Nashville

The Best Speakeasy-Style Bars in Nashville

Kate Dearman
Kate Dearman
Kate Dearman

While national Prohibition didn’t become law until 1920, the temperance movement swept into Tennessee more than a decade earlier. Political wars raged as residents voted on which counties would be “wet” or “dry.” Spokesmen rose to champion each side, and tensions built to a boiling point. When, in 1908, Edward Ward Carmack, voice of the prohibitionists, was gunned down in Nashville at the corner of Seventh Avenue and Union Street by an anti-prohibitionist (and the son of his greatest political foe), both sides went wild.  

The state passed its no-sell rule in 1909, forcing urban liquor sellers to make gin in bathtubs and deals with the mob for imports, while moonshiners took to the hills as distillers cleared out of town. Even the big-name producers temporarily moved their operations out of state to avoid the long arm of Prohibition.

We’ll spare you the details, but Tennessee worked it all out. The big-name producers returned. Bona fide moonshine distilleries became legal in 2010. But the same inventive spirit with which Tennessee distillers survived Prohibition now exists in the Prohibition-themed cocktail bars that have distinguished themselves in Nashville’s cocktail scene. While original speakeasies were known for using strong flavors to mask subpar liquor, the speakeasy-style bars on this list are popular for their award-winning cocktail programs. So sidle up to the bar, give these spots a shot, and raise a glass to the 21st amendment.  

The Fox Bar and Cocktail Club

South InglewoodThe lush, art deco decor of Fox Bar and Cocktail Club makes you feel like you’re in Jay Gatsby’s house rather than in East Nashville. The low ceilings, private booths, and intimate seating arrangements also make it a prime location to hole up with your honey and sip cocktails made with seasonal ingredients from local farms. If you’d rather make conversation, park yourself at the marbleized bar to confer with a bartender about one of their many inventive cocktails. Try the Pumpkin Fizz (apple brandy, gin, roasted pumpkin, egg white, nutmeg, angostura bitters, sparkling wine, lemon stock) and if you’re feeling peckish, order Fox’s award-winning vegan charcuterie board.  

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

Attaboy

East NashvilleVisitors to the Nashville installment of legendary New York cocktail bar Attaboy might marvel at its windowless, cinderblock façade — a far cry from the architecture of its Big Apple predecessor. But Nashville’s Attaboy is making its own reputation. Just this summer, it was shortlisted by the Spirited Awards as Best New American Cocktail Bar. Despite its accolades, Attaboy is not overly exclusive. A painting of a rooster riding a chopper tips visitors off to the bar’s location, where they’re greeted by a sign marked “Please knock gently.” If the bar has space and the door person has inclination, patrons will be ushered through a black curtain to the dimly lit, menu-less bar. After a quick interview with the bartender, guests can take a load off at one of the blue velvet booths or swap stories on bar stools. (Ask the bartender about the mounted baseball bats.)

Hidden Bar

DowntownEven employees of Nashville hotel Noelle are instructed to “speak easy” of Hidden Bar. But here are two hints about how to get there: a two-way mirror and a storage closet. Once you find this subterranean lounge, your efforts are rewarded with a cocktail menu that dazzles — literally. When guests order one of three large-format drinks, such as the Emotional Rescue (Haitian rum, Puerto Rican rum, pineapple rum, sparkling wine), the pitcher is presented with a sparkler sizzling on its top while the bartender plays that drink’s signature song (Emotional Rescue gets Blue Swede’s “Hooked on a Feeling”). If you’re looking for something a little less lit, the rest of Hidden Bar’s cocktail, beer, and draft wine list is accessible yet still interesting.

House of Cards
House of Cards
House of Cards

House of Cards

DowntownOne might say Prohibition was a terrible magician — it couldn’t make the liquor disappear. But House of Cards, Nashville’s new magic and dinner venue, is full of amazing magicians ready to mystify. It even requires a disappearing act to get in. Guests are ushered through an entrance in the Johnny Cash Museum, and, abracadabra! — you’re plunged into a plush entertainment lounge. Choose from a list of magic-themed cocktails or the classics, which House of Cards elevates with its house bitters and a cast of local liquors. Once you’ve got a drink, prepare to be amazed as you watch magicians do some sleight of hand at one of the dark wooden tables or mosey over to make a request from the self-playing piano. In the back room, buy an entrée in order to see the full magic show to finish off a spellbinding night on the town.  

Marcus Baney
Marcus Baney
Marcus Baney

The Patterson House

Music RowNamed for Tennessee Governor Malcolm R. Patterson, who famously said, “For a state… to attempt to control what the people shall eat, drink, and wear… is tyranny, and not liberty,” Patterson House is the godfather of Nashville speakeasies. It put the city’s cocktail scene on the map when it first opened its doors in 2009 and the bar’s luxe aesthetic and inventive drinks have been winning awards ever since. A pyramid of beautiful liquor bottles rises from the heart of the room, exemplifying the centrality of fine, handcrafted cocktails to its overall vision. The bar’s rules, such as “Please be patient, each cocktail is hand-crafted, and quality takes time,” and “Enjoy the company that you keep,” remind guests that though the room has a free and speakeasy vibe, everyone is there to have a high-class time. Order from the menu, which is grouped by liquor, or confer with the bartender. Need a recommendation? Ask for the Greenpoint, a nod to NYC’s iconic cocktail den Milk & Honey (where the drink was created).

Courtesy of Rudy's Jazz Bar
Courtesy of Rudy’s Jazz Bar
Courtesy of Rudy’s Jazz Bar

Rudy’s Jazz Room

The GulchRudy’s is all the best parts of a jazz club with a dialed-up Jazz Age aesthetic. Yes, Rudy’s has signage and is easy to find, but it also has a maroon-colored crushed velvet stage curtain, moody lighting, live music every night of the week, and a jazz piano happy hour. These elements, combined with its commitment to making traditional, early 1900s cocktails, cements Rudy’s Jazz Room as one of Nashville’s most authentic-feeling speakeasy lounges. Between the Sazeracs and the seafood-heavy menu, you’ll feel like you’ve popped down to New Orleans, all while enjoying fine jazz in a secluded bar about a mile from Nashville’s famous honky tonks.

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

Skull’s Rainbow Room

Printer’s AlleySkull’s Rainbow Room doesn’t require a password, but it does have an entrance in a cobblestone alley, a burlesque show, and folklore surrounding the murder of its namesake founder, David “Skull” Schulman. A Printer’s Alley fixture for 70 years, the room’s black and white stage has been graced by a wide variety of musicians — Etta James, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash, just to name a few. Plus, its dinner menu and seasonal cocktail list make Skull’s a downtown favorite for tourists and townies alike. Park it at the bar and try The Skull (rum, cream of coconut, pineapple, grenadine, ginger) while watching a late-night burlesque performance Wednesday through Saturday. And did we mention there’s jazz every night?  

Old Glory

Edgehill VillageThere’s no sign marking the entrance to Old Glory, instead visitors follow a vine-covered wall to a door marked with a golden pyramid. Down the gilded, spiral staircase they go, into the belly of a revamped 1920s boiler room, complete with intact coal hopper. A modern bar in a vintage setting, Old Glory boasts a seasonal cocktail menu complete with a variety of craft shots. From the Tic Tic Boom (house-made smoked cinnamon & ancho chile-infused bourbon) to the Nanerum (banana-infused rum), the bar is a locals’ favorite for weekday hangs and weekend soirees.  

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.

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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.

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