Nashville Scene: Cocktailing in Music City

Grabbing a drink in Nashville can involve throwing back a few beers at a crowded honky-tonk while listening to a live country band that may be the Next Big Thing. But Nashville is also home to a growing number of bars and restaurants with seriously impressive craft cocktail programs. Here are a few that embrace their Southern roots while incorporating modern and seasonal ingredients, trends and techniques.

Husk

This 108-seat convivial restaurant in an 1880s-era home graces Nashville’s Rutledge Hill neighborhood. Central to the concept is Husk’s celebration of Southern ingredients led by chef Sean Brock, with a daily-changing menu and a bar that encourages sipping both locally and seasonally.

“The bar shares the same ideals as the kitchen,” says Husk general manager Kenny Lyons. “We celebrate the ingredients available during each day, week and month, throughout the year.”

Bar manager Mike Wolf procures and forages wild ingredients around Central Tennessee, using them for house-made ingredients including amaro, nocino, bitters, cordials, tinctures and garnishes. Rye and bourbon cocktails are always top sellers on the 12-drink menu, which is categorized from lightest to boldest.

For instance, the Jiro Dreams of Whiskey ($12), a cold-weather take on the Old Fashioned, is made with Tennessee’s Belle Meade bourbon, Jiro persimmon cordial, spiced cherry and aromatic bitters and allspice. The Belle of Georgia ($12) mixes Weller 107 bourbon, smoked bourbon pecan cordial, tobacco bitters and muddled Georgia peaches.

The Garden of the Gods includes Pisco 100, St. George Agricole rum, lavender cordial, chamomile tincture, lime and grapefruit juice. The herbal Nordic Shipwreck ($12) shakes up Linie Aquavit, Manzanilla sherry and lemon with a caraway-thyme syrup and a dill flower garnish.

Oenophiles will find a 50-selection wine list that Husk organizes by color and then by soil type to showcase the notion of terroir. “That’s what is so fascinating about wine: The exact same grape or clone can be treated the exact same way, but because of the soil and climate, it can be remarkably different,” says Lyons.

The focus on wines from small, family-owned estates is in line with the kitchen philosophy of selecting indigenous products that show a sense of place. No wine bottle price exceeds $100, and the list evolves as the seasons and the cuisines do.

Lyons is excited to see Nashville’s cocktail culture continue to grow, and would love to see some themed concepts—a Tiki bar is at the top of his wish list. “With the rise in cocktail knowledge amongst people in town, the cocktail scene is just beginning to take hold. Nashville is definitely trending to being a more progressive scene.”

The Patterson House

It’s not uncommon to see singers, actors, sports stars and other celebrities at this 68-seat cozy cocktail bar, named for the Tennessee governor who vetoed the return of statewide Prohibition. The Patterson House was designed with the classic speakeasy in mind, with dim lighting, tiled ceiling, chandeliers, dark wood tables and bar, book-lined shelves, vintage mirrors, and a curtain separating the lobby from the bar and table area.

Small plates and shareable bites of new American bar food are joined by an impressive, seasonally edited drinks menu. The list includes a Classic Cocktails section with 14 drinks, while the rest of the 38 libations offered are categorized according to base spirit; all are priced at $12.

“It’s a lot of fun to have the classic cocktails—the originals, the best—as your base, and then incorporate more modern techniques into your drink making,” says general manager Riley Perrin. Two of the bar’s original creations remain consistently popular: The light and refreshing Juliet and Romeo combines Beefeater gin, lime, mint, cucumber and rose water. The sweet and smoky Bacon Old Fashioned stirs Four Rose bourbon that’s been infused with Benton’s bacon (a local favorite from Madisonville, TN) with maple syrup and coffee pecan bitters.

The Until Tomorrow cocktail appeals both to whiskey aficionados and newbies; it combines Old Grand-Dad 100 Proof bourbon, Lustau sherry, lime, maple syrup, Saigon cinnamon syrup and house-made chocolate bitters. And The Jennings is a fun yet brooding take on a Jack and Coke with the addition of hickory-smoked cola.

The Patterson House offers two white wines and two reds by the glass or bottle, along with four sparkling wines by the bottle and one by the glass. “But our main focus is our cocktails, as that is what takes up the majority of our menu,” says Perrin.

Staff keeps a watchful eye on cocktail trends across the nation, deciding how best to incorporate them at The Patterson House.

“Those little changes open up doors for changing and learning new techniques,” Perrin notes. “It’s really fun to watch what’s happening at the already established best bars, and learn from them and practice until you can do it all yourself.”

The 404 Kitchen

Situated adjacent to the five-room 404 Hotel in a former shipping container, this 56-seat restaurant and bar offers a modern twist on European fare. The 404 Kitchen’s general manager Travis Brazil heads up the bar program, which offers a Southern take on European and Continental classics. “I change the cocktail list a lot, so the popularity ranges, but whisky cocktails are always the favorites,” he says.

The Nearest Green cocktail ($16) pays homage to the name of the slave who taught Jack Daniel how to make whiskey. It mixes Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Tennessee Whiskey, Laird’s Applejack and citrus-infused honey and is garnished with Benton’s bacon. Southern Soda ($12) combines Maker’s Mark bourbon with Dandelion & Burdock soda, Woodford Reserve Sassafras & Sorghum Bitters and lime.

Brazil has noticed Japanese whisky getting more attention in Nashville, perhaps partly due to drinks like his Southern Pacific ($14), with Suntory Hibiki 12 Year Old Whisky, Blenheim’s ginger ale and fresh orange.

No matter the tipple, it’s always substance over style. “I never really sweat the technique—the technique should be driven by the ingredients,” he says. “Substance over flair any day for me.”

The 404 Kitchen’s intimate, six-seat bar initially brought in dinner guests who wanted to enjoy a cocktail before the meal, but lately more customers have been coming in just for drinks.

The wine list, which includes about 120 selections, changes frequently. It focuses on small-production, quality offerings from the world’s great regions—with a few added that Brazil don’t think get enough credit in the U.S., such as Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley and Croatia. The by-the-glass pours pair with chef Matt Bolus’s daily menu.

One thing guests can’t order at The 404 Kitchen is vodka. “People told me that I was crazy,” Brazil says, “but we seem to be doing okay with our focus on whisky, rum and gin, so perhaps Nashville’s bar scene is able to become more adventurous and even specialized.”

Pinewood Social

With a bar, coffee bar, bowling area and outdoor pool and recreation space, the 200-seat modern American cuisine-focused Pinewood Social has something for everyone—including killer cocktails. “There are some ‘lay-ups’ and there are some drinks on there for the more experience ‘craft’ cocktail drinkers,” says Matt Tocco, beverage director for parent company Strategic Hospitality.

Pinewood Social overhauls its drinks menu of around 20 selections twice a year, though it gets tweaked at other times throughout the year. One standout cocktail is the Negroni variant A Stranger in the Alps, with Junipero gin, Carpano Antica, Luxardo Bitter, Braulio and Clear Creek Douglas Fir eau de vie.

Another popular drink is the Daisy-inspired House of Bourbon, with Four Roses Yellow bourbon, Licor 43 liqueur, lemon and Fee Brothers black walnut bitters.

Vodka cocktails are most popular among guests, who may come to the bar after work, before or after dinner, or to sip a beverage while they bowl. The Life is Easy mixes Prairie vodka, lemon, ginger ale, Regan’s Orange Bitters and a hibiscus clove syrup.

All cocktails are $12, except for coffee-based concoctions like Easy Like Sunday Morning ($8), with Palo Cortado sherry, Fernet Branca and demerara.

The approachable and user-friendly wine lists offers four each of whites, reds and sparkling wines and one rosé by the glass, as well as 36 bottles. “[We have] mainly quality wines that are accessible to the masses, but also a few gems for the more advanced wine drinker,” says Tocco.

Nashville’s bar scene is bright, Tocco says. “We are definitely starting to get more and more bars/restaurants that are doing quality drinks. I don’t find that very surprising, as it seems to be the natural evolution of drinking these days.”

Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer and wine educator in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter or Instagram @kmagyarics.

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