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Sssshhh. Be Quiet. Speak Easy. Do You Want To Get Us Arrested?

Images: Lulu Burns-Keller
Images: Lulu Burns-Keller

On January 17, 1920, Prohibition made “intoxicating liquors” illegal. America, however, was not about to surrender its hooch without a fight. Thus speakeasies (aka blind pigs or gin joints) were born.

NYC alone had over 100,000 speakeasies, ranging from opulent clubs with jazz bands and ballroom dancing to seedy nooks in backrooms, basements and apartments. The Speakeasy culture thrived until the repeal of the Volstead Act in 1933.

It appeared that speakeasies might be dead forever, but the spirit remained and they have spread across the entire globe. Why? Simple. Their strong appeal is actually rooted in our human nature to crave things that are secretive, exclusive and in short supply. Unlike their roaring 20s ancestors, however, today you don’t have to look behind a green door to find them or use slang words for alcohol such as “coffin varnish,” “monkey rum” or “tarantula juice.” You don’t risk arrest by patronizing them and there are no secret words, knocks or hand shakes needed for entry. The main trick is finding them.

Speakeasy patrons care enough about their cocktail experience to seek out these clandestine places. The time and energy invested in the hunt is half the fun. Then there is the quality: cocktails have been elevated to an art form in their own right.  Bartenders have evolved into rockstar magicians capable of combining esoteric ingredients into distinctively layered potions ready to address your every mood and occasion.

Beyondish has a sweet spot for Nashville, no slouch in the dive entertainment game, and empowered this writer to reveal where Nashville imbibes in secrecy at night. Our first stop is The Fox.

I know that Speakeasies are supposed to be clandestine, but come on man, a door underneath a metal staircase off of a dimly lit parking lot next to the rear entrance of an Italian kitchen? Score!

Walking up the stairs, my eyes were as hungry for the Fox’s interior decor as my stomach was for their cocktails and bar bites. However, upon entry, an intense red light from the bar immediately triggered flashbacks of my misspent youth. It made me feel a little naughty, a little bawdy, and a little “in the know.”

Beyond the light, I found walls of rich wood nestling intimate blue booths and a smattering of elegant high top tables scattered around a room capable of seating 40. The main bar was adorned with a custom art installation running its entire length and large comfy barstools seductively beckoning. “Come, relax on me. Everything is going to be ok.”

The vintage rugs, leather chairs and immaculate plants were the piece de resistance. The space impeccably re-creates the romantically elegant art deco energy of a roaring 20s gin joint, pulled off by using reclaimed wood from Nashville area houses to inextricably link this classy watering hole with the community that it serves. Eyes satiated, it was time for the taste test of their food and cocktails.

Fifty years of bar-going has taught me two things. Ambience is irrelevant if the food and drink are flat, and the success of a bar starts with its bartender. So that’s where I started. I watched as he attentively reviewed the menus with each patron, like the rest of the joint was empty. The broad range of cocktails were all remarkably complex, yet with separate and distinct flavor notes layered together into a symphony of spirits dancing on your tongue. The charcuterie board, hot chicken hummus and smoked goat cheese spread were all amazingly flavor-packed, echoing their precise preparation. There were awesome vegetarian options as well, such as the vegan charcuterie board, miso deviled eggs, roasted chickpeas, and summer squash tartine.

Now that I had seen, tasted and smelled all that I came for, I exited down the side of the building muttering “what a great little speakeasy, too bad it’s so hard to find.” And then I glanced at their exterior and what do I see but a stunning 75-foot modern cubist mural of a fox, painted by local artist Brian Wooden and occupying the entire wall.

Wondering what zeitgeist had spawned this gem of a bar, I queried managing partner Kevin Sanders, who told me that it was the mutual love of three musicians for the band Millencon and specifically for their song “Fox” that energized their efforts. Kevin Sanders, Andrew Cook and Brian Rushton had planned this upscale bar for many years before their dreams finally became a reality in September of 2017. Since their opening, the Fox has earned its position as a clandestine, yet iconic Nashville destination, frequented by locals and sought out by savvy tourists who are in the know. The next time you want to sneak a drink, indulge in a yummy bar bite, or just have a romantic evening, you will score big with this place! Just look for the huge Fox on the side of the building. You can’t miss it, and you shouldn’t.


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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