When you visit Nashville, your first stop is probably going to be Lower Broadway.
It’s that glorious strip of honky-tonks that welcomes you with live music from every window. And one of the first things you’ll notice (besides all of those fucking scooters zooming past you) is that you probably recognize some of the names hanging on neon signs in front of those bars. Country artists are opening their own bars on almost every corner of Broadway. Some of them are good, some of them are shit, and some are just generic bars that you could find pretty much anywhere else.
So which bars are worth checking out, which ones are just “meh,” and which ones should you skip altogether?
Here’s my definitive ranking of the artist-owned bars in downtown Nashville:
1. AJ’s Good Time Bar
The best bar comes from one of the best singers. I mean, would you honestly expect anything less from a legend like Alan Jackson? AJ’s Good Time Bar is a no-frills honky tonk where you’ll hear nothing but real country music. It’s the kind of bar that’s almost hard to find on Broadway these days. You won’t hear any shitty pop music, and definitely no Lil Nas X. And that’s not just my opinion: It’s Alan’s rule. Nothing but damn good country music at AJ’s. Oh, and there’s karaoke too (but don’t cuss on stage or you’ll get shut down by the DJ – not that I’m speaking from fucking experience or anything).
I knew I was going to like this place from the first time I walked in and heard the band playing Eric Church’s “Mr. Misunderstood.” Finally, somewhere that I won’t have to hear fucking Journey covers all night long.
John Rich’s Redneck Riviera definitely lives up to its name. It’s nothing fancy – in fact, you’ll probably feel like you’re at a hole-in-the-wall dive bar, as opposed to the massive bars and cookie-cutter experiences you get at some of the other venues on this list. There’s a stage made out of an Airstream trailer, and a rooftop bar covered in Astroturf where you can play giant Jenga and cornhole (or “bags,” as some of you weird fucks like to call it). Oh, and American flags everywhere – because if there’s one thing John Rich loves more than his country music, it’s his country. Redneck Riviera is a great bar – unless you hate America and country music.
3. Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky Tonk Rock ‘N Roll Steakhouse
It’s not the most country of the artist-owned bars, but it’s not the least country either. It IS the least family-friendly though – so if you’re offended by “Cadillac Pussy” signs and a logo featuring a woman’s ass, you should probably stay away from Kid Rock’s. It’s a little tacky, but what did you really expect from the guy who put a giant middle finger statue in front of his house? My favorite thing about Kid Rock’s is the variety of music that you’ll find here. On any given night, you may hear a rock band on one stage doing Metallica covers while the band upstairs sings “Dust on the Bottle.” It’s a good time, and one of the bars worth checking out – as long as you’re not easily offended.
4. Ole Red
The first time I walked into Ole Red I thought I was in a gift shop for Blake Shelton merchandise. The music’s pretty good here, and the dance floor on the first level is massive, but overall the bar is just kind of…generic. Yeah, they have food, but it’s still pretty shitty bar food. The one saving grace, though, is the rooftop bar. Every bar on Broadway has a rooftop these days, and Ole Red may just have the best rooftop of them all. Sure, there’s no live music, but there’s both indoor and outdoor seating, TVs for all of the sports fans, and there are even couches for when you’ve been drinking for too long and just want to relax. For the rooftop alone, Ole Red manages to jump ahead of some of the other bars on this list.
These next three bars are tied, because honestly, they’re all the fucking same. Give me a few drinks and I wouldn’t even be able to tell you whose bar I was in.
5. Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row
Walk into the first floor of Whiskey Row and you’ll probably be ready to walk back out because it’s so damn crowded. That’s because the main bar takes up the entire fucking middle of the floor. You could try to escape to the rooftop bar, but you’d better bring your climbing shoes and oxygen tank if you plan to go up there, because it’s a hike. There’s absolutely nothing special about Whiskey Row, unless you’re looking for a DJ who plays Taylor Swift and want to climb 20 flights of stairs to get to a tiny rooftop bar. If that’s your think, sure, check out Whiskey Row.
5. Luke’s 32 Bridge
Ok, I’ll say it: This bar is just fucking weird. It’s has a restaurant with a tiny stage on the first floor, and then you get upstairs to find a huge dance floor with a stage that’s half a floor above you. And don’t expect to hear much country music either, because this place is more “That’s My Kind of Night” Luke Bryan than “We Rode in Trucks” Luke Bryan. Hell, the first song I heard the band play here was “Santeria” by Sublime. The dance floor looks more like a college nightclub than a honky tonk, so if you’re in town for your bachelorette party and want a place to get white girl wasted, Luke’s is probably a safe choice.
Oh, and there’s a sushi bar on the rooftop. Who the hell wants to eat sushi from a bar? Nope. Pass.
Jason Aldean’s Kitchen + Rooftop bar actually shares a rooftop with Luke’s 32 Bridge, which is appropriate because they’re basically the same anyway. The main bar is, appropriately, a big green tractor, and it’s actually on the second floor of the building occupied by Tequila Cowboy. Other than that, not much really stands out about Jason Aldean’s – the music’s a little more country than Luke Bryan’s bar, but the entire place felt like a parody of a Jason Aldean song. There’s also a gift shop, which is good, because buying a t-shirt is probably the best way to remember you were here. Otherwise, there’s not much that is memorable about it.
8. FGL House
Florida Georgia Line’s bar isn’t exactly on Broadway, which is appropriate because it’s not exactly country. I haven’t spent much time at FGL House, but in the little time that I’ve spent there, I don’t think I heard a single country song. Which probably explains why I haven’t spent much time there – well that, and the fact that it’s full of frat guys wanting to black out on shots of Fireball surrounded by bachelorette parties who want to jam out to TLC’s “No Scrubs.” FGL House feels like the clubs I went to in college (if the clubs I went to in college had a live band doing shitty Rhianna covers). It’s overcrowded, has a terrible layout, and shitty music. If I’m out in downtown Nashville, I would rather go literally anywhere else than FGL House – and that includes the homeless camp down by the river.
The best gear for country fans is in the Whiskey Riff Shop.