Tootsie’s and Other Nashville Bars Are Becoming Restaurants to Avoid Future Shutdowns

A building with people walking around

As great man once said:

“Modern problems require modern solutions.”

It was Dave Chappelle. Dave Chapelle said that.

And in these times when bars seem to be bearing the brunt of Coronavirus-related shutdowns, some of the honky tonks on Nashville’s famous Lower Broadway are trying to find ways to get around the city’s shutdown orders and keep the music playing.

According to Fox 17, Nashville bars were recently allowed to reopen with a capacity of 25 people after over a month of being shut down by the city. Restaurants, meanwhile, were able to stay open 50% capacity during the latest round of closures. So now, some bars around the city are looking towards the future and trying to prepare for the potential of future lockdowns by becoming full-service restaurants.

One of Nashville’s most famous honky tonks, Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, recently applied and was approved to reopen as a bar and grill, which means that they’re allowed to operate at 50% capacity instead of the 25 person limit on bars. And owner Steve Smith, who’s always looking for new ways to stick it to the city, said that if all goes well with the new business model at Tootsie’s, he’ll be opening his other bars like Kid Rock’s and Honky Tonk Central as restaurants too.

The new bars-turned-restaurants will have to meet stricter requirements to maintain their full-service restaurant license, or risk having to  evert back to operating as a bar (and all the restrictions that come with it). Restaurants have to make at least 50% of their sales from food, and they’re required to serve food with any drink purchase above 8% alcohol. The price of food also has to be greater than the price of alcohol, so that means the menu probably won’t look like Legends Corner’s offerings of Uncrustables and Lunchables (which is a shame, honestly).

It remains to be seen whether Tootsie’s will meet the requirements to continue to operate as a restaurant, although Smith has already proven the model can work at one of his bars: Rippy’s Honky Tonk was allowed to take advantage of its full-service license to keep its doors open during the latest shutdown (which led to viral videos of crowds packed outside the door waiting to get in). But now that bars are back open and more restaurants to choose from, will Tootsie’s and other bars-turned-restaurants be able to sell enough food to stay open as a restaurant?

If their experiment is successful, we could see quite a few more bars make the switch as they struggle to find ways to keep the doors open. Several other bars like Nashville Underground and Winner’s have also been approved to begin operating as restaurants, and I expect we’ll see quite a few more applying for full-service restaurant licenses just in case the bars get shut down again. So if you’re in Nashville, I guess you can head on down to Tootsie’s for a full steak dinner now instead of just getting blacked out on $8 Bud Lights.

Man, we’re living in weird times. But kudos to these bars for doing what it takes to keep their employees and musicians paid.

A beer bottle on a dock



A beer bottle on a dock