Nashville

Tennessee Whiskey Fest Is the Perfect Excuse for a Chattanooga Road Trip

For the spirited among us.

Courtesy of Tennessee Whiskey Festival
Courtesy of Tennessee Whiskey Festival
Courtesy of Tennessee Whiskey Festival

Fall has only arrived when drinks with pink umbrellas and light mixers are replaced by whiskey drinks and not a moment sooner. It’s the ultimate warming drink, bracing one for the chill of autumn and steeling one for the winter ahead. And there’s no better place and time to celebrate the arrival of fall and whiskey season than Chattanooga this weekend.

The Ninth Annual Tennessee Whiskey Festival takes place in Chattanooga, Tennessee on Saturday, September 30 at First Horizon Pavilion, just across the street from Finley Stadium, home to the Chattanooga Mocs and FC Chattanooga. Scheduled to be on site for the event are some of the biggest names in brown water-Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, the heavyweights-but also some of the boutique houses pumping out quality product that rivals (and in some cases, surpasses) the big boys.

Like Nelson’s Green Brier, a Nashville-based brand launched after two brothers discovered their great-great-grandfather’s long-lost legacy of distilling, reviving a brand that had been defunct for over a hundred years. Like Old Dominick, which touts itself as the first whiskey legally distilled in Memphis since Prohibition. Like Blade and Bow, which considers itself the spiritual successor to the legendary Stitzel-Weller distillery-you might know it as the brand home of brands like Old Fitzgerald, Old Weller, and Pappy Van Winkle.

The four-hour event has three levels of entry-VIP, Tasting, and Designated Driver. For the VIPs, there are lounges with cigars, full bars, and heavy appetizers. Those in the general populace get the tasting glass and accommodation at every booth; food vendors will also be on site. Those with Designated Driver tickets get to do a solid for their friends and laugh at what will likely be at least some hilarious antics throughout the event-it’s a four-hour whiskey tasting, after all. Somebody’s liable to get loose.

Courtesy of Tennessee Whiskey Festival
Courtesy of Tennessee Whiskey Festival
Courtesy of Tennessee Whiskey Festival

Drive Time:

2 hours from Nashville
2 hours from Atlanta
2 hours from Birmingham

More Things to Do in Chattanooga:

The Tivoli is truly a historic spot; even if you’ve no interest in Fantasia, it might be worth stopping in just for the venue. Other live music haunts for your time in the Scenic City would include the Unknown Caller (a speakeasy accessed via old-style phone booth) or The Signal.

To get out of the hotel before the whiskey festival, check out the Tennessee Aquarium (it is, in fact, the best one in the state by a considerable amount) or Lookout Mountain, which is actually home to three attractions in one (including Rock City and Ruby Falls). Skip the latter two and take in the gorgeous view across seven states when you peer out from Lookout Mountain. Closer to the festival itself would be Southside Social or Chattanooga Brewing Company, both of which are lower-keyed places to do a bit of pre-gaming if that’s your thing.

If you want to stick around a bit later on Sunday before you head out of town, Chattanooga FC is hosting its final home match of the NISA regular-season, with a block party kicking off in the afternoon near Finley Stadium.

Where to Eat and Drink in Chattanooga:

Friday night, make it Pickle Barrel. Have the fried pickle spears, enjoy the rotating beers on tap and avail yourself of the rooftop area, which should be plenty cool enough that close to the river as September draws to a close.

There’s really only one way to begin Saturday: at Maple Street Biscuit Company, which offers massive, delectable breakfast sandwiches and assorted early-morning culinary delights.

Moving on to Saturday evening; you’ve been at the festival, you had some food there, but it’s time to find a great dinner to soak up some booze and ease you into a delightfully chill evening. If you fancy an Uber (or have someone in your party who can drive you), head over to Sugar’s Ribs, which has been recreating the old-school roadside rib joint on the east side of town for more than 15 years. If you don’t feel like the drive, walk about 500 feet to Naked River Brewing and Barbecue for some of Chattanooga’s most outstanding and original eats and drinks; a nice MoonPie Stout pairs well with their take on a Crunchwrap Supreme.

You wake up Sunday. You might be a bit hungover. You’re definitely not looking forward to driving a few hours back home. Go across the river to Milk & Honey (if you’re a coffee person, theirs is the best) or to Aretha Frankenstein’s for another hearty breakfast like the Elephants Gerald (a Belgian waffle with vanilla ice cream and pecans soaked in syrup, dusted with cinnamon).¬†

Where to Stay in Chattanooga:

Chattanooga has every conceivable hotel chain in the area, but if you’re looking for a little luxury without breaking the bank, check out Hotel Clemons. Formerly Bode Chattanooga, Hotel Clemons is in the heart of downtown, walkable to a number of restaurants and bars and to the historic Tivoli Theater (playing the weekend of the Whiskey Festival: Fantasia). Hotel Clemons is less standard hotel and more upscale boutique apartment, with large kitchen and living areas accompanying one, two, or three bedroom suites. Drive in early on Friday and try to hit their complimentary happy hour before you head out for the evening.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on¬†Instagram,¬†TikTok,¬†Twitter,¬†Facebook,¬†Pinterest, and¬†YouTube.

Colby Wilson is a Thrillist contributor.

Nashville

How to Get into Nashville’s Best Speakeasies and Secret Bars

Nashville's speakeasies have impeccable cocktails and even better vibes.

One More Cocktail Club
One More Cocktail Club
One More Cocktail Club

It’s not like it’s difficult to find a spot for a proper cocktail in Nashville, except when it’s intentionally hard. Some of Nashville’s finest bars are a little more hidden away, to create a sense of exclusivity and limit crowds so that talented bartenders can offer the sort of individualized attention that their inventive drinks deserve. Besides, it’s nice to have a conversation at a bar where you don’t have to yell to be heard. Here are some of our favourite places to chill.

The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club
The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club
The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club

The Fox Bar and Cocktail Club

South InglewoodThe talented mixologists at The Fox are a big part of the attraction, and some of their novel takes on classic cocktails have actually won national awards in recipe contests. But even if all you want is a proper gin and tonic, you’ll be delighted by the cozy library vibe of the East Nashville emporium. The bar staff insists on seasonal, locally sourced ingredients, so the drink menu changes frequently. Don’t worry if your favourite rolls off, because there’s sure to be something new to delight you.

Danielle B. Atkins
Danielle B. Atkins
Danielle B. Atkins

Attaboy

East NashvilleAn outpost of the James Beard Award-nominated NYC cocktail bar, Nashville’s version of Attaboy is no slouch either. Well, the building is kindy slouchy, a cinderblock edifice hidden away in an alley where guests are invited to “knock gently” to gain entry. If the bar is full, you’ll have to wait outside, but once you gain entrance, the fun really begins. Bartenders interview patrons about their drink preferences and then compose cocktails on the fly to fulfil their wildest dreams. Sit at the bar or settle into a blue velvet booth to enjoy a completely crafty cocktail or two.

Hidden Bar
Hidden Bar
Hidden Bar

Hidden Bar

DowntownThis subterranean lair in the Noelle hotel downtown is intentionally difficult to find. The entrance is through a door you’d probably never pass through unless you work for the hotel cleaning staff, but it’s a passage to something wonderful. Hidden Bar often stages thematic pop-ups that extend to both the riotous decor and the drink list, and large-format drinks are designed for sharing, so bring a few friends.

Skull's Rainbow Room
Skull’s Rainbow Room
Skull’s Rainbow Room

Skull’s Rainbow Room

Printer’s AlleySkull’s has been a Printers Alley institution since the middle of the last century, except for the few years it was closed when notorious club owner David “Skull” Schulman was murdered, reportedly by someone that knew he always kept the evening’s cash receipts in the top pocket of his trademark overalls. Since reopening, the showroom has revived the old-school vibe with nightly jazz and burlesque shows, classic cocktails served from an elaborate wooden bar and a restaurant that features an excellent chophouse menu. It’s easy to forget the time during an evening at Skulls. Heck, it’s easy to forget what decade it is.

Bar Sovereign
Bar Sovereign
Bar Sovereign

Bar Sovereign

SoBroTucked away in a nondescript strip mall among the towering hotel buildings of SoBro, Bar Sovereign’s entrance is marked only by a small golden plaque that is fortunately close to eye level. Inside is a wonderland of bold artwork covering the walls, a sculpture created from a disassembled piano behind the bar and a menu of interesting and affordable cocktails that is rare to find amongst the nearby tourist destinations. The atmosphere gets a little wilder late at night when DJs spin tunes for the party people and industry folks looking to blow off a little steam at the end of a shift.

Bay 6
Bay 6
Bay 6

Bay 6

East NashvilleThis microbar has a double punny name. First of all, it is, indeed, crammed into the sixth bay of what used to be a self-service car wash before the building was converted into an elevated food and drink court with international carryout restaurants occupying the other quintet of stalls. Secondly, the menu is intentionally basic, with simple, well-made cocktails designed to be served quickly so that guests can enjoy them in one of the very few seats in Bay 6 or carry them out to the lively outdoor patio where patrons enjoy their food from one of the options at The Wash.

Green Hour
Green Hour
Green Hour

Green Hour

GermantownBy day, Tempered Fine Chocolates occupies this space, but on Thursday through Saturday evenings, they unpack the bottles, build a bar and flick on the green light that lets tipplers know that Green Hour is now in session. Dedicated to the exotic “Green Fairy,” absinthe, the bar offers pours of more than a dozen versions of the anise-flavoured spirit. Enjoy a classic absinthe service with drops of water to open up the aromas and flavours or order a flight of three for comparison. The bartenders also employ absinthe in an array of exotic cocktails, but if you don’t like licorice, you might want to pass.

Never Never
Never Never
Never Never

Never Never

Wedgewood-HoustonIt’s not like they’re trying to hide Never Never. It’s just that the former welding shop is so non-descript and hidden away next to the railroad tracks, you might need someone to show you the way to the front door. It’s worth the hunt, though, because the cocktails are both clever and cheap. Enjoy small bites, beer, wine and cocktails at the amiable dimly-lit bar or discover the patio oasis out back that feels like being a guest at a friend’s house party.

Minerva Avenue
Minerva Avenue
Minerva Avenue

Minerva Ave

North NashvilleDress to impress at this Tennessee State University neighbourhood cocktail lounge. A tall fence surrounds the compound to provide privacy, but once you knock for admission, you’ll encounter an expansive outdoor deck with cabanas, fire pits and an outdoor bar. Inside, it’s a little more vibey with plush booths, dramatic lighting accents as well as nostalgic music and artwork. Smokers can enjoy hookah service and cigars, and bottle service is available for high rollers.

One More Cocktail Club
One More Cocktail Club
One More Cocktail Club

One More Cocktail Club

DowntownTucked away in the hallway outside of Level 3 South at the Assembly Food Hall, One More Cocktail Club feels like worlds away from the tourist throngs below. There’s only room for a couple of dozen guests in the chic lounge, so everyone is treated like a VIP. The menu is a mix of new craft cocktails and classics, with special attention paid to creating beautiful works of art including appropriate garnishes. A tight menu of red, white and bubbly wines is also available for those in the know.

Pushing Daisies Underground Margaritas
Pushing Daisies Underground Margaritas
Pushing Daisies Underground Margaritas

Pushing Daisies

DowntownIf you park on the top deck of the garage below the Fifth + Broad retail/dining/entertainment complex across from the Bridgestone Arena, you’ll actually have to walk down to get to Pushing Daisies, home of “underground margaritas.” Named after the class of cocktails that feature citrus, sweet and sour, this hot new lounge concentrates on the tequila version of the whiskey sour or daiquiri. Margaritas are crafted using luxury ingredients and quaffed by a hip crowd of guests enjoying pumping music and dramatic lighting. It’s definitely a scene to be seen.

The Late Great
The Late Great
The Late Great

The Late Great

Demonbreun/Music RowFor the first year this cocktail lounge at the Virgin Nashville was open, it wasn’t really open. Instead, it was a private membership club with an entrance hidden away even from hotel guests. Now, we civilians can make reservations for a three-cocktail “experience” in this shrine to music and creativity, decorated like the writers’ lounge outside the legendary recording studios on nearby Music Row. Private memberships are still available if you’re so inclined and still flush with those songwriter royalty checks.

Get the latest from Thrillist Australia delivered straight to your inbox, subscribe here.

Sarah Carter is a writer and country music lover living in Lebanon, Tennessee. Follow her (mostly southern) regional exploits and stories on Instagram.

Chris Chamberlain is a food, drink, and travel writer based out of his hometown of Nashville. Find him on Twitter @CeeElCee.

Related

Our Best Stories, Delivered Daily
The best decision you'll make all day.