One of our saviors on the southern part of this trip was the Mar/Apr 2011 issue of Imbibe Magazine. Imbibe is a great publication focusing on cocktails, beer, wine and coffee. This was the southern issue and they put together a package highlighting the 100 best places to drink in the South. We ended up visiting more than half of the bars that they covered and got an amazing perspective of what the southern states have to offer. We were a little surprised that Nashville had so many entries from The excellent Patterson House, City House, Holland House Bar and Refuge (man there are a lot of House’s in Nashville), Whiskey Kitchen and The Oak Bar at the Hermitage Hotel, there was a lot to choose from. Yet it was one of the newest places on the Imbibe list that ended up being our favorite by far, Bar 308.
Clearly we are fans of well crafted drinks and a good experience, and while we enjoy an over-the-top speakeasy experience with rules and passwords as much as the next guy, for a place to get a spot in our regular rotation it needs to take the pretension down a notch. Bar 308 is a perfect example of finding a balance between obsessive attention to detail behind the bar without getting too fussy. It’s not a theme bar, its just a good bar. Their concern first and foremost is for the quality of the drinks and service followed by the comfort of their patrons. I think comfort is great description of 308’s brand, you don’t feel like you have to stump the bartenders to be cool and you don’t have to feel embarrassed if you just want to order a beer and a shot. But you also get house made ingredients, precision ice and a strong grasp of the classics.
A central part of their menu is their writers block shots which are all named for writers. Our favorite was the Bukowski, a Boilermaker of High Life and a shot of Four Roses bourbon shared with both of the bartenders, Brandon Wilson and Ben Clemons. They also have a section of their menu dedicated to house made sodas. Alana and I give them credit for finally turning us on to whiskey ginger with their George Dickel and carbonated-on-the-spot house-made ginger ale. The key was using Tennessee whiskey rather that bourbon, the mellowed Tennessee whiskey is drier than bourbon and mixes perfectly with the ginger ale.
As usual we we sat at the bar, wanting to chat and watch the guys at work. Ben and Brandon were a blast to talk to and really made the place feel like home. They had only been open for a few months but it felt like they had been doing it for years. Ben and his fiance Alexis Soler are the owners, Ben had spent time bartending in New York and Alexis in Miami. They met in New Orleans at Tales of the Cocktail, the annual bacchanalia/conference for those in the spirits and cocktails industry, and later she proposed to him in room 308 of the Ace Hotel in New York, hence giving the bar its name.
We have enjoyed so many bars on this trip, but the best ones were, unsurprisingly, the ones where we got to know the owners and bartenders. 308 is one of those bars that we wish we could transport home with us or tow behind us in the RV to wherever we go. We may have seen places that wowed us more while walking in the door, but few that made us as sad that we had to walk out the door.