Here we are, folks! As promised – part two of Nashville’s Best Hidden Cocktail Gems. Last time, I talked about places physically hard to find, but the spots on this list are “hidden in plain sight,” so to speak. These gems may not be hard to spot when you drive down the street or revealed when you pull a certain book forward on a shelf and head down a secret passageway, but you might only hear of them if you know someone who loves them or ask a local.
As previously mentioned, residents of tourist-centric Nashville tend not to be the most vocal about their favorite joints, lest they be overrun by simple volume, or worse, bachelorette parties. But each and every bar on this list deserves its praise (and its business).
Go forth and drink in happiness, just…you know, be cool.
Though the name is painted in incredibly large letters on the front of the building, Otto’s really sneaks up on ya if you’re not familiar with its location. The building gives off “I-used-to-be-an-auto-body-shop” vibes from the outside (probably because it really was one), but completely transforms inside.
Everything about the place is delightful, from the sleek, gastro-pub style bar to the eclectic and cozy seating nooks, to the semi-covered outdoor picnic tables. Adding to the charm is the fact that everyone who comes in seems to know the staff. They’ve clearly built their own following – and for good reason. They are charming, funny, enjoyable folks.
The 24 Carrot Magic cocktail is not to be missed, with smokey Del Maguey Vida mezcal, fresh pressed carrot juice, cinnamon syrup, and lime. It’s unbearably refreshing (not to mention straight up striking to look at). About equally refreshing was the fact that the gents behind the bar really seemed to give a shit about what they were serving and who they were serving it to. And I have a good amount of respect for any bar that lists the Naked & Famous on their menu as a suggestion for a “cocktail they love.” The simple style nachos and tacos seemed to be a huge hit as well and the bar is also shockingly family (and fur-family) friendly. Between the drinks, vibes, service, food, and flair that make Otto’s a win-win-win-win-win.
A cocktail bar by Slim + Husky’s owners, this unassuming grey building is dripping with swag on the inside. And I gotta tell ya, their namesake cocktail, consisting of raisin-soaked Uncle Nearest 1884, amaro, vermouth, blackstrap bitters, and chicory liqueur goes down real smooth on a velvet couch or airy patio chair. The food, a playful take on tapas with Mexican and southern influences, looks fire as well. Bonus! They just started brunch. I’ll be back.
This one wasn’t on my list until a few people told me about it. Further proving my point that though it’s a pretty damn large building with an easily visible sign, it truly is a spot for the locals. Whether you’re there to kick it under disco lights inside or relax in a section of their intimate wrap around porch or go full backyard bbq style and sit on picnic tables amongst the gravel, this is a real meet-your-friends hang. The drinks are nice, if not terribly innovative* and those doggy style fries call out to you. Or should I say, howl?
*Edit as this went to print: the new cocktail menu looks worth a modest revisit of this statement. Try it out and let me know.
Nestled in between Ernest Bar and Hideaway and Bastion in the Wedgewood-Houston strip sits Americano Lounge. It’s a sexy space with well-crafted coffee drinks and cocktails. The perfect place to hole up and work for a day or meet someone in the evening. The first time I visited (not knowing of its existence until a friend suggested meeting there), I commented how angry I was that I didn’t know about it sooner. As such, I recommend frequenting the place, even if the owner is a little too vocal about his distaste for “new Nashville.” (Keep it to yourself, bud. I make my living on this city’s food and beverage scene and that’s a little too much for me and my Negroni.) It’s always worth the visit for the quality beverages, knowledgeable staff, surprising treats like extra-aged gin, and near nightly jazz.
DEE’S COUNTRY COCKTAIL LOUNGE
Before I moved to Nashville, a stranger said to me, “Go to Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge. Trust me.” When I moved here, a high-profile chef said the same thing. Multiple years later, I finally went looking for it on the side streets of Madison. GPS takes you to back parking lot of a fast-food shack; trying to find it yourself takes you to a porn store… but sure enough, there it was – next door to the porn store, separated by a tall fence. It kind of rises up out of the pavement like a vintage mecca.
Dee’s is the kind of place I wish I lived down the road from so I could walk there nightly. They have live music every single night and there’s a cover, but it gets split between the band and the bartenders so I’m all for that. The people who go there are so fiercely in love with and protective of it, they’d probably shank me for including it on any kind of list. Don’t go there looking for an original craft cocktail, but they stock decent booze (I was even able to get a Negroni with Luxardo bitter, which shocked the shit out of me, though I did have to tell the guy how to make it. No matter – he couldn’t have been more pleasant. Which reminds me, if you ever stumble into a spot and aren’t sure what they can make, just order a Negroni. It’s three things that are always stocked and made in equal parts so there is ZERO chance of a fuck up - even if they shake it. But I digress….)
There’s a crock pot on the bar simmering with boiled peanuts and a real feeling of escape and acceptance. Everyone I met was incredibly easy to talk to and seemed to welcome this wayward traveler into their pack. The bit of a trek to get there won’t be near enough to keep me from returning and returning often.
A NOTE (IN LIEU OF HONORABLE MENTIONS)
There are a couple of bars considered “speakeasys” that I did not mention in either part 1 or part 2 of Best Hidden Cocktail Gems, though they are seemingly obvious choices. Those are Attaboy and The Fox Bar and Cocktail Club. Perhaps I didn’t include them because I go so often, they’re nowhere close to hidden for me, or perhaps because I plan to write about them in the future when we talk about Best Bars- Period… I don’t know. But if you somehow don’t know about them, look them up immediately.