The bar at Rolf & Daughters.
Words: Jess Graves | Photos: Jamie Clayton
Two intrepid drinkers quench their thirst at Nashville's finest watering holes in the name of journalism.
Nobody ever really teaches you how to drink. It is, like anything, trial and error. Some people manage alright, some don't. Then, there are those inexplicable souls who can toss enough alcohol down their gullet to immobilize Shaq while somehow managing to remain not only upright, but downright likable. Jamie Clayton, my Nashville, Tenn., source, photographer and partner in crime, is one such soul. I am not. Despite being a mediocre drinker (at best), I still like to do it, because I am neither interested in rationality or mediocrity, and I take the pleasure of drinking seriously. So I needed an expert by my side, one who could cull through the colossus of the city bar scene with the expert aplomb only a well-hydrated local could provide. In plain language, I needed to tear ass through Nashville, and Jamie was the man for the job.
Rolf & Daughters
700 Taylor St. (Germantown)
Our tastebuds fresh, our bellies empty and our composure intact, we logically choose this, the nicest spot on our list, as our first stop of the night. At a glance, Rolf & Daughters is a lot like the other fancy cocktail joints popping up across the country. All your basic stuff is in place: hipster bartenders with intimidating facial hair, house-made bitters, artisanal light bulbs, a nerd-like passion for craft beverages bordering on obsessive. We sit at the bar and map out our game plan: drink as much as possible, eat intermittently to prevent maximum drunkeness. Seems simple enough. I glance at the menu -- the cocktail names, of course, are twee and clever. Jamie has a "Nothing Camparis to You", I order a "Deep Pimmside." We get a passionate dissertation on, and tasting of, their in-house Vermouths (delicious) from a barman with more ink than the Sunday Times. This is a nice joint. It’s not trying too hard, and neither is the crowd, which varies from mom and dad on date night to expensive-looking hipsters. There’s no curtain being pulled back, no manufactured sense of exclusivity. Just good drinks in an intimate, high-end atmosphere.
The Stone Fox
712 51st Ave. N (The Nations)
As we amble up to The Stone Fox, a girl approaches to tell a long and winding tale about how she scrapped with her girlfriend, got herself punched and booted from the bar. She needs some scratch to get home. Jamie and I raise our eyebrows. Hard pass. Hasn’t she ever heard of Uber? We are heartless. Once inside, I immediately land on the "Babs on a Budget," because I suddenly really need to know what PBR, St. Germain and grapefruit juice taste like together. Pretty good, as it turns out. (Good enough that I procured the ingredients and have been making this drink at home ever since.) Jamie goes up to the bar to retrieve our second round and ends up in a conversation with Brendon Benson, who he recognizes from The Raconteurs, a band Benson plays in with Jack White. As it turns out, he’s there to watch the band playing that night, called Earl Burrows, whose record he is producing. Oh, Nashville. They call you “Music City” for a reason, don’t they?
33 Peabody St. (SoBro)
Green Chartreuse is the new mezcal, which was at one point the new Fernet-Branca, which itself was at some point the new something... Translation: trendy as hell. Also trendy: Pinewood Social. Being a high-minded, non-hipster semi-grown up though, I like to think I can look past the current heat factor of a particular spirit in light of whether I actually like it or not. I very much like Green Chartreuse. Here at Pinewood, we are given a very Green Chartreuse-y tiki beverage dubbed, naturally, the “Chartreuse Swizzle”. It’s radical. Pinewood is also radical. Off to one side there are people eating a proper dinner, but in the back people are bowling. Then off to the other side some people are studying, and in the middle there’s a big-ass bar. I’m glad a bar/bowling alley where you can study did not exist when I was in college, I would have accomplished zero.
2225 Bransford Ave. (Berry Hill)
Well, that’s it. I’m done. I am forever ruined on bars, because nothing could ever be as great as Santa’s Pub. This is a karaoke bar in a graffiti’d double-wide trailer that is completely bedecked in tacky Christmas decor, despite the fact that it’s mid February. I am greeted by Santa’s nephew. Santa, as it turns out, is real. “What do you drink here?” I ask. “Santa likes Coors Light,” He says. My mountains are blue and cold, but my heart is warm. There is a very drunk girl singing a surprisingly decent version of Alanis Morisette’s “You Oughta Know,” but this is Nashville, a place where (according to TV) everyone is able to pick up a guitar and burst into song anywhere, anytime, right? Jamie’s next up on the mic. He completely botches 90’s-era trio NEXT’s “Too Close,” so maybe not everyone in Nashville is musical. The crowd loves him anyway. I’ve heard stories of everyone from Ed Sheeran to Bubba Sparxxx showing up for a round of karaoke, which leads me to believe they must be nice people, because Santa has clearly marked signage that says “NO DOUCHEBAGS.”
Dino’s Fine Food
411 Gallatin Ave. (East Nashville)
We have done it, we have accomplished peak drunk. Our final resting place? A diner called Dino’s, which proclaims it is the oldest bar in East Nashville. We both order hamburgers and fries and watch as the line cook flips patties on the griddle in front of us. My final beer of the night is a Shiner Bock on tap served in a Solo cup, a red that matches the plastic basket our late-night chow is laid out in before us. Total Recall is playing on the TV inside, and I chew while I watch Arnold Schwartzenegger dream about moving to Mars. A twee pixie girl with a buzz cut flutters up to Jamie and begins to flirt voraciously. I’m completely tuckered out. As he puts me in a car home, he spins on his heel to follow the pixie into the night. For the real soldier here, the evening march is far from over.