If things are crowded on the so-called Honky Tonk Highway, take to the backroads. Unlike the bars on Broadway, you’re likely to hit upon lower drink prices and happy hour specials. Let’s take a look at the ones in the immediate area, then a few worth the drive. (Top photo: The George Jones 1st floor bar) UPDATED 9/13/19
@110 2nd Ave. N. To be honest, I’d never heard of the Famous Saloon. I give them points for a cool lighting scheme in the main bar and a nice rooftop with a stage. If you walk straight to the back (unless a private party has it reserved), you’ll find the River Bar with nice views of the waterfront through a large window. The menu includes appetizers, salads, and entrees like chicken and waffles, steak sandwiches, and a BBQ pineapple burger; I haven’t tried it but I appreciate the menu item called Rascal Flattbread. Happy hour specials Tuesday-Friday, 11am-6pm include $4 for their house wine or a domestic beer. Hours: Tu-Sun, 11am-3am, Brunch served Sat/Sun 11am-3pm.
@112 2nd Ave. N. In contrast to the most places, this feels like a southern version of a cozy pub with a cool staircase leading to a small second level. It can still be loud there. There’s no stage per se but solo artists are tucked into a corner by the stairs. Hours: 1pm-2am
@115 2nd Ave. N. They claim to have the cheapest drinks in the neighborhood although my survey suggests it has a few rivals. Extending their love to the budget-minded, appetizers are $4 and $6 will buy you a burger, chicken wings, a hot dog or pizza. I’m guessing their profits come from the shots–and there’s a long list of options. Instead of a revolving pool of talent, they tend to go with a few artists and long-standing gigs. Who? Check their website with the link above to find out. Hours: M-W, 4pm-2am, Th-F, 1pm-2am, Sat 11am-2am, Sun 1pm-2am.
@128 2nd Ave. N. The name’s a bit odd but I guess it’s too long to call it The George Jones Museum, Coffee Joint, Barbecue Restaurant and Rooftop Bar. A bartender at a Broadway honky tonk says this is where he goes to unwind after work. There’s live music on the 1st floor and rooftop bar with the museum and a private event space in between. Decor’-wise it’s more modern and airy that the typical honky tonk. Here they pride themselves on their smokehouse meats (BBQ lunch plate is just $9.99) but the Possum’s people also have appetizers, salads, soups and burgers on the menu. Although George swore off the bottle, his place welcomes patrons with a lower-than-most Happy Hour from 3-6pm where domestic cans are $3. Hours (this gets complicated): Jones Coffee Joint: 8am-3pm daily; Main floor and rooftop Sun-Wed 11am-10pm, Th-Sun 11am-1am; Sat-Sun brunch 10am-2pm.
@ 2nd Ave. N. First and foremost, this is a Mexican restaurant touting tacos, tequila and tunes. Specials? Taco Tuesdays reward you with $2 pollo asados, carnitas and cheeseburger tacos and $3 for carne asada, fish, bacon & shrimp tacos. Drink specials include $4 Mexican beers, $5 for selected tequilas and $6 for the house margarita. Happy hour deals from open until 6pm include 2-for-1 Mexican beer, $4 wells and $6 house margaritas. Live music? Why, yes, two featured artists on the short days and four on the long ones; the early shift tends toward country and things get more adventurous as the night wears on. Hours: M-W, 11am-10pm, Th, 11am-midnight, F-Sat, 11am-2:30am, Sun, 11am-midnight.
@111 4th Ave. S. Formerly Swingin’ Doors Saloon, it’s now the sister location to one located in Midtown. They’re a little more likely to stray from country than some of the Broadway mainstays with their performers but you can pretty much count on an acoustic solo or duo during the day and a band at night. If you want to know more about them, the link above takes you to the Nashville Downtown Partnership so you can see the place; a link on that page will take you to info from their original venture; I think the menu is similar. FYI, they have a connection to the Party Barge. Hours: 11am-3am daily.
@120 2nd Ave. N. First off, the Wildhorse is huge by honky tonk standards–66,000 sq. ft. Owned by the same company behind the Ryman Auditorium, it’s really the first restaurant/bar that was built with tourism in mind–way back in 1994. I’d say it’s the family-friendliest of all the live music venues in the area. The menu is fairly concise with barbecue, hot chicken, salads, catfish, pork chops and other downhome favorites. One unique carrot to draw you in: free line dancing lessons every day: 12pm, 1:30pm, 2:15pm, 4:30pm, 5:45pm, 6:45pm, 8:30pm, 10:30pm. They go 18 and over at 10pm on Friday and Saturday. Hours: 11am-midnight daily. 21+ after 10pm.
@120 2nd Ave. S. I expected a roadhouse vibe based on Florida Georgia Line’s music. I was wrong. It’s downright artful with subdued lighting, nice seating and an upscale vibe. If you want live contemporary country music without the crush of the bar crowd, this may be your place. Or if you want to dance, maybe head up to the rooftop. Want something more intimate? Shift to the Little Red Corvette Lounge in the basement. To borrow from their website copy, “the world-class kitchen fuses unique Southern style cuisine with California flair.” There’s even a kids’ menu here. Hours: 11am-3am daily, Little Red Corvette, 6pm-3am daily.
Who’d I leave out?
I didn’t include places off-Broadway that didn’t have much connection to the honky tonk vibe such as Wild Beaver Saloon (karaoke bar), Coyote Ugly Saloon (kinda like Hooters without the chicken wings; they have a daily happy hour with revolving drink specials including $2 bottles of Bud or Bud Light M-F 11am-7pm), B.B. King’s Blues Club (heard some great blues bands here) and Alley Taps (although country is one of the featured genres).
Out of Downtown
The Gulch. See that little stone one-story building to the lower left? It’s not exactly a honky tonk but definitely has a dive bar feel to it. Long respected, you never know who might show up. I love that this humble building is standing its ground against the uber-trendiness of the Gulch, the last bastion of what the area once was. Charges admission. Hours: Mon-Sat, 7pm-midnight, Sun, 3pm-midnight.
@1028 16th Ave. S. It might surprise you to learn that there’s only one honky tonk/listening room/bar on Music Row and this is it. It’s also legit with real-deal writers and artists dropping by for some music. Wednesdays from noon-8pm, it hosts Sam’s Jams, an open mic gathering where you can sign up or even email to reserve a spot on the roster. Every Sunday at 7pm Rocky Dimmick showcases up-and-coming talent on Rocky’s Writer Rounds. Amenities include a piano, a pool table, a chess board and a TV. The menu is thin with snacks, pizza and oddly chicken pot pie. Happy hour (noon-6pm daily) drops $3-4 beer prices by 50 cents. Hours: M-Tu 4pm-1am, W-Sat noon-3am, Sun noon-midnight. (CLOSED TO RELOCATE NEARBY)
@2225 Bransford Ave. Nashville, 37204 adjacent to the Nashville Fairgrounds. Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa and he’s the proprietor of a bar where locals vastly outnumber the tourists. Some would call this repurposed mobile home a dive; others might call it homey. A few heads up: it’s cash only and also you don’t need a lot of money because beers start at $2 a bottle or can. (There’s an ATM outside for those who forget the house rules.) It’s karaoke every night starting at 7 except on Sundays when the live house band pushes karaoke back to 9 pm. Hours: 4pm-2:30am daily.
West End/Centennial Park. It bills itself as a supper club and lounge but if you’re expecting an old-school Vegas vibe, you’re wrong. It’s claim to fame is that it was established in 1898 and ranks as Nashville’s oldest bar; that includes its operation through Prohibition as a speakeasy. An eclectic line-up every week with an equally eclectic clientele. You might hear blues, rock, Americana, punk, country or even comedy. Open 365 days a year. Hours: Noon to 3 am.