Walking into Patterson House, you take in a 1920s vibe, whisked through a deep aqua velvet drape to an intimate bar space with a vast dark wood bar, high stools, cozy booths and a plethora of antique mirrors. Tall bookcases overflow with real books as well as with bottles of house wines, of which there are only a few, and serving supplies. You’ve arrived and the joint’s jumping—Nashville’s Patterson House speakeasy, tucked into a bustling area of Midtown, is generally hopping, even if you opt for the carefully hidden back patio when seasonally appropriate.
The brainchild of entrepreneurial brothers Benjamin and Max Goldberg some two years past, Patterson House became Music City’s first real foray into speakeasy culture and continues to embrace a forward-thinking cocktail attitude.
“There’s something special about having a well-crafted libation that has passion, dedication and love put into it. We’re a pre-Prohibition style cocktail bar that embraces that philosophy. Nashville didn’t have a restaurant that provided this experience—it’s always been my goal to help fill a niche that doesn’t exist,” says Max Goldberg.
It’s All in the Mix
High heels click across hardwoods; crystal fixtures shimmer overhead. The demographic for Patterson House depends upon the hour. Early evenings, find the mature types in for their serious rye cocktails, but by the time you hit 11:30, mid-30s is more the average, 20s even—the cocktails are still smart, if oh-so-slightly less challenging.
“We get a fair number of foodie types in here, especially when we get publicity,” says general manager James Hensley. “But not all become regulars.”
Hensley says when they opened; the first cocktail menu (it changes seasonally) was “approachable, not aggressive or abstract—lighter gins for example, and without a lot of heavy bitter components.” Two years in, they’re more hard-hitting: The winter menu pushed the flavor profile envelope the most so far. With spring, they’re pulling back a little—the goal isn’t to jolt palates. Favorites include the Three Days at Sea, featuring Four-Year-Old Rhum Barbancourt, house-made Falernum, lime and Angostura bitters or the Whiskey Smash, made of Rebel Yell Bourbon, muddled lemon and mint and Peychaud’s bitters.
“We always challenge people,” says an assured Hensley. “Fans and regular customers continue on a journey through cocktails.” Driven by temperatures, Patterson House’s cold and warm weather cocktails are different things, so they offer season-inspired Sazeracs and Sidecars, for example. Warm weather invites lighter flavors and summer fruits; cold brings darker, heavier, richer feels. Right now, in demand is the Yellow Rose of Texas, flush with Blanco Tequila, Yellow Chartreuse, lemon and rose water.
They’re aiming for distinctive beverages that tell a story across the palate, with a definite beginning, middle and end: “Complementary, certainly, but also with mirroring aspects, so a drink has differentiation, but works all together—not a one note song,” says Hensley.
Each menu blends the approachable with the challenging. “Approachable” might mean a Vodka Cobbler, blending freshly muddled blueberries, blackberries and raspberries with fresh lemon juice, Lillet Blonde, Prairie vodka and a dash of orange bitters; “challenging” a Broad Street Bully, with egg white, pineapple, Cynar and Rittenhouse 100 proof rye.
All cocktails come in at $11, so you know what you’re getting up front. You won’t find any “house” brands, these libations require premium- or super-premium, and the set fee balances the cost. Patterson House understands brand influences taste, and what’s behind the bar changes with each menu. Every individual spirit has its best use, in their philosophy.
You’ll discover a vast number of flavored bitters, many house made, and locally sourced brands (new for spring, look for barrel-aged cocktails, with barrels sourced from the nearby Corsair Artisan micro-distillery) and various Tennessee whiskeys. An exceptional sipping list ranges from moderate ($9 for a 12 ounce shot) to pricey ($27 for an exceptional aged whiskey). It’s not a wine drinker’s paradise, though there’s a rotating selection of very drinkable whites, reds and sparklings (three each, at $12 a glass) every season. A rotating selection of about 8 beers (at $5 to $6) fills out the menu.
Of course, house-made, from scratch bar bites are de rigueur here. The city’s mad about the warm cinnamon doughnuts. But Shrimp Corndogs with Curried Ketchup, Mini-Burgers with House-Made Pimento Cheese and Caramelized Onion and sweet/spicy/herbed bar nuts all have their places (all bar food runs $5 per plate).
But ultimately, it’s about the cocktail. “If you enjoy a specific drink, say a Manhattan or a Sazerac, we can make you the best you’ve ever had,” says Max Goldberg. “If you’re new to cocktails, put your faith in us to provide you with an experience like nothing else and turn you into a fan of what we do.”