It’s always loud, it’s always packed, and it evokes vehement reactions — both positive and negative — from locals. While not quite as scandalous as Sin City, Nashville’s Broadway can certainly be wild enough to give Bourbon Street a run for its money. But don’t let the tourist trap reputation dissuade you from spending some time downtown. Nashville’s honky tonk strip is for locals, too. Today, we’re walking you back down lower Broadway to show you just what you’ve been missing.
Before our tour begins, let’s address some naysayers: yes, this writer is a 20-something transplant who, on occasion, enjoys loud music and late nights. Yes, there are certain weekends where you couldn’t pay us to go to Broadway because the crowds are borderline out of control. And yes, Nashville has a host of other bars you can visit without seeing a single bachelorette party, pedal tavern or drunken buffoon. But haven’t we all had a raucous weekend with our favorite gals or secretly wondered whether exercising and imbibing really can mix or perhaps even been over-served by a cocktail or two? We’re asking you to set those judgements aside for a moment and to consider at least peeking inside one of these storied Nashville bars the next time you find yourself downtown.
We’re going to work our way down Broadway starting at the top by Bridgestone Arena. We’ll meander our way northeast toward the river on one side of the street before making a u-turn and strolling back up the other. Follow along on the map above, which was illustrated by the talented Tess Erlenborn. Let’s go!
With just Fifth Avenue separating Bridgestone and Rippy’s, it’s safe to say this spot is a favorite of Preds fans and concert goers alike. While the initial crowd around the front door may seem daunting, politely push your way past the confused tourists and make your way towards the stairs. The patio-esque second floor is ideal for breezy evenings where you’d rather watch the crowds below than be a part of them. With a band set up in the corner, it’s the perfect spot to sip your favorite domestic brew as you tap your foot to the tunes of Nashville’s finest musicians. SB TIP: $10s and $20s come in handy at Rippy’s as the bar typically sets up a large container of beer on ice away from the bar that you can buy with cash only.
Known among friends as “P-Park,” Paradise Park is best known as a late-night destination. While the bar half of the space is often the perfect type of crowded (i.e. popular and fun without actually being jostled by strangers) and the $6 pitchers are not to be missed, Paradise Park is best appreciated when you’re already a few drinks deep and begin to crave a crisply fried and perfectly greasy snack. As the clock strikes midnight, there are few laws we wouldn’t break to get our hands on their chicken tender basket with hand-cut French fries. When especially ravenous, the Paradise Patty Melt is a go-to.
Aptly named, Honky Tonk Central is a favorite for showing out-of-towners an authentically Nashville honky tonk experience. With three floors of live music that range from old school country to ’90s jams, there is always a good time to be had. The first floor is a great spot to have a drink and see local talent show off their fiddling skills before your dinner reservation at Merchants. The second and third floors are definitely for those willing to commit to a drink or two as they tend to be more crowded. It’s worth the trip up the stairs to hear each band and see the scene. SB TIP: As with Rippy’s, cash comes in handy at Honky Tonk Central. Request a song for $20 and then look for those cash-only containers of ice-cold beer.
Street Hot Dog Vendors
We’d be remiss if at this point in our virtual stroll down Broadway, we did not include an incredibly important but somewhat unofficial stop: the hotdog street vendors. Available at most corners between Fifth and the Cumberland, these scrumptious stands provide yet another example of why having cash on Broadway is so handy. For $4, you can get six to eight bites of deliciously incubated meat wrapped in a pillowy bun and smothered in the fixings of your choice. It’s a delicacy best enjoyed at least two bars into your evening.
Though a member of the multi-tiered bar set, Acme stands alone in that each of its floors has a distinct vibe. During the day, Acme is decidedly less honky tonk, with a full service restaurant and modest country store setting. At night, Acme’s first floor feels similar to its neighbors, though a touch more upscale with local draft beers and a live Americana band. Ample games and comfortable seating make the second floor ideal for a casual night on Broadway and the perfect spot to take a group of friends. The spacious area has bars on both ends of the room, meaning even a large group won’t be thirsty for long. For the bold, climb two more flights of stairs for access to the roof. As Acme is located at the end of Broadway, its large rooftop bar offers an incredible view of the Cumberland River as well as the honky tonk strip below. When you make it up there, enjoy the view while sipping on the Mule Kicker, a frozen lemonade and moonshine concoction that inevitably breeds both fun Saturday nights and long Sunday mornings. SB TIP: On your way to the fourth floor rooftop, you’ll pass The Hatchery, Acme’s third floor private event space available for hosting events big and small.
The new kid in town, if you will, Crazy Town is a fantastic girls’ night destination. It opened in spring 2016, and the continued buzz has kept it a Broadway hot spot for the better part of a year. The first and second floors have their merits, with live music and fun atmospheres, but the roof will be our focus here. Take an immediate right when you enter the bar and go up the stairs to the roof (don’t be daunted by the line, as the wait is quick and worthwhile). A DJ keeps you on your toes with a playlist mix of Top 40 hits and classic throwback tunes, plus that angsty early 2000s music you may remember. A large stage around the DJ’s booth provides a stable elevated surface for dancing and people-watching alike. Round up your favorite ladies and commit to an hour or two of belting out lyrics to songs you didn’t know you still knew the words to with a few hundred of your new-found closest pals. It’s not for everyone and it’s not for every weekend, but it’s definitely part of a well-rounded Broadway experience.
Boot scoot and boogie to your favorite songs on The Stage’s big dance floor. While made for the rowdier crowds looking to sing and dance, this Broadway bar is also a great place to people watch. Numerous celebrities have been known to look in on Nashville’s new talent at The Stage, and its prime location in the thick of things on Lower Broad makes it a popular haunt for larger groups in search of a great time. Whether you want to participate in the revelry or just observe the fun from afar, you’ll want to add The Stage to your Broadway bar crawl list.
Arguably Broadway’s most underrated honky tonk, Robert’s Western World is one of a kind. The bar is a bit like that girl you know who is so unapologetically herself that you are magnetically drawn to her; she’s completely comfortable with who she is and confidence shines from every pore. In a sea of neon, Robert’s stands out for being authentically itself. Bar regulars will put you to shame on the dance floor, providing a show in and of itself as they two-step and jig to their favorite songs. With house band Brazilbilly being known for more traditional country music and the bar offering daily specials on Busch Light, Robert’s offers a retreat from the tourist crowds in search of the trendier Broadway haunts. If you arrive before the kitchen closes at 10 p.m., order the Recession Special. For $5, you can indulge in a fried bologna sandwich with chips and a PBR. If you arrive after the kitchen closes, fear not. Brazilbilly is one of the best bands on Broadway and worth their weight in fried bologna sandwiches. If that’s not incentive enough to get you in the door, we don’t know what is.
Sashaying up and down the Tootsie’s bar while still rocking out on the fiddle is no small feat, but the fiddle player in question managed her impromptu bar-top performance with an impressive level of grace and poise. Safe to say our introduction to this legendary bar set a high standard for future visits. We consider it telling of Tootsie’s that every trip back has been as fun and exciting as that initial night. Their rooftop offers an impressive view of Broadway and Nashville’s downtown and also a mildly quieter retreat from the crowd inside. Known for their music and as a haven for artists down on their luck, Tootsie’s is a landmark that tourists and locals alike can appreciate. SB TIP: Skip the line by heading to the alley off of Fifth Avenue that runs between the Ryman and Tootsie’s. There you’ll find an additional entry, complete with bouncer.
A few last notes to consider before beginning your Broadway adventure:
- Credit cards are taken at all of the bars, but have cash on-hand as well. The quickest way to have a bad time on Broadway is to spend too long waiting for your next drink. Cash gets the fastest service and also comes in handy for tipping bands and requesting songs.
- Don’t let the entry lines dissuade you. Even the longest Crazy Town line takes 15 minutes tops.
- Leave your 19-year-old little sister/cousin/college buddy at home. All Broadway bars are 21+, and the bouncers know a fake when they see one.
The next time you walk out of the Ryman or Bridgestone (or even the office for those who work downtown), let the sounds of Broadway lure you in. We can promise that even when the memories are foggy with smoke and booze, they are days and nights you won’t really forget.
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