How Luke Bryan and Jason Aldean, Theme Bars Are Remaking Nashville’s Broadway
Our night in downtown Nashville begins in a bank-turned-tattoo-parlor-turned-Luke Bryan-themed restaurant with a pickup truck dangling over the stage where a band is covering Maren Morris’s “My Church.” The space has six levels, eight bars, numerous light-up “Luke Bryan” signs and more flat screens than a Best Buy. But we are on the roof drinking Coors Light and eating fried sushi.
“Same kitchen, different bars,” a hostess says, referring to Jason Aldean’s Kitchen + Rooftop Bar located next door, as if she has explained it a thousand times. The two restaurants might look separate from the supersized names out front, but they indeed share a cooking space, a head chef and Ohio-based ownership. As we popped crazy rolls (salmon maki, deep-fried, with eel sauce) into our mouths, we surveyed the scene over Broadway’s canyon of bachelorette hoots and woos. Across the street, partiers are downing beers on the roof of Ole Red, Blake Shelton’s place. Dierks Bentley’s joint is a short walk from Luke Bryan’s, along with Florida Georgia Line’s FGL House, Alan Jackson’s Good Time Bar and John Rich’s Redneck Riviera, with its glowing neon image of the Big & Rich singer alerting tourists, like Krispy Kreme’s hot donut sign, when the owner is inside the bar.
All told, seven male country acts have opened bars in Nashville’s Lower Broadway district since 2016, with construction under way on another, a Kid Rock steakhouse. That might sound shocking, but it shouldn’t. Country music artists and eateries have long gone together like squash and casserole. Hank Williams Jr. had a barbecue restaurant. Naomi Judd opened a fine dining outpost called Trilogy. Lorrie Morgan and Sammy Kershaw sold hot chicken. There was also Tex Ritter’s Chuck Wagon, Roy Acuff’s Cannonball Kitchen, and Minnie Pearl’s fried chicken chain. Marty Robbins even had a Mexican restaurant (named Rose’s Cantina for the bar in his 1959 hit “El Paso”) near the speedway in Smyrna, Tennessee. The list goes on.
But even with such a history, Nashville is presently sitting in the throes of a country music restaurant revival. Given the bright lights and soaring spaces of this modern era, however, some locals and even tourists wonder if they’re taking the Vegas in “NashVegas” a little too far. (These aren’t just eateries, but Instagram destinations, as tourists pose around the John Deere inside Aldean’s or the motorcycle in Bentley’s.) Or if the bro bars — all of the branded outposts thus far are affiliated with male stars — reflect the disparity of men vs. women on country radio. As Luke and Jason score Number One hits and plaster their names on buildings, the women of country — Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride and Little Big Town’s Kimberly Schlapman, among them — are hosting cooking shows or peddling cookbooks. In June, Maren Morris poked fun at the trend, tweeting in part, “There are so many dude artists opening bars downtown. When I’m rich, I’m seriously opening one called ‘My Church.’”