We were stuck somewhere between the ground-floor bar with the giant bronze eagle and the rooftop patio with the neon “Born Free” sign.
Confined in a stalled stairwell inside Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky-Tonk & Rock ‘n’ Roll Steakhouse, a bride-to-be demonstrated her freedom to let out a big-ass scream.
“I’m getting married, so hurry the [bleep] up!” she yelled to a crowd that included several other bachelorette parties besides hers.
Such is the roar, whir, blur, rush and crush along Nashville’s Lower Broadway these days.
A glut of newish celebrity mega-bars on Music City’s legendary downtown strip has created a bustling nightlife scene, one that competes with New Orleans’ Bourbon Street and Austin’s Sixth Street in alcohol sales — and has way more star power to attract tourists.
Lower Broadway’s celebrity-led revival has made Nashville a hot destination for spring break and wild weekends, especially among Midwesterners. Sun Country, Southwest and Delta have added nonstop flights there in recent years from the Twin Cities, which is perennially ranked a top 5 market for country music sales.
Kid Rock’s four-story, 5,800-square-foot mega-bar — he’s not kidding about the “big” part (no comment on “ass”) — is one of eight sprawling nightlife complexes in Nashville that sport a chart-topping music star’s name on the marquee.
All within T-shirt-gun-shooting distance from each other, the row of name-brand drinking and dancing palaces also includes: Blake Shelton’s Ole Red, Luke’s 32 Bridge from Luke Bryan, Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row, AJ’s Good Time Bar from Alan Jackson, Florida Georgia Line’s FGL House, and Jason Aldean’s Kitchen + Rooftop Bar.
A woman’s moniker was also finally added among those brawny names in lights on Broadway last summer.
Miranda Lambert’s Tex-Mex-themed Casa Rosa opened just a few doors down from her ex-husband Shelton’s place. Not surprisingly, it’s the nicest of the bunch, with Mexican-tiled floors and loads of pink neon.
“I’m happy to be representing the ladies here in Music City!” Lambert said when her place opened. “Tacos, tequila and tufted pink booths, what else can a girl ask for?”
‘Never seen anything like this’
During a nightlong bar-hopping excursion one Thursday last summer, all of Casa Rosa’s predecessors in the city’s mega-bar scene were fully whirring again. They all started to blend together after a while, too — not because of the many drinks available out of blenders, but because there’s a similar layout and concept to all of them.
They’re set in early-20th-century buildings with different bars and stages spread out across three or four floors. Rooftop patios top off each venue, offering views of Broadway and … well, all the other rooftop patios.
Bands or songwriters are usually performing on two or three floors, mostly playing modern country or classic rock tunes (with Lynyrd Skynyrd a standard go-between). There’s also usually a DJ spinning Top 40 hits on one floor. Quieter areas with booths and tables are also interspersed here and there for dining or conversation.
During a lull in the music on the main floor of Shelton’s Ole Red — a big singalong version of John Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses” had just wrapped — Houston resident Cole Clay wowed over the Texas-sized sprawl of the Broadway scene last summer.
“I’ve never seen anything like this, even in Texas,” said Clay, 24, who cited Shelton’s place as his favorite of the bunch because of its “laid-back vibe.”
“It’s cool to kind of see how each place fits the celebrity involved.”
George Jones was the Nashville celebrity who most prominently set the mold for these mega-bars with his semi-notorious late-1960s saloon the Possum Holler. More recently, Toby Keith and Jimmy Buffett set a new standard by licensing out their names to bar-and-grill franchises.
Four of the current hot spots are operated by the same company, TC Restaurant Group, including Aldean’s and Lambert’s venues.
At Lambert’s instantly popular Casa Rosa, bridesmaid-to-be Kat Menkel of Grand Rapids, Mich., recognized why there’s a whole party-bus and hotel-package industry built around prenuptial bashes in Nashville now.
“These singers all make fun, feel-good music that’s about living life to the fullest,” she said. “That’s what it feels like you’re doing when you come here.”
A much-needed kick
This good-time vibe has helped Nashville rebound from bad times far beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.
In early March 2020, just before lockdown began, a tornado ripped through the city, killing 25 people and causing around $1 billion in damage. Then on Christmas Day 2020, a domestic terrorist detonated a bomb on 2nd Avenue near Broadway, damaging dozens of buildings and the city’s collective nerves, too.
Some of Nashville’s old-guard night spots have been lost or nearly lost in recent years, including the legendary music hub the Exit/In, which had to be rescued by a GoFundMe campaign.
Older mainstay venues along Lower Broadway, such as Robert’s and Tootsie’s Lounge, were open last summer but did not have nearly the crowds as the trendier celeb-backed bars.
Among the most popular of the newer hot spots were Aldean’s and Kid Rock’s respective joints, both with velvet-rope lines out front and VIP options. So much for those singers’ workingman aesthetics.
Still, there’s no question the money brought in by these bars is doing the city some good — not to mention the money their namesake co-proprietors added to relief funds.
“Whatever needs to be done to help Tennessee and the people she holds hit by [the] devastating storm, count me in,” Kid Rock said when he personally donated $50,000 after the tornado.
The lesser-known musicians who play in these bars seem to be reaping some of the benefits, too. At Kid Rock’s “honky-tonk,” the band on the main-floor stage was filling requests to the highest bidders in the audience.
“We’re going to need $130 more to play ‘Bohemian Rhapsody,’ ” one of the two women singers yelled before launching into “Jolene” instead.
At Luke’s 32 Bridge — named after the Georgia highway river crossing near Luke Bryan’s childhood home — the band Flatland Revival launched into a cover of Luke Combs’ “Hurricane” via a tip-accompanied request.
As the crowd collectively lit into the rapped portions of the country mega-hit, singer Casey Edgar visibly lit up.
“Nashville is back, baby!” he howled.
The best of Nashville’s mega-bars
Here are some of the standout traits of Nashville’s fleet of celebrity mega-bars.
Longest line: Aldean’s namesake bar, which also boasts the nicest rooftop patio, set in the shadow of the Batman-evoking AT&T Building. It also houses the broadcast booth for Bobby Bones’ iHeartRadio show and cool vintage neon signs for Sinclair Oil and the Euclid Tavern.
Best memorabilia: Lambert has the clear advantage here, since the old glam dresses and diamond-studded belt that line Casa Rosa (originally worn in music videos or awards shows) are a lot more exciting to look at than the flannel shirts on the walls of all the other venues. She also has like a giant neon cowgirl sign for a cool visual centerpiece.
Best at selling alcohol: Ole Red is littered with ads of Shelton pushing the swill. Sample line: “Dr. Blake’s health tip: Drink lots of liquids.”
Other signature traits: Ole Red features a red tractor hanging over the main stage. Luke’s 32 Bridge, housed in an old bank, has a black pickup parked inside the front door and a neon sign that reads, “Huntin’ Fishin’ Lovin’ Every Day.” Bentley’s wood-lined, distillery-inspired Whiskey Row has “Tip It on Back” in neon and, yep, lots and lots of whiskey. Kid Rock’s place is filled with guns and eagles and other things you might see in a VFW hall.
Most shameless self-aggrandizing: Kid Rock’s, of course, where you see a car hood on the wall airbrushed with “American Rock & Roll” over images of Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, John Mellencamp and guess-who.