Tennessee Bars & Nightlife
Robert’s Western World
416B Broadway, Downtown
Our favorite honky-tonk for dancing, this low-key bar has live music every night, bringing couples young and old out to showcase their skills on the dance floor. It’s a great place to go on weeknights since it gets rowdier on the weekend as it is located right on the main strip. You can also buy cowboy boots here; one of the walls is lined in shelves full of pairs in every shape and size imaginable.
402 12th Ave. S., The Gulch
Located in the up-and-coming Gulch neighborhood, the Station Inn is a vestige of another time. Don’t be fooled by the bare-bones exterior, this is the best venue for bluegrass. Period. They don’t take reservations and it’s first come, first serve—doors open at 7 p.m. so be sure to line up early. When it fills up, they stick a paper plate on the door that says “Sold Out.” One of the nights GP went, she saw Jim Lauderdale, one of the best and most well-respected local singer-songwriters, and his band play some rockin’ bluegrass (she was in the company of a bunch of musicians that night and they were truly blown away by the music). The Time Jumpers, who play there on most Monday nights, are also worth catching if you get a chance.
Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge
422 Broadway, Downtown
The lovely Reese Witherspoon, a born and bred Nashville girl, gave us a list of some of the places she likes: At the top, the orchid-hued Tootsies, which is apparently the #1 honky-tonk bar in the world! (A fun historical fact: Artists performing at the Grand Ole Opry used to sneak to Tootsie’s through the alley connecting it to the Ryman Auditorium during the show.)
Proper Sake Co.
628 Ewing Ave., Pie Town
Sake may be rooted in Japan, but the stuff served here has a taste of the South. Brewmaster Bryn Stithem ferments rice grown in Arkansas in a slew of barrels—some left over by local distillers—for a distinct yet subtle flavor. Stop in for a tasting and to learn about the process. It’s a pleasant surprise in a town more associated with beer and whiskey.
B.B. King’s Blues Club
143 Beale St., Memphis
Beale Street may be notoriously touristy, but even born-and-raised locals will admit that a visit to Memphis isn’t complete without it. Start at BB King’s, which is full of out-of-towners but hosts great live blues music—the speakeasy-style restaurant upstairs (named Itta Bena, for King’s Mississippi hometown) is a great bet, too.
Paula Raiford’s Disco
14 S. 2nd St., Memphis
Memphis is mostly know for blues and rockabilly, so it’s easy to forget that disco had a major heyday here, too. Run by local legend Paula Raiford (she reopened the business after her father, Robert, retired, though he still mans the DJ booth in custom rhinestoned capes and sunglasses at age 75), this disco is a relic of that time. The clientele is all over the map, as it’s a staple for folks close to Robert’s age bracket as well as the younger set. Though there’s a full bar, everyone orders 40s, per tradition. The music is a lot of old-school hits, but it’s the kind of place where the Cha Cha Slide gets everyone onto the (plexiglass, multicolored) dance floor without making you feel like you’re at a cheesy bar mitzvah. It’s unlike anything else.
Mollie Fontaine Lounge
679 Adams Ave., Memphis
Memphis’s Victorian Village is home to many 19th-century gems, boasting twelve sites on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s lovely area to walk around during the day, as several of the homes are open for historic tours. If you’re there in the evening, head to Mollie Fontaine Lounge, an old painted lady that’s been converted to a quirky bar with live music and brocade-covered walls—all lined with portraits of Memphis greats.
Acme Feed & Seed
101 Broadway, Downtown
Even though it's the central hot spot for a lot of Nashville's live music scene, South Broadway's huge bars can skew touristy and get overwhelmingly rowdy at night. Acme Feed & Seed's bold challenge to that stereotype has been really well received so far, offering the familiar multilevel bar and live music experience in a cleaned-up, modern style that draws a local crowd. The first floor of the space features a store with locally crafted goods and Acme-branded pantry items, plus a restaurant with a fast-casual menu of Southern-inflected dishes like Redneck Lo Mein with collard greens and an andouille soy glaze, a Down Home Falafel Sandwich, and flavorful ribs. The vibe is more casual upstairs on the second level, which has a built-out bar and lounge, a small-bites food menu, and a sushi bar. The live music space occupies the third floor, where the calendar is filled up with a solid lineup of local bands (it can also be rented out for private parties). The open-air roof at the top of the building offers some of the best views in the city, and you can come in early…
411 Gallatin Ave., East Nashville
There was a little bit of a local panic when beloved East Nashville dive bar Dino's changed hands in 2015, as locals feared the ages-old joint would lose its original charm. But the revamp (besides making the bathrooms significantly nicer) hasn't changed much at all. The brick facade and Coca-Cola sign on the exterior are still intact, as is the casual menu and the famous, classic diner burger. As always, the menu is cheap and the bar is beer-only.
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