Honky Tonk Bars and Clubs: Off-Broadway and Beyond
The music doesn’t stop when you step off Broadway. Look beyond for honky tonk bars and clubs where you may find smaller crowds, lower drink prices and happy hour specials. But remember: the legal drinking age in Tennessee is 21.
North of Broadway
@109 2nd Ave. N. Actually Big Jimmy’s isn’t that big but it’s a place to enjoy live music while having a burger and beer. Concise menu of burgers, flatbreads and chicken sandwiches. A bucket of 4 beers will run you $20.
@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 hot chicken sandwich called Rascal Flattbread. (Pictured at top)
@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.
@135 2nd Ave. N. First and foremost, this is a Mexican restaurant touting tacos, tequila and tunes. Specials? Anytime a bucket of 5 Buena Cervezas is $25. Tequila Tuesday means 25% off any tequila. Friday and Saturday, 9pm-close, a Dulce Vida tequila shot is $6. 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: Sun-Thurs, 11am-10pm, Fri-Sat, 11am-1am.
@120 2nd Ave. N. Scheduled to reopen in phases starting mid-summer, the huge facility will feature five entertainment experiences: a ground floor honky tonk, the Main Stage which serves double-duty as a performance hall and carries on the Wildhorse tradition of having a large floor for line dancing, a sports bar, a bourbon club with an intimate performance area, and The Eye, its huge rooftop deck.
@154 2nd Ave. N. I’m not big into the franchised bar vibe but I’ll tip you off that they have live music and (almost daily) drink specials.
150 2nd Avenue, N. It’s a little weird to include a boot store yet that’s what you’ll find here–boots, a coffee and booze bar, and live music.
South of Broadway (aka SoBro)
104 Rep. John Lewis Way (formerly 6th Ave. S.). Prefer to avoid the chaos of Lower Broadway but want live music and affordable beverages a one-minute walk from the main drag? Welcome to Teddy’s, housed in Nashville’s oldest residence (circa 1820). Smaller than the celebrity-driven honky tonks, this lil place offers live music on Level 1 and 2, and a great view of Bridgestone Arena from the rooftop called The Rose Garden. Unlike most places nearby, it boasts two happy hours: Sunday-Thursday: 4pm-6:30pm and 10pm-close with $5 drafts and $12 cheeseburgers. During the earlier happy hour, special cocktails are $9. Bonus: their Music City brand drafts are $6 all the time.
@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. 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.
@121 3rd Ave. S. A bar and the band are up front; the back looks more like typical restaurant seating. Think southern dining with biscuits and pancakes for breakfast; fried chicken and the aforementioned barbecue for lunch and dinner. For late nights, head to Club One21 on the second floor for live music and DJs. A bucket of 6 domestic bottles will run you $30; imports bump it to $35. I’ve heard they get adventurous with tributes to various artists for late-night sets.
@122 2nd. Ave. S. Big Machine is not just the record label that launched Taylor Swift. It’s also a combo honky tonk/tasting room/distillery/souvenir store. Tours are available for $15 which includes tastings of several products. There’s another location sans live music in Berry Hill that operates as a tavern with a limited food menu and full bar.
The number of Off-Broadway honky tonks numbers in the dozens if you consider the greater Nashville area. Most cater to locals but these are some of the more popular destinations only a short drive from downtown. TIP: You’re more likely to find happy hour specials at these places.
Off Music Row. Sometimes it seems like a songwriter listening room. At others, it’s more of a honky tonk. Like the Little Engine that Could, Bobby’s has chugged forward following two relocations. Look hard and you’ll find it at 9 Music Square S., between 16th and 17th Avenue S. (also known at Music Square E. and W.) As the only longstanding tavern near Music Row, it’s collected a good bit of music folklore over the years.
The Gulch. It’s not exactly a honky tonk but definitely has a dive bar feel to it. Long respected, you never know what big-deal musician 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. Bluegrass jams every Sunday night.
Vanderbilt-West End. Definitely more low-key that the downtown ruckus, crowds tend be…well, locals. Mostly songwriters through the week at ’80s/’90s country on the weekends. The band Organic Country, comprised of musicians with serious credentials, has a standing gig on Saturday nights.
@2225 Bransford Ave. Nashville, 37204 adjacent to GeoDis Stadium, home of the Nashville SC soccer team. 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.
Madison. Wasn’t sure where to place Dee’s. It opened in 2016 but the decor really nails the look of a ’70s honky tonk. Appearances (and the name) are deceiving as their musical line-up varies greatly, embracing rock, blues, soul, and bluegrass. Even if you don’t like the band d’jour, the atmosphere is worth the trip. Buoyed by mentions in Esquire and Rolling Stone, hipsters frequent the place but please, keep the attitude in check. To view previous bands, visit Dee’s YouTube Channel.