Stop 1: The Fox Bar and Cocktail Club
Naturally I ordered the Sunday Gravy ($16), which is not a pot of meat-filled marinara that’s been slowly bubbling on a stove all day but rather a smooth, quiet cocktail made of sun-dried-tomato amontillado sherry and lo-fi gentian that’s been steeped with Parmesan rind. It’s served with a tiny bay leaf in a Nick and Nora glass — not a coupe, Georgian, flip, sling or any of the 11 other kinds of glassware The Fox stocks, which I only know because there’s a sketch of each (and all five shapes of ice) on a menu that could double as wall art.
Why you would sit anywhere other than the bar at The Fox is beyond me. I loved watching the bartender make Dom’s Fox Old Fashioned No. 10 ($22), especially when she stamped The Fox’s logo into the top of the glass-filling ice cube. There’s nothing dramatic or flashy about the bartenders; they work with great focus and precision while answering questions from people like me who have no clue what lo-fi gentian is. It’s fun to have a front-row seat for all the spoons, sprays, garnishes and random splashes from the shaken cocktails.
Learn from our mistake: The Fox takes reservations at 5 p.m. only, so when we arrived at 5:45 on a Friday night, there was a 45-minute wait because everyone who’d thought ahead was enjoying their Concord grape margaritas, Old Bay popcorn and hot chicken hummus (which contains no chicken). It’s a small space with no indoor waiting area, so if you have to wait, the tiny photo booth just outside the door is a fun way to kill time. Dom and I were too wide to sit side by side and too short to be in the frame, but we had a good chuckle taking the world’s worst pictures.
Parking is not what I’d call plentiful — more of a ditch-your-car-in-an-alley-and-hope-for-the-best situation. Instead of signage, there’s a fox mural along the side of East Hill Row, home to Gallatin Pike-facing Nicoletto’s Italian Kitchen. Follow the foxes to the back, and the entrance is underneath the stairs that lead to The Bowery Vault. Don’t mistake the covert location as coy or pretentious. In a high-low town that’s silly with over-the-top douchebag bars and dives, The Fox is Goldilocks.
The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club: Best Bar of the Year
Nashville has its fair share of bars, so it takes something really singular to stand out from the crowd. And the Fox Bar & Cocktail Club has what it takes. Yes, they make everything that isn’t alcohol in-house. And yes, the Fox colada with rum, white miso honey, sweet corn, and pineapple is probably one of the finest riffs on the piña colada that will ever grace a bar counter. But it’s the minimal-waste program here that sets it apart — in fact, they take waste from other places and turn it into ingredients for its drinks. Fruit husks are upcycled for citrus stock and spirit infusions, recycling is enforced, and all garnishes must have a long shelf life. So you can feel good about every single sip you take at this dimly lit 1,000-square-foot watering hole — and that calls for a few extra rounds.
3nd Place • Best Bar
1st Place • Best Girl Dinner
Should AI Be Used in Bars?
There are others in the field who have found AI beneficial, though, with the most common refrain being that the specific application is what matters most. Laura Unterberg, beverage director of The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club in East Nashville, Tenn., says she doesn’t envision using AI to generate recipes, but she’s found other uses, such as “phenomenal” translations: “We just held a bar pop-up in Paris and used ChatGPT to accurately translate our menu,” Unterberg says. “It not only accounted for the nuances of slang in modern French, but helped accurately describe some of the more esoteric ingredients we use.”
Created in 1919, Aperol is an Italian aperitif comprising sweet and bitter oranges, rhubarb, gentian root, cinchona bark, and other closely guarded ingredients. "Aperol is bright and bracing, but because of its lighter color it's often overlooked as a bitter component for its more well-known cousin Campari," notes Laura Unterberg, head bartender at The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club in Nashville. "But the gentian and bitter orange- forward qualities of Aperol make it a great addition to drinks."
When it comes to pairing whisky with bitter ingredients, the Prohibition-era Boulevard-ier- a mix of bourbon or rye, Campari, and sweet vermouth- may come to mind, but there's a modern classic featuring Aperol that deserves attention. The Paper Plane created in 2007 by New York City mixologists Sasha Petraske and Sam Ross features bourbon, Aperol, Nomino amaro, and lemon juice. This cocktail shows that Aperol's sweet orange component matches well with whisky.
What the Pros Say
“For packaged, I love Pomì brand Italian tomato juice with one anchovy, Aleppo pepper, and basil blended in. If you’re going homemade, summertime Virginia-grown Hanover tomatoes are incredible.” —Laura Unterberg, beverage director The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club, Nashville, Tennessee
The boom of booze-free bar programs
Bars around Nashville are swiftly answering the calls of these shifting attitudes and trends with menus that reflect customers’ growing requests for alcohol-free alternatives. Laura Unterberg, beverage director of The Fox Cocktail Bar & Lounge in East Nashville, was one of the first establishments in Nashville to go all-in with an NA bar program in 2017. “Even before the non-alcohol boom of 2021, our low and no-alcohol options have always sold surprisingly well. Inclusivity is just good business,” Unterberg told Observer.
Not only is petty theft a crime, but it can also be incredibly damaging to businesses. Head bartender Laura Unterberg points out that the Fox Bar & Cocktail Club spends thousands every year on replacing stolen glassware, garnish picks, menus, and more. “For a small business that pays for employee health care and staff outings, that money could be much better spent.”
The pride of East Nashville is a 1000-square-foot parlor practicing hospitality of the highest order. All too often elevated environs such as these can feel stuffy, leaving casual drinkers feeling intimidated rather than invigorated. Not the case at The Fox. Here, the bar staff wants you to feel right at home in their living room. It’s just a living room that happens to hold more than 400 bottles along its back bar. And though the spirit-forward selections on the menu are complex, they are also playful and inviting. To wit, a signature tiki preparation reimagines a Colada with nixtamalized corn liqueur and white miso honey, and renders it in a ceramic mug fashioned to look like a sly fox.
Benihana’s signature Blue Ocean Punch Bowl (recommended for two but they only provide one straw, so you draw your own conclusions). Described on the menu as “a tropical blue concoction with RumHaven, Pineapple Vodka, sake, blue curaçao, and tropical fruit juices,” this violently blue drink strictly adheres to Benihana’s unwritten theme of “more is more” with flavors of pineapple, orange, lemon, and coconut (each as bright and artificial as the drink’s hue) and served in a literal fishbowl. Finishing this saccharin monstrosity proves an almost herculean task, but one to which I return each February (Valentine’s Day at Benihana is a tradition for my partner and I). - Laura Unterberg, Head Bartender
With low-slung ceilings and private booths, this speakeasy-style bar offers adventurous cocktails, vegan bar bites, and a slew of limited release whisky pours.
Q: What was your first job in the beverage or hospitality industry?
A: barista — early mornings and unlimited access to caffeine was a risky move as a teen.
Q: What is your favorite spirit to work with at the moment?
A: I’ve put a lot of love into developing our Tennessee whiskey offerings (I think it is a fascinating category that doesn’t get nearly enough respect), but our current menu shows a lot of love to cocktails featuring brandies from across the Americas.
Q: You like to incorporate hyper-local sourcing and fresh ingredients into drinks; what are some of your recent creations?
A: Our next menu features mezcal with late-winter persimmon, a fruit native to Middle Tennessee and different from Japanese persimmon, which didn’t arrive widely in the U.S. until the 1960s.
Foraging can be a great way to stay hyper-local with some rules. Be extremely confident and informed of what you’re harvesting, make sure to harvest ethically, leaving enough to re-seed the area for next year’s crop, and ask permission if you’re anywhere near private property.
Q: You created some interesting spirit-free drinks for the Fox Bar; what is the key to making them taste good or seem more like the spirited cocktails?
A: I think the key is to not aim for them to taste like alcohol. It’s not alcohol so aim to create a delicious and surprising beverage that satisfies on its own without being a poor imitation of something else.
Elsewhere, Laura Unterberg, head bartender at Nashville’s The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club, employs the ginger-spiced amaro in Hot Toddy variations, “elevated” Espresso Martinis or in a wintery flip, with a whole egg and nonalcoholic sweet vermouth.
2nd Place • Best Cocktails
2nd Place • Best Bar
2nd Place • Best To-Go Cocktails
Honey Bear Espresso Martini from The Fox Bar & Cocktail Club Nashville, TN
Inspired by the popular Honey Bear Cold Brew from local hot spot Elegy Coffee in East Nashville, this delicate and creamy take on the modern classic combines toasted oat milk, cinnamon and clove spiced maple syrup, Faretti Biscotti liqueur, and Anchorhead Coffee for the alcoholic version of that perfect last sip of milk after a bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios.
Since its founding in 2007, the Spirited Awards® has become one of the industry’s most sought-after awards, recognizing beverage professionals, products, establishments, journalists, and media across every facet of the spirits and cocktail community on a global scale. The award categories spotlight a range of talent from bartenders, journalists, and brand ambassadors, to brands and media, to ensure each aspect of the industry is well represented and recognized for its contributions.
The Spirited Awards® are composed of industry accolades, both U.S. and International, writing and media awards, and a few highly coveted, overall awards that transcend regionality including World’s Best Cocktail Bar and World’s Best Cocktail Menu.
We’re finally back in Nashville to celebrate the most talented up-and-coming food and beverage professionals across the the Music City. After meeting with more than 100 emerging chefs, pastry chefs, bartenders, sommeliers, and artisans, we are excited to announce our newest class of Nashville Rising Stars. The 2022 class includes 21 Rising Stars, recognized by StarChefs for their culinary strengths, charitable contributions, and their ability to navigate, lead, and inspire.
The Rising Stars Restaurant Week is a two-week promotion showcasing the 2022 Nashville restaurants, dishes, pastries, wine pairings, and cocktails that best represent the future of American dining.
1st Place • Best Cocktails
1st Place • Best Bar
2nd Place • Best To-Go Cocktails
1st Place • Best Craft Cocktail Bar
The Fox refreshingly counters some of Nashville’s other speakeasy-style cocktail bars, dispensing with the pretentiousness while holding on to the sophistication. Translation: There are plush-velvet booths, Art Deco ceiling tiles, old books and really, really good cocktails (plus a respectable beer list), and there is not a secret door knock required to gain entry or an FBI background check on your drinking preferences before the staff decides what you’ll be having. Is it the best Old-Fashioned in town or does it just seem that way because your self-esteem remains intact? Should the Fox still prove a bit much for your taste, walk around to the front of the building and try the dive bar, Mickey’s Tavern.
BTW: Make someone’s day by filling out a postage-paid, wish-you-were-here Fox postcard and dropping it in the mailbox on your way out.
When you're visiting a new city, there's something undeniably appealing about wandering into the corner bar and sitting down for a drink. It's a great way to get to know a place and take in a quick snapshot of the local culture. But these bars offer much more than a cushioned stool to rest your weary legs for an hour. They've crafted their cocktail menus and wine lists with intense attention to detail and restaurant-like precision.
Of all the places in the South where you can recline with a nice Old Fashioned (trust us, there are many), these innovative bars have risen to the top of their class. They take cocktails seriously, approaching mixology from the perspective of equal parts scientist and artist. And most importantly, they're places that will welcome you in, whether you're a regular or you're visiting town for one night only. Come for happy hour drinks and light bar bites—stay for guaranteed good times.
1st Place • Best Cocktails
1st Place • Best To-Go Cocktails
1st Place • Best Bar
2nd Place • Best Service
1st Place • Best Pandemic Merch
1st Place • Best To-Go Cocktails
3rd Place • Best New Bar
3rd Place • Best Cocktails
1st Place • Best Vegan Charcuterie
Eater Awards 2017 "New Bar Program of the Year Readers’ Choice Winner"
After nearly a week of intensive reader voting, today we announce the winners of the eighth annual Eater Awards, celebrating the chefs and restaurants that made the largest impact on all 24 Eater cities over the past twelve months. Here now are the establishments — from raw bars and cocktail dens to live-fire neighborhood spots and out-of-town imports — that have taken the Nashville food world by storm. Thank you to everyone who voted last week, and congratulations to the winners of the readers’ choice and editors’ choice awards. Read on to learn more about this year’s best of the best. Editor’s Choice winners will receive an illustrious tomato can trophy via FedEx, along with a full feature on Eater in the coming year.
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