We’ve all become way too familiar with the concept of a “staycation” over the past year.
Fortunately for nightlife funseekers in Middle Tennessee, there’s that stretch of downtown. We tend to leave it to the tourists, but when we break out of that mindset we remember one of the big reasons we like living here in the first place.
The honky-tonk-laden stretch of Broadway that starts at Fifth Avenue and leads down to the river yields some of the most authentic music- and revelry-making you’ll find in Nashville.
And right in the middle of it all is Robert’s Western World, which found its profile raised in the mid-’90s when roots pop practitioners BR549 cut their teeth taking requests and making Broadway hip again.
Today, Robert’s gives tourists and Nashvillians a great destination in which to dip their toes into the past of music and Music City.
You can look through the front window of Robert’s out across Broadway at the world-famous Ernest Tubb Record Shop. When the doors of Western World are open, you’re going to hear live country music on the Robert’s stage, be it at 1 p.m. on a weekday with John and Lois Shepherd or late night on the weekend with proprietor Jesse Lee Jones and his band Brazilbilly. Local legends like John England & The Western Swingers and the Don Kelley Band hold down regular weekly spots, giving unique and talented twists to the “human jukebox” aspect of playing on Broadway.
Patrons can wander the narrow bar and gaze upon walls haphazardly crammed with memorabilia: bar mirrors, architectural renderings of downtown, the neon sign from The Nashville Network’s former talk show, Music City Tonight, oil paintings of Johnny Cash and Hank Williams, and even Jones’ ordination letter as an “independent Christian clergy” from the World Christianship Ministries.
(In other words, if you get particularly lucky on a Saturday night and you can get him off the stage, Jones can likely make it official for you and your newfound love. But you might have to fill up the tip jar to the brim.)
Personalized dollar bills are stapled to the walls behind the bar, hundreds of miniature stories for which this might be the only evidence. Behind that same bar, though, lies Robert’s best-kept secret, especially to those who regularly work and play downtown: The tiny grill in the corner of two-stage bar generates one of the best cheeseburgers you’re ever going to consume in Nashville. Pair it with onion rings and it’s the perfect fuel for getting through either business-laden days or beer-soaked nights.
Robert’s sports a full bar along with the requisite of domestic longnecks (though $4.75 is a bit steep for a Shiner Bock), but PBR seems to be the libation of choice for the folks wandering up to the stage to drop a greenback in the jug.
Robert’s Western World hearkens back to the days when Music City first earned itself that name, and does so without pandering or overindulging in nostalgia. It’s a working bar that loves its music and its regulars . . . even if you’re a “regular” who’s setting foot in the door for the very first time.
So when the Eastside, Midtown and Hillsboro Village start to feel too familiar, maybe it’s time for a downtown honky-tonk crawl.
Robert’s is as great a place as any to start, and you might even find yourself finishing there.
Robert’s Western World
416 Broadway, 244-9552
Hours: 11 a.m.-3 a.m. daily
So many places around town can fall under the general descriptor of honky-tonk, but how many of them can say they’re actually registered with the appropriate governmental bodies as one? Posted at the far end of the bar, right in front of the stairs leading up to the Sho-Bud balcony, are all of the bar’s required permits. What’s the business name listed on said permits? “Honky Tonk, Inc.” Yup, honky-tonks are big business.