Last week the Beachbum found himself in Nashville, where he also found himself a couple of drinking buddies to mooch off of. Brad Harrell and Kevin Church, both execs at the venerable Horizon Wine & Spirits, suggested starting things off at Patterson House. No Music City honky tonk, this: Nashville’s first craft cocktail bar is decorated like an Edwardian gentleman’s library, complete with shelves full of vintage books and a menu full of vintage drinks — all mixed to exacting standards by barmeister James Hensley, who apportions bitters with an eye-dropper, and stirs to a precise chill using supersized, rock-solid ice cubes that look like they wouldn’t melt if you put them in a pizza oven.
Although the Patterson offers an artisanal Mai Tai with house-made orgeat and house orange bitters, the Bum opted for something Bourbon-based. Tiki Revival or no Tiki Revival, we were in Tennessee, and Tennessee means whiskey. We started with a Bacon Old Fashioned (bacon-macerated Four Roses small batch bourbon, maple syrup, coffee-pecan bitters), while Kevin and Brad opted for Summer Sazeracs made with Old Overholt rye, chamomile honey syrup, and the mysteriously but somehow aptly named “summer bitters” (we tried some, and it punched our palate right into June). Next we assayed the house Old Fashioned (pictured above), but there was nothing old-fashioned about this canny combo of Rittenhouse rye, demerara sugar syrup, and Peychaud’s bitters.
While the Bum would happily have spent all night freeloading more of the Patterson’s world-class quaffs, Brad spirited us to Nashville’s other haute hoochery, Rumba Bar & Satay Grill. While the Patterson leans toward the classics, Rumba’s Charles Fields prefers to go off the pre-Prohibition grid. He creates tropical-tinged mashups like the Whiskey Thai (Bourbon, lime, and sugar muddled with mint and coriander, topped with ginger lemonade) and the Flower Anniversary Martini (Orinoco rum, Prosecco, apricot brandy, Velvet falernum, and house-made mojito bitters).
After one of each, it became difficult to navigate our barstool without the aid of a gyroscope. Chef Joseph Rozario came to the rescue with the necessary ballast, in the form of Madagascar prawns with smoked-tomato butter, served atop curried sweet potatoes in coconut cream and chorizo dust. This restored our balance deliciously, but just to be safe we followed it up with Joseph’s manchego-cheese bread pudding and braised pork belly, chased with succotash and a side of bacon cured in juniper salt.
We were now ready for another Charles Fields original, so new he didn’t even have a name for it yet: Centenario Rosangel hibiscus tequila mixed with smoked rhubarb purée, St-Germain elderflower liqueur, and Portuguese vinho verde.
Sipping this ambrosial brew, we couldn’t help wondering what Conway Twitty, Minnie Pearl, or Tennessee Ernie Ford would make of a night like this. It may still be the home of Grand Old Opry, but Nashville’s cocktail bars are singing an altogether different tune.