Nashville

With the Tennessee Drag Ban Struck Down, Nashville Pride Is Back and Better Than Ever

‚ÄėThis is what we're fighting for, this is what we're rallying about.'

Nashville Pride
Nashville Pride
Nashville Pride

When US District Judge Thomas Parker struck down Tennessee’s drag ban bill on June 3, ruling it both unconstitutionally vague and substantially overbroad, it reaffirmed what Mac Huffington already knew.

“We knew in our hearts it was unconstitutional, but to have the judge declare it makes it more fulfilling for us,” said Huffington, whose 25-year involvement with Nashville Pride¬†includes her current tenure as President of the organization and owner of Mac Productions, which specializes in putting on drag shows. “This gives the community a lot of excitement, and a lot of hope. I want people to know that now more than ever is the time to come to Pride, support, celebrate, and be yourself. This is what we’re fighting for, this is what we’re rallying about, this is the purpose of the festival, to be able to be yourself and laugh and love and have fun in a safe place. More than ever, this is the time to spread love.”

Nashville Pride
Nashville Pride
Nashville Pride

The bill, formally submitted as SB0003, threatened to jeopardize all drag performances in the Volunteer State and especially at Nashville Pride, which is scheduled to begin June 24 at the Bicentennial Capitol State Mall Park. Along with being considered an attack on the livelihoods of many performers, the introduction and passing of the initial bill caused angst among the drag community in large part due to the ambiguity. Performers, organizers, and venue owners all had to contend with a bill that, as written, was short on details and long on consequences-a first violation was categorized as a Class A misdemeanor (punishable by a max fine of $2,500 or a year-long prison sentence) and a second violation would’ve triggered a maximum of six years in prison as a Class E felony.

“When it was so ambiguously written, the law didn’t just stop at drag,” said Noel Cummings, a Clarksville-based drag performer scheduled to hit the Stonewall Stage June 24 – 25 and who performs across Tennessee and Kentucky. “The law simply read ‚Äėanything on public property.’ If I’m driving down the road and my windows aren’t sufficiently tinted and there’s someone who agrees with all this looks at you in the car and decides ‚ÄėThis road is public and my child could see them,’ I could have someone call the cops on me as I’m driving to a gig? I could get fined or go to jail, just for existing? It was scary to leave my house sometimes.”

The LGBTQ+ community in Nashville and the greater Middle Tennessee area has long contended with and prioritized safety issues for performers, patrons, and events. The addition of potential legal ramifications was cause for pause, as much for confusion as anything according to Huffington. Reported issues at other events didn’t provide much clarity or ease potential consternation either.

And of course, there was the omnipresent worry of actual, physical violence. Cummings reported members of the far-right neofascist group the Proud Boys appeared at an event. The community remained undaunted because, as Nashville Pride Board Member Brady Ruffin put it, “[Just as] we’re no stranger to adjustment, we’re no stranger to hate either.”

“The people against equality and against the fair treatment of our community, it seems like they’re a little more emboldened and a little louder [this year],” Ruffin continued. “Our queer community in Nashville and Middle Tennessee is resilient and understands this isn’t new. It’s not the first time we’ve heard stuff like this and it won’t be the last, even if the concerns have been amplified this year.”

Nashville Pride
Nashville Pride
Nashville Pride

Huffington, Ruffin, and other event organizers worry that even after the drag bill was struck down, there could be residual angst among performers and attendees at this year’s Nashville Pride celebration. A common refrain was the focus on increased security for the event; they want everyone involved to feel safe to be their authentic selves every year, and especially after a period fraught with uncertainty.

As an event that prioritizes inclusion, safety, and comfort for all attendees, Huffington hopes that being out, proud, supportive, and/or excited at Nashville Pride outweighs other concerns for everyone in attendance but acknowledged the reality of how the issues raised in the last few months might weigh on any who attend.

“I love Pride and I always have,” Huffington said. “The overturn [of the drag ban] is an extra motivator [this year]; there will be people who might be fearful who also want to celebrate the overturn and Pride and that being authentic is still okay and has always been okay. We want to give those people a place where they feel comfortable to be who they are.”

The striking down of the drag ban has left the community with feelings of hope and joy after a period of uncertainty. The win is a win for equality and LGBTQ+ rights, but another challenge is always on the horizon.

“It is a triumph for the moment,” Cummings said. “It needs to be acknowledged that we are proud and we are here, but it is far from over. We’re here to make sure that everyone finds their safe space, has a great time, and gets to celebrate themselves.”

Nashville Pride begins June 24 in Bicentennial Capitol State Mall Park in Nashville. For more information on the event, including scheduled performers, visit www.nashvillepride.org.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.

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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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