If you were pining for a fancy cocktail with house-made bitters and fresh-squeezed juices, East Nashville offers more than our share of options. But even the most hardened cocktail snob feels drawn to the vibe of a dive bar time to time: relaxed decor, relaxed patrons, comfort snacks, cheap domestics in a can… the hang equivalent of old jeans and a T-shirt.
So, when Mickey's Tavern opened its doors on Gallatin last fall with a simple premise and promise -- "just a great neighborhood dive bar where East Nashville’s locals can drink" -- it set itself up to ably scratch an Eastside itch.
In the months since, Mickey's has become a well-loved low-key hang -- the kinda place to grab a fried baloney sandwich, wash it down with a can of Schlitz and laugh off a long day. So we figured we'd celebrate National Hangover Day by chatting with Mickey's leader Andy Gaines about a fine neighborhood place to partake in the hair of the dog.
The East Nashvillian: The Mickey's space has a long neighborhood-bar history, as Maw & Paw's and Smitty's Beer Belly and many other names. What was it like when you took over to renovate? Did you come across a lot of vestiges of its past lives?
Andy Gaines: "Aspects of the building were certainly in need of repair -- mostly the plumbing and the floor. I'd say about half the water meant to go down the drain never made it out of the building. It just pooled up behind the bar and drained into the basement. The ladies toilet was about to fall through the floor. It seems that instead of fixing the plumbing they would just lay down another sheet of plywood if the floor got too soft and soggy. There was just all the typical old building problems one will find during renovation.
"Unfortunately, I didn't find anything cool from bygone eras. But while I was in the basement propping up the floors, I found a small pile of shredded up leather with boot heels. Outside of repairs and a little paint, I left the place basically as it was because it's an authentic old bar and I like that. I just took down all the Nascar stuff and all the neon signs."
What informed your decision to make Mickey's a more low-key space -- minus high-end cocktails, huge craft beer lists, theme nights, etc.?
"The short answer to that is, that's what I want in a bar. I don't want to hear a band or DJ. I don't want my ears to be ringing when I leave. I want to relax and converse without having to yell.
"As far as the high-end cocktail thing, I just don't get it. It's not important for me to have spherical ice or gourmet bitters or that the bartender shake the mixer with the proper technique. It's a drink, not a science project or a fashion show. You see, I drink to get a buzz on. I'm not the type to stand around in a suit jacket and swirl my drink around, hold it about chest high exclaiming that my palate detects the faint echoes of charred wood and festive fruit ensembles. Having said all that, we're not selling junk either. I am expanding my whisky/bourbon/rye selection with some crafty end stuff.
"My selection of beer is decided in large part by a lack of storage. I'd rather have a few things that sell instead of a lot of things that don't. I have room for only eight draught beers. And besides, The Hop Stop is opening next door. No point in trying to compete with them. I have Shiner Bock, Purple Haze, Jackalope Leghorn, Yuengling, Yazoo Dos Perros and Yazoo Pale Ale. I am dropping Bud Light and Miller Lite because they're just not selling. In their place will be Jackalope Rompo and Yazoo Gerst. We have all the usual standbys like PBR, Schlitz and High Life in cans and bottles."
How would you categorize your food menu to folks who haven't been to Mickey's yet?
"We're limited on space so there's no kitchen. The law requires bars to serve food even if it's just microwaved. We weren't gonna be that cheap about it. We want to offer you something decent and in character with a 63-year-old bar. We serve grilled sandwiches off a panini press. Simple, basic sandwiches that are actually pretty good."
What's your go-to drink of choice?
"I'm not much of a drinker these days. Every once in a while I'll have some whisky and water or a glass of red wine. As far as what I like to serve, I like to pour whisky. It's easy. I'm lazy. Whisky seems to be very popular at Mickey's."
Everyone seems to have their own opinion on surefire hangover cures. Do you have any?
"I read somewhere that getting an adrenaline rush was a true cure for a hangover. But who feels like bungee jumping when you've got a hangover? Let's be honest, the only cure for a hangover is time.
"Which leads me to Rule Of Boozing #35: Learn to appreciate hangovers. If it was all good times, every jackass would be doing it."
Mickey's Tavern is open 5 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. daily at 2907 Gallatin Pike. More info at the Mickey's Tavern website.