Nashville Bars Are Shut Down – So Why is Downtown Still Packed?

A group of people in a bar

I don’t think Nashville’s shutdown order is working as intended.

Back on July 2, Nashville Mayor John Cooper announced that the city would be returning to a modified Phase 2 reopening, with bars once again forced to shut down for 14 days (which has since been extended through July 31). With COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations on the rise, city officials pointed to bars as one source of outbreaks responsible for the spread, so Cooper went full Jon Taffer and shut them down.

But as we wrote about earlier, a viral video showing crowds of people packed onto Lower Broadway proves that the shutdown order hasn’t stopped people (tourists, if I had to guess) from flocking downtown.

So why are people still pouring onto Nashville’s honky tonk row when the bars are closed? Well, you can thank (or blame) the city’s own shutdown order for that.

Nashville’s mandate requires bars and other venues with limited-service liquor licenses to close – but because full-service restaurants are allowed to remain open at 50% capacity, that means that a few venues on Broadway are allowed to keep the music playing and the drinks flowing. Places like Rippy’s Honky Tonk, Mellow Mushroom and Blake Shelton’s Ole Red have been allowed to keep their doors open while their neighbors have been forced to close. And because they’re the only options for tourists and visitors downtown, naturally crowds are going to gather around those bars as people are forced to wait outside due to the limitations on capacity.

But even waiting outside to get into a bar isn’t as bad as it used to be – because Nashville has recently started allowing bars to sell to-go drinks. The result has been bars with Bourbon-street style windows selling beer and liquor to customers as they walk by – so even if you have to wait to get inside, you can still listen to the music and have a drink while you stand outside.

Nashville’s seemingly-inconsistent rules have (obviously) frustrated some of the other bar owners on Broadway – including John Rich, who was forced to shut down his Redneck Riviera back at the beginning of the month.

And other artists like Randy Houser agree.

And of course there’s Steve Smith, owner of Kid Rock’s, Tootsie’s and Honky Tonk Central (along with Rippy’s), who has filed a lawsuit against the city and state claiming that the shutdown orders discriminate against bar owners. (His request for a restraining order against the city, which would have allowed bars to reopen, was recently denied).

Whether you’re in favor of shutting down bars or not, you’ve got to admit that Nashville’s mandate has been a complete failure at doing what it was supposed to do.

In the past, we’ve seen the city announce new shutdowns or rules after videos like the one from this weekend go viral and make the city look bad. So will Rippy’s and the others that have so far remained open be forced to close their doors too? Stay tuned – but don’t plan your trip to Nashville just yet.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock