Know Your Neighbor:
Do you recognize David Gehrke? The guy gets around. As an entrepreneur, drummer, and carpenter, he has left his imprint on numerous East Nashville bands and businesses over the past 20 years. He’s perhaps best known for opening the storied and beloved Slow Bar (now 3 Crow Bar) with Michael “Grimey” Grimes in 2000, thus setting the tone for 5 Points as we know it today.
When Gehrke moved to East Nashville in ’95, he lived in a house on Holly Street where the rent was $150/month. He’d just quit a band he was in with Josh Rouse, who followed Gehrke to East Nashville to record his first album, Dressed Up Like Nebraska. Gehrke eventually moved out of that house and into a Volkswagen van long enough to save up money for a sixweek solo backpacking trip across Europe.
Upon his return, he worked at Radio Café (now Mad Donna’s) and helped to open Sam & Zoe’s in Berry Hill. Later, he was part of the crew that started Mercy Lounge — which he named — but soon parted ways with them. His biggest entrepreneurial hit, however, came in 2000 when he and Grimes decided to open a dive bar.
“Michael had never stepped foot in East Nashville,” says Gehrke. “I told him there was a place called 5 Points and on the corner a place called Shirley’s. I went in there with Michael, and I looked at Shirley and said, ‘OK, how much to buy this bar right now?’ And she looked at me and said, ‘Ten thousand dollars.’ And Mike pulled out his checkbook right there and wrote a check. We stocked it with a bunch of good beer, and it had a jukebox, which we turned into the best jukebox on the planet. I mean — Mike owned a record store. This was before Margot, before Bongo, and everybody was like, ‘Are you guys crazy?’ We literally had to escort people to their cars.”
Gehrke built a stage and parked his drum set there, and the onetime “really, really scary” bar became a really, really cool bar and music venue, hosting the likes of Ryan Adams, Patty Griffin, Alex Chilton, and The Shins. Grimes’ eighties cover band Guilty Pleasures came cartwheeling to life at Slow Bar, as did Gehrke’s own The Bees, since renamed The Silver Seas. Slow Bar closed in 2003, but it lives on both in legend and in the way it shaped East Nashville’s reputation.
He’s also made a significant contribution to Bonnaroo: For the last ten years Gehrke has constructed the Hay Bale Studio in the backstage area, where performers record performances for Roo Radio.
Gehrke lived in Greece until he was 12, and the time spent there inspired him to open Zavo’s across from Family Wash with his mother and his brother, Niko, in 2009. In spite of terrific reviews, the little Greek restaurant was plagued by zoning issues —not to mention the recession — and closed within a couple years.
These days Gehrke is focusing his efforts on construction, reveling in an East Nashville real estate market where he can scoop up a house for $85,000, renovate it, and resell it for $485,000. He’s currently building a home high atop a hill on Mcferrin Avenue and has plans to start his own development company with a friend. He lives in Madison, though he dreams of getting back to Greece, where he might open a little hotel and “just cook for my guests.” But things in East Nashville are too good to contemplate leaving any time soon.
“I’m really happy with what’s going on here,” he says. “It’s good for everybody. We’re world-famous right now. When you say ‘East Nashville’ people all over the country know there’s a difference between East Nashville and just Nashville.”