Oak Bar at the Hermitage Hotel, Nashville, Tennessee


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My wife is a travel writer, and she obviously loves to travel, so I usually try to find the best bars in the cities where we visit. I visited the historic Oak Bar while we were in Nashville for the Country Music Association (CMA) Fest event.

CMA Fest

It is a wonderful event that takes place in early June all over downtown Nashville, Tennessee. The CMA Awards are the kickoff of CMA Fest. The next day after the televised award show, CMA Fest begins with about 100,000 attendees. There are concerts in multiple venues with dozens and dozens of country music stars performing for four days that begin in the morning culminating with four nights of concerts at Titan Stadium where the leading acts of country music perform. There are stages all over downtown including the River front stage that is a large barge on the Cumberland River, the Plaza stage, the HGTV Lodge and even indoor venues. Additionally, there are many bars that line Broadway that have live music that starts in the morning and goes into the wee hours.


CMA Fest

Jack Daniels Booth

There are a number of vendors with portable storefronts selling many types of food, drink, clothing, accessories, and many other goods. One of my favorites is the Jack Daniels booth that sells a wide variety of their branded merchandise. The Jack Daniels distillery is located in nearby Lynchburg, and I can highly recommend a visit there, too!

Hermitage Hotel

The Oak Bar is located in the beautiful, five star Hermitage Hotel in downtown Nashville that was built in 1908-1910. The Hermitage Hotel is named for President Andrew Jackson’s home that is located near Nashville. It is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. Don’t miss viewing the spectacular lobby of this hotel with its high stained-glass ceiling. It is decorated beautifully for the holidays, too!


Hermitage Hotel – Lobby Entry

Capitol Grille

The Oak Bar is located downstairs adjacent to the Capitol Grille. This restaurant is not part of the Capital Grill chain, but it does serve great steaks. All the vegetables are grown in a farm located about ten miles outside of Nashville. Their French onion soup is not to be missed! The farm-to-table salad is great, too!


Capitol Grille – Farm to Table Salad

The vaulted ceiling in the room is unique and sometimes one can hear clearly what is being said in a table across the room. It is a favorite of the members of the state legislature which is located nearby, and it is how the restaurant got its name.


Capitol Grille – Interior (Adjacent to Oak Bar)

Oak Bar – History

Just steps away from the restaurant is the Oak Bar. It opened originally as a gentleman’s club and the décor does scream clubby! Historians say that the bar was caught serving bourbon in teapots during Prohibition.

Oak Bar – Design Elements


Oak Bar – Entryway

When entering the bar, note the beautiful stained glass windows that are on either side of the front doors. The bar gets its name from the beautiful inlaid oak paneling. The ceiling of the bar is a white alabaster that is stunning. Inlaid into the ceiling is HH for the Hermitage Hotel.


Oak Bar – HH (Hermitage Hotel) Ceiling Design

Today, the Oak Bar has one of the most extensive number of different bourbons in Nashville. They have over one hundred and thirty different brands. Some of these bourbons are hard to find bottles so this is a great place to taste some of the finest bourbons produced. Below is a picture of one of their special liquor cabinets.


Oak Bar – Special Liquor Cabinet

The bar has a number of tables, some tucked away in intimate alcoves. So, the feel is intimate, yet not too quiet for good conversation.


Oak Bar – Interior Seating Area

Some of the specialty cocktails include Jack’s Mule, a Moscow mule made with Jack Daniels; Fat’s Smash, a Buffalo Trace bourbon with pure maple syrup, fresh lemon and mint; and the Tennessee Waltz, a bourbon, Cocchi Americano, Cardamaro, and Grand Marnier just to name a few of the fantastic concoctions that they serve.


Oak Bar Jack’s Mule

I believe the Oak Bar is a don’t miss of bars if you are ever in Nashville!

Read more about visiting Nashville and the Hermitage Hotel in my wife’s $2.99 Kindle book, “One Perfect Day in Nashville 2017”. Here is a link to the Amazon page if you would like to check out a free sample or purchase it:


I would love to hear from you about other historic or unique bars or pubs that I should write about or visit. You can reach me at mike@bartalk.org.




Hosting a Gin Tasting Party




Indoor Bar – Ready To Be-Gin!

I recently hosted a Gin Tasting Party at my home for twenty people using both my indoor and outdoor bars. We had a great time, and I thought I would share some of the preparation and highlights with you.

Preparation – Planning the Gin Party

My wife was a huge help in preparing the sign, ordering the custom cocktail napkins and preparing all the food which included shrimp, cheese plate, chips, meatballs, and chicken salad sandwiches on King’s Hawaiian Sweet Rolls.


Custom Napkins – Gin Tasting

When hosting this many people for a tasting you must plan ahead or all you will be doing is making drinks the entire evening.   I selected five different gins for us to taste as martinis.  Additionally, I selected four different mixed drinks that use gin as the main spirit ingredient.  I selected them for the different styles of gin they represent and for the varied taste profiles.  The five gins I selected were:

• Plymouth Gin

• Nolet Silver Gin

• Bombay Sapphire Gin

• Aviation Gin

• Hendricks Gin

Additionally, I selected five additional bottles for them to have a choice as the best designed bottles and for use in some of the mixed drinks.  These included Beefeater, Bulldog, Boodles, Brighton, and Pimms, technically a liquor but considered a gin.

Next, I needed a number of cocktail shakers so I could batch the martinis and mixed drinks.  I purchased four pitchers for the mixed drinks. I recommend the Oxo hard plastic shakers.  These are reasonably priced, the cap doubles as a shot measure with markings, and best of all, the top is easily removed.  I have found many of the metal shakers that the tops will get stuck when ice cold.  Also, in case the shaker gets dropped, you will not have a mess as the shaker is almost unbreakable.

Drinks – Gin Party

The mixed drinks included the Flora Dora, Pimms Cup number 1, a Blueberry martini, and the Monkey Gland.  Additionally, for anyone who could still stand, I would mix them a Gin and Tonic, the most iconic of all gin mixed drinks. (Just kidding about the standing as we did not make full size drinks)

The day of the party I concocted enough martinis for about sixteen people, per brand of gin, knowing some preferred to drink something else and were attending as a loyal act for their spouse.  I shook the martinis with ice, and then strained just the gin into another shaker and placed each of the five branded gins (in their own shaker) in the bar refrigerator inside the back bar.  I numbered each shaker on the bottom so we could reference the brand gin.  The shakers are 16 oz. and we had almost 16 oz. of ice-cold gin in each shaker.  I admit I did take a sip of each drink just to make sure they would be good. I had not had some of the mixed drinks previously.  I recommend doing this, but don’t drink too much or they will be having the party without you.  Additionally, make sure you do not drink before you cut the limes, lemon, and oranges for garnishes for the drinks.  That was the hardest chore as we needed fresh fruit for each martini and each drink.  That’s a lot of fruit!  I did find You Tube videos on how to cut fruit for garnishes to be very helpful.

And make sure you have a good, sharp knife as that will be make the task much easier.  I recommend Wusthof knives and John Boos hard rock maple cutting boards.  After cutting the fruit, I placed them in red solo cups and covered with plastic wrap until the tasting would begin.

I then made the mixed drinks, again batching them, and pouring into large pitchers.  For the various mixed drinks I had Tropicana orange juice, Minute Maid lemonade, and Canada Dry ginger ale as mixers.

Signs – Tasting Notes – Gin Party


Welcome Sign – Gin Tasting Party

We were almost ready for the party.  We had made an A-frame sign to place outside the front door.  The front of the sign said, Let the Party BE-GIN and then we turned the sign before the guests left the party and that side said Forgive Me Father For I have Ginned.  We had printed up napkins that said Gin Tasting Party, Mike’s Bar, with a martini glass imprint.  We had printed up gin tasting note cards for each taster to fill out as they tasted each martini and mixed drink.   I lined up all the gin bottles in a row for the guests to select their favorite gin bottle.


Gin Bottle Design Judging at Gin Tasting Party

History of Gin – Gin Party

At last the Gin Party started as all the guests arrived.  I started the party by giving a brief history of gin and the genres of gin that we would taste.  These included Plymouth, London Dry, and New American.  And I asked all the guests to think about which bottle design they liked the best, the best gin, and the best mixed drinks as they drank and for them to jot down notes on the gin tasting forms we provided them.

Gin has an interesting history as it was invented in Holland and became known as “Dutch Courage” as their soldiers would drink before battle to calm themselves.  The British took note when they went to Holland as part of the 80 Year War.  They brought gin back to England where it became a popular drink.  The British Navy found that when it was mixed with tonic water it helped in treating malaria as the tonic contained quinine.  Plymouth Gin became the official gin of the Royal British Navy and every ship carried bottles of Plymouth Gin.  Interestingly, the first martini was made with Plymouth Gin.  The bottle of Plymouth Gin features a picture of the Mayflower as legend has it that the Pilgrims spent the night in the same building that now houses Plymouth Gin.

Interesting Facts about Gin – Gin Party

For a spirit to be called gin, it must contain juniper, a berry.  A gin label cannot contain an age statement.  More classic cocktails are made with gin than with other spirits.  Some names you may be familiar are Tom Collins,  Salty Dog, Singapore Sling, Flora Dora to name a few.  The Top 5 countries for gin consumption are 5. India, 4. Great Britain, 3. Spain, 2. US, and 1. Philippines.  In fact, Philippines consumption is more than the other 4 countries combined.  One local gin in the Philippines is the largest selling brands in the world but it is only sold there.  The other top selling brands worldwide are 5. Seagrams, 4. Tanqueray, 3. Beefeater, 2. Bombay Sapphire, and 1. Gordons.

Let’s Drink Martinis – Gin Party

All the gins selected are very good and have many fans worldwide.  I let the guests choose which garnish they preferred for each martini.  The first gin was Plymouth Gin and is the only Plymouth genre gin.  It is more juniper forward.  The famous author John D. McDonald’s famous character, Travis McGee, was a Plymouth Gin drinker.  The next gin was Nolet, one of the oldest in Holland and the most expensive gin in our tasting. This gin has been described as Hendricks on steroids.  It has less juniper and is so smooth.  Next up was Bombay Sapphire, a London Dry genre that is an everyday favorite.  It has a citrus and floral forward taste but the juniper is still present.  The bottle is considered one of the best designed bottles of any liquor. The next gin we tasted was Aviation Gin which is considered a New American genre gin.  The juniper is more in the background with the citrus and floral upfront.  It has medium spice as well.  This gin is distilled in Portland, OR.  For you sports fans, this gin is or was partially owned at one time, by football great, Joe Montana.   The bottle design has won many awards for design.  The last gin we sampled was Hendricks.  It was one of the first gins that distanced itself from the London Dry gins.  It has a rose and cucumber forward flavor and one can taste orange and even elderflower.  The bottle style shape is in the style of an apothecary bottle.

Mixed Drinks – Gin Party


Outdoor Bar

We took a food break and then retreated to the back bar outside to enjoy the cooler weather and our mixed drinks.  As discussed earlier, we had batched all the mixed drinks and the first drink we had was the Flora Dora.  Theater goers in the early 1900’s like to name drinks for characters in Broadway plays and this is how this drink got its name.  Flora Dora was the name of a character in one of the first musicals on Broadway.  It was an instant hit with the patrons.  The Flora Dora has gin, lime, raspberry liquor, and ginger ale and has the coloration of a Cosmopolitan.

The next drink I served was a Blueberry martini made with gin, Blueberry liquor and blueberries as a garnish.  It had a beautiful blue color.  If you like blueberries, this is the drink for you.

The next drink was the Pimms Cup No. 1.  It is an easy drink to make as it is Pimms, and lemonade.  It is the most popular drink that they serve at the Wimbledon Championships.   This is a highly refreshing drink.

Our last drink was the Monkey Gland.  This is an interesting drink.  It contains gin, orange juice, and grenadine.   This is how I batched the drink and it can be served this way.  An option I gave the guests was to place a dash of absinthe in the glass, swirl, and then dispose of the absinthe so it has a trace amount in the glass.  Everyone wanted to do this and even with a trace amount, the licorice flavor was evident.  After tasting this way, some wanted to taste without the absinthe.  What a huge difference as it changed the taste profile dramatically.   The Monkey Gland name comes from a surgical operation done by a quack Russian doctor.  It was created by Harry’s Bar.

The Results – Gin Party


Gin Tasting Notes and Score Card

The guests voted for the best bottle design and the winner was Aviation, with Bombay Sapphire in second place.  The best gin/martini was a tie between Hendricks and Nolet.  The best mixed drink was the Pimms Cup and second place was the Flora Dora.

Everyone had a great time at the party and I really enjoyed learning more about the gins, the history of gin and the great drinks that can be made.  It also provided me the opportunity to break out many of my bar glasses and various bar tools which is always fun to do.  We will be discussing, but our next tasting party may be a tequila tasting.  There are lots of great tequilas and mixed drinks that can be enjoyed!


Exit Sign – Gin Tasting Party

I would love to hear about Gin Tasting parties that you may have hosted or if you have any questions about this party. You can email me at mike@bartalk.org.



P.S. I do not receive any compensation for brands I recommend. The recommendations are solely based on my opinions.


Entertaining is one of the most fun things we do in our homes. We all want to entertain in style! And that means having the right tools. For this blog, I will concentrate on bar accessories but may veer into all kinds of home accessories in future blogs.

A few years ago, I had a custom bar built for our home by Classic Bars. I like their slogan, “We only build bars”. Having the bar stimulated my interest in home entertaining.

One of my favorite items for the bar are crystal decanters.

I call all crystal items the “jewelry of the bar.” One of my favorite brands is Waterford. Did you know Waterford never has seconds? If it’s not perfect, they break the piece and start again. I have been to their factory in Waterford, Ireland and it is a great factory and showroom to visit.

Another favorite decanter brand are the ones from Ralph Lauren. Lauren’s decanters have more of a contemporary look and Waterford’s a more traditional. I like both!

Another decanter category that I like are some of the ones from the whisky distilleries. Some of my favorite ones are from Jack Daniels.