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Nashville, Nashville, Step Right Up

Photos: LuLu Burns-Keller
Photos: LuLu Burns-Keller

When I saw the Instagram page describing Tiger Bar as “like no place on earth,” my overactive imagination ran amok. Nashville cocktail bars have been getting increasingly outlandish, so I had no idea what to expect. A caged tiger above the bar? Servers dressed in tiger suits? Or perhaps, just a speakeasy?

I was delighted to discover a pristinely recreated Coney Island carnival sideshow of a bar from the 1930s! As you pass through the entryway you can almost hear the echoes of barkers yelling enticements from the pier. My vision mystically seemed to change to sepia. Photographs of famous sideshow Carnies dot the walls and billboards advertising oddities such as the human pincushion or the bearded lady lay around every corner. Tucked away in the back were two booths inspired by horse-drawn gypsy wagons known as Romani Vardos. They even had a Zoltar machine which randomly rewarded its patrons with free cocktails.

Crafting a space this transformative required owner/GM Ben Clemons to painstakingly research  every detail of its construction from the period ceiling tiles to the lavishly upholstered booths. I asked why the name Tiger Bar? He pointed to a conspicuously displayed tiger painting and explained that the bar’s namesake had formally been owned by one of the partner’s grandmothers and had single-handedly sparked the entire concept.

So, who were the ringmasters that conjured this little slice of long past Brooklyn? Along with Clemons, Jamie White, Corey Ladd and Matt Spicher are involved. At the bar, they curated more than 70 choices, 50 of them circa pre-1940 and many directly from Jerry Thomas’ original cocktail encyclopedia published in 1862. They also had a Signature Collection of fresh new interpretations of old classic cocktails. All options were clearly authentic choices for the authentic drinker, but for the life of me, I could not decide which one to choose! Luckily I did not need Zoltar’s help, because our server amazingly knew all of the drinks, their components, and what pairings worked together. When I inquired about her exceptional competency she told me that many of the servers were recruited and then put through a rigorous month long training session before they begin.

She recommended a Cotton Candy Negroni that left my taste buds begging to be in a dunk tank full of the stuff.  The  sweet of the cotton candy played amazingly well with the dryness of the gin and Vermouth and was perfectly supported by the Luxardo Bitter Bianco and orange peel.

So the drinks are to die for, but what about the food? All four of the partners put their heads together to accurately curate small plates with subtle sophisticated flavor compatibilities just begging for the appropriate cocktail. I chose the Panisse & Caviar and combined it with the Boardwalk Fries. The salty pop of the caviar harmonized perfectly with the crisp vinegary potatoes. Great tastes that taste great together.

After I swilled it all down with just the right amount of  Negroni, I had all of the data that I needed to declare Tiger Bar better than a three ring circus. Each of the owners has earned their status and reputation from successful past endeavors. The last time these guys got together they gave us Pearl Diver. White has earned accolades for Lucky’s Three Star Bar, Good Times Full Service Bar, and most recently, Roy’s Royal Room. In 2013, Ladd and Spicher had been the creative force behind the East Nashville farm to table icon, The Treehouse. Clemons’ trendy No. 308 burst onto the scene in 2011 with White as head bartender.

With all this pedigree, it’s no wonder that Tiger Bar is so viscerally enthralling. So, forget Barnum, forget Bailey, and make a beeline straight for Tiger Bar the next time you need an experience to rejuvenate your sense of wonderment. When you get there, just ask Zoltar. He will tell you that you made the right choice.


Brad Blankenship

Brad Blankenship is a retired integrative medicine doctor who has resided in Nashville for over 50 years. He, along with his wife Lulu Burns-Keller travel the US in search of new flavors. Together, they write, photograph and review for Beyondish in the Nashville area and beyond.


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