil War. Hours: M-Th 2pm-2:30am, Fri-Sun 11am-2:30am.
@421 Broadway. Alan Jackson had one stipulation–it had to play traditional country on Floors 1 and 2. (That’s generally interpreted as pre-2000s.) The first floor is pure honky tonk with a live band. Up on the second floor, A.J.’s G.T. Bar opens at 4pm with a more acoustic sound and a sports bar vibe with TVs. It’s karaoke starting at 6pm on the third floor, home to the nautically-themed Hull Billy Bar (get it, hull, as in boat?); there’s a small stage and plenty of open floor space. And finally, up on the roof is A.J.’s Star Bar with comfortable seating under umbrellas.They keep things simple (and affordable) menu-wise: pizza and snacks. For example, pepperoni pizza is $11.50, and chips and salsa is $4. Hours: M-W 1pm-2:30am, Th-Sun 11am-2:30am.
@ 423 Broadway. Yes, I know it’s a primarily a pizza joint with a hippie dippy attitude–not a honky tonk–but they also serve up live music ranging from country to rock. Fun fact: They host Metal Mondays, a genre you won’t find represented elsewhere on Lower Broad. The first and second (aka as the balcony) floors are family friendly but the rooftop is always 21 and up. The third floor is a private club. On tap are 24 beers, including local brews, and they have a Jack and Coke machine dispensing the adult equivalent of an Icee. Their pizza (including gluten-free options) and calzone are right fine, and I give their hoagies a thumbs up. Full menu until 11pm, then they shift to slices. Hours: 11am-3am.
@ 429 Broadway. One side is more of a restaurant; the other, more of a bar. Both have live music as does the large cover deck up top. The playlist is mostly country with some classic rock in the mix. First floor too crowded for you? There’s a ton of tables upstairs. Great view of the Bridgestone Arena main entrance–a primo spot for Predators home games–while listening to acoustic artists. The full southern-flavored menu, featuring their notable ribs and brisket, is available until 11pm weeknights and midnight on the weekends. They ice their beer for maximum chill. Want a jello shot? They can set you up. Hours: 11am-3am, 21+ after 10pm.
Cross the street and let’s mosey down the north side of Broadway to continue our tour of honky tonks.
@208 Broadway. Two storefronts have been joined to create this newcomer which opened in late May. John is a master marketer so his gift shop is loaded with RR-branded items including beer, whiskey, jerky and apparel. Vets, active service, and first-responders always get 2-for-1 pricing on beer, wine and cocktails until 10pm. The concise menu is big on barbecue and burgers. Ten drafts on tap. Live music on the first and second floors features solos and duos until 2 pm, then bands take over. Fun fact: if the light for the sign that reads “JR is in the house,” John’s onsite. Hours: M-Th 11am-3am, Fri-Sun, 10am-3am.
@300 Broadway. Nice big stage with good views from both the first and second floors. A terrific female trio was on stage during my visit. The third floor is reserved for upscale private dinners and receptions. Above it is The Lookout, a 6,000 sq.ft. Skybar with a unique combination of indoor and outdoor space, offering a small-plates menu instead of the more expansive options of steaks, smoked meats and an interesting assortment of starters and sides served below. They even have a kids’ menu. The bar features signature drinks, wine and beer including a dozen beers on tap. You can rent a floor or the whole shebang. Fun fact: Blake’s not on-site often but he frequently interacts with fans via a special on-site Skype connection. Hours: Restaurant open 11am-late, Skybar M-F 6pm-2am, Sat-Sun 11am-2am.
@306 Broadway. As you walk in, there’s a seriously tall bear standing to your left and, to your right, a band stands where the music spans from country to rock. Lots of taxidermy on display as well as large portraits of country legends as you find yourself a place to sit and listen. Upstairs is a private room available for rent. As you might guess, they’re big on whiskey here. Ask the bartender to introduce you salted caramel or another unique flavor. Note: no food available. Hours: noon-3am daily.
@308 Broadway. By the numbers, Crazy Town is three levels, three stages, six bars and two outdoor patios. Always live music on the first floor, mixture of live and Top 40 DJs upstairs. Nice seating area and video screens on Level 2. They don’t call it “crazy” for nothing which may explain why they welcome bachelorette parties and have a designated shot-chair and shot-ski for–you’re right–shots. If you have kiddos, I’d recommend visiting early in the day. Menu includes appetizers, hot chicken salad, wraps, burgers and wings. Hours: 11am-3am.21+ after 9 pm.
@312 Broadway. They go for the uptown, upscale vibe of a classic speakeasy even though the music is more rockin’ country than Roaring Twenties. Live music on the first and second floor with solo artists until mid-afternoon. Lots of cozy booths for small groups and larger areas for the whole gang. The third floor, similarly decorated, is reserved for private parties. The whitewashed wood on the two-tier deck has a beach vibe where you hear acoustic artists until 5pm, followed by a DJ spinning tunes till closing time. Bachelor and bachelorette parties welcome. Vegetarians can go for the black bean wrap from their fairly extensive menu. Happy hour specials: M-Th, 5-8 include $3 domestics, $5 wells, $5 shot of the day, 1/2 price apps. Hours: M-F 11am-2:30am, Sat-Sun 10am-2:30am. 21+ after 10pm.
@316 Broadway. When I walked in, a really good bluesy band was cranking out the tunes. Decorated with old advertising signage and ’50s era dinette sets, the Tin Roof’s musical style is, to quote a bartender, “all over the place” although you’ll probably hear more country here than at its sister location on Music Row whose patrons include the college crowd. It bills itself as “a live music joint” with a stage up front, plus views from the second floor balcony.There’s a patio upstairs as well. Menu: appetizers, street tacos, quesadillas, burgers, sandwiches and salads. Happy hour specials Sun-Fri, 3pm-7pm: $1 off drafts and well drinks, $2.50 PBR cans. Groups welcome for seated dinners (170 max) or cocktail parties (300 max). Hours: 11am-3am. 21+ after 9pm.
@322 Broadway. They call it Conky-Tonk, a breezy blend of Jimmy Buffett’s tropical tastes and Nashville honky tonks. With a variety of semi-secluded seating areas, Margaritaville is big with big groups and private parties (reservations accepted). There’s live music on two floors, a hint of twang and tequila with performers posted online. The biggest buzz is generated by SiriusXM’s live radio show Music City Happy Hour with Buzz Brainard, Fridays, 3pm-7pm; no reservations accepted so lines form early. The best strategy is to arrive for a late lunch and stay put. Except for MCHH, you can call ahead @ 615-208-908 to get your name on wait list. Menu: appetizers, Caribbean-influenced seafood, steaks, burgers, sandwiches, salads, key lime pie, gluten-free options. Hours: 11am-2am daily. All ages, all the time.
@400 Broadway. If you like Dierks, you’ll probably want to at least roam through this spacious bar and restaurant. Not as much Dierks memorabilia as I expected. The music follows Bentley’s bent–contemporary and fun-loving. There’s a big stage and, during my visit, the band seemed louder than most honky tonks so, if you want to have table conversation, you might want to head upstairs to the more acoustic set. Menu: Appetizers, salads, sliders, burgers, sandwiches, entrees, desserts. Serves brunch starting at 10am on Sat/Sun. It may be the only place among the honky tonks where you’ll find kale and quinoa on the menu. Hours: M-F, 11am-3am, Sat-Sun, 10am-3am.
@412 Broadway. The first thing you’ll notice is the size of the stage, big enough to accommodate more than your basic guitar, bass and drums. And the dance floor–it’s big too. That’s the first floor but you’ll find live music on the second floor and its rooftop patio (with heaters). They like to mix things up so you might find a different style of music on each floor. Take your photo ops with the giant guitar and mural of iconic country stars. The Stage has a history of hosting high-profile artists including a surprise Garth performance in February 2018. Tip: if the front bar is crowded, move to the smaller one in the back. Menu: Hours: 11am-3am daily.
@416 Broadway. My third date with my wife-to-be was a visit to Robert’s so it holds a warm place in my heart. Unlikely some honky tonks that seek to please everybody, Robert’s is proudly the home of traditional country music, the popular Don Kelley Band typically take the stage Th-Sat nights. Fun fact: Robert’s hosts the district’s only Sunday Morning Gospel fellowship. Private parties can rent the balcony or the entire joint. Limited menu: appetizers, burgers, sandwiches.For $5, you can order the Recession Special (fried baloney sandwich, chips and PBR) or the Stimulus Package (hot dog, chips and Miller Lite). Domestic beers are always $2.50. Hours: 11am-3am, except noon-3am Sundays. On Sunday at 11am, you can have church at Robert’s during their gospel hour. No charge but if you want to make a donation to a worthy cause, you won’t be denied.
@418 Broadway. One stage with continuous music. And they’re not just bluegrass; they mix it up with country, Americana, newgrass, Western, hillbilly and rockabilly. Two rockabilly bands have strong followings; most weeks the Eskimo Brothers play on Tuesdays 5-9pm and Hillbilly Casino on Fridays 10pm-close. Fun fact: Layla really owns the place (25 years and counting) and she’s known to join the band on stage. Fun fact #2: Layla’s has no manager; just Layla, her bartenders and wait staff. The main floor and balcony are available for rent to private parties. The limited menu includes sandwiches, snacks and a salad. Garth gave a surprise performance in February 2018. Hours: noon-2am daily.
@420 Broadway. One stage. Leans toward traditional country. In addition to the daily line-up, Easton Corbin and Chris Young are among the well-known artists who’ve dropped in. The afternoon I visited a five-piece band was blazing through a set with a dang-good fiddler. The bartender says they turn out a pretty good line-up of hot and cold sandwiches (ham, turkey, turkey club or BLT for $9) as well as pizza. If you’re into old radios, you”ll want to see the owner’s impressive collection. Hours: Mon-Wed, 2pm-2:30am: Th-Sun, 11am-3am.
@422 Broadway. The undisputed queen of the district, the legacy of Tootsie Bess began in 1960. Countless legends-in-the-making sought respite and refreshment here including Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson, Patsy Cline, Roger Miller and Waylon Jennings. Three floors including its rooftop patio. Can be reserved for private parties; you can also reserve the front table, conveniently located near the band’s tip jar. Featured on the menu is Rippy’s barbecue. Hours: 10am-3pm daily.
@428 Broadway. You could spend hours perusing the walls covered with thousands of album covers and photographs–many of them autographed. Although the decor says “legends,” the music leans toward current country. Make sure you catch the celebrity mural outside facing 5th Avenue. Tip: if it’s crowded up front, enter via the side door on 5th Avenue where there’s a bar by the pool table in the back. Hours: 10am-3am daily.
TIPS, TOPS and SUGGESTIONS
What (almost) all have in common
- Eager to rent you a private event space or the whole place.
- All but one serve food–but that ranges from two kinds of pizza to expansive menus.
- Expect to be carded no matter your age.
Broadest menu: Acme, Underground, Margaritaville, Whiskey Kitchen, Blake Sheldon’s Ole Red, Valentine, Dierk Bentley’s Whiskey Row, Jason Aldean’s Kitchen.
Vintage honky tonk vibe: Legends Corner, Layla’s, Tootsie’s, Second Fiddle, Robert’s, Bootlegger’s Inn
Leans toward traditional country music: AJ’s, Robert’s, Layla’s, Bootlegger’s, Second Fiddle, Nudie’s.
Nice neighborhood vibe: Bootlegger’s Inn, Nashville Crossroads, Layla’s, Second Fiddle.
Lots of music memorabilia: Legends, Second Fiddle, Nudie’s.
Celebrity connections: Blake Shelton’s, Dierks Bentley, Alan Jackson, John Rich, Jason Aldean, Jimmy Buffett, Jason Aldean, Luke Bryan, and Kid Rock. Off-Broadway you’ll find Florida Georgia Line and George Jones.
Fills up fastest: Tough call but I’d say Tootsie’s and Robert’s. I’d say Old Red, Luke’s and Kid Rock’s joints fill up the fastest.
Rooftop patios or decks: Every venue uses some superlative to describe its space–tallest, largest, etc–and roughly half of the honky tonks have some form of rooftop service. A few notes: Acme has the best river view. Ole Red’s huge indoor/outdoor space is most impressive. Tootsie’s has the space for full bands to play in the covered area. Rippy’s is fully covered. The Underground has cushy conversation areas.