Whodini told us that “the freaks come out at night,” but that’s not necessarily so. There are plenty of things to do around Nashville after most bars and restaurants have shuttered for the evening that anyone of any temperament can enjoy. However, if you do want to get just a little bit wild, those opportunities are there for you, too. We’ve put together a list of some of the best ways to embrace the night in Nashville, whether you’re looking to watch a movie, get a little exercise, listen to music or grab some grub without plunging into the massive crowds of Lower Broadway’s neon canyon of excess.
Knock down some drinks and some pins
Back in the day, bowling and drinking were two activities that were discouraged from doing together. Draconian alley owners made bowlers keep all their beers far from the lanes, or limited drinking to their dark seedy bars that smelled like rental shoes. Thank goodness for establishments that have realized that bowlers can safely enjoy a cocktail or three while slinging some balls down the alley. At Pins Mechanical Co., take advantage of a full bar while you have fun duckpin bowling, a less-intense version of the game that uses smaller balls and pins, and doesn’t even require special shoes. There are also rooms full of vintage video games to play into the wee hours. Pinewood Social is an all-day destination with a coffee shop, full-service restaurant, craft cocktail bar and six vintage lanes restored from a Bowl-a-Rama in Indiana. They even serve large format cocktails that your entire bowling party can share.
Have some late-night yuks at a comedy club
Most comedy clubs offer at least two sets a night on weekends with the benefit that the later shows usually get a little more ribald and funnier. At Nashville’s long-time king of comedy clubs, Zanies, national touring acts headline the weekends with local comics often opening for the stars. You can also find standup at Third Coast Comedy Club, but the emphasis is more on sketch comedy and improv. Monday night “Roast the Host” open mics are always a hoot.
Go honky tonkin’ like the locals do
It’s hard to find bad music even in the cheesiest of Lower Broad bars, but those in the know flock to Robert’s Western World for the most authentic honky tonk experience in town. Long-time performers like Brazilbilly and the Don Kelley Band feature some of the hottest pickers in town playing country from when country wasn’t cool, as Barbara Mandrell would say. In fact, the bands sometimes get so into it, drummers have been known to fall out of the front window. Head to the back of the long, skinny room, order up a longneck and their famous fried bologna sandwich, and then fight your way back as far forward as your claustrophobia will allow.
Pump up the jams with the party people
Nashville is blessed with several LGBTQ+ bars that are both a whole lotta fun and also quite welcoming to anyone who wants to enjoy a good time. At Play Dance Bar, the sound system and light shows set the mood for the frenetic dance floor with the bonus of some of the city’s best drag shows at various times of the evening until late, late night. Five Points Diner & Bar is a pretty conventional restaurant and cocktail lounge during the day and early evening, but as the sun goes down, the volume goes up for a more energetic scene. The bar is open late with a special menu of party fuel from the kitchen. It’s decidedly mellower at Lipstick Lounge, one of the oldest lesbian bars in the country, but everyone is welcome in the lounge or the classy cigar bar upstairs. Karaoke nights are definitely a highlight of the weekly schedule.
Catch an up-and-coming star at a rock bar
Being Music City and all, you know that Nashville has some amazing performance venues. Among the most beloved is the Exit/In, an Elliston Place institution where legends like Jimmy Buffett, REM, The Police, Billy Joel, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kings of Leon, and many others graced the small stage before reaching stardom. Be aware of the concept of “Exit/In Standard Time” if you go to see a show. If the poster says that the show starts at 9:00, the headliner’s bus probably won’t even show up at the venue before midnight. Plan and drink accordingly. Across the river, The Basement East (affectionately known as “The Beast”) exudes a similar vibe to the Exit/In. It’s a neighborhood hang that happens to feature great bands on a stage with excellent sightlines for viewing, even if you’re seated behind the crowd. A spacious outdoor deck is a fine place to catch a little fresh air and a nice view of downtown across the river between sets.
Sing along with Santa
Speaking of karaoke, Santa’s Pub has been a late-night destination for more than a decade. Once you get over the cognitive dissonance of a bar that is basically a double wide trailer with the halls decked for Christmas all year round and that the proprietor does indeed look like St. Nick, you can get around to having a lowdown dirty good time. Well, not a “dirty” time, because Santa doesn’t allow any cussin’, smoking, or beer on his stage when you’re howling along to your favorite hits. As opposed to some downtown singalong clubs where the performers sound like they are trying out for a record deal, at Santa’s it’s all about the fun of being a little silly among friends. It’s canned beer and cash-only, so bring your ATM card.
Put on your knee pads for a Five Points bar crawl
If, as is often lazily asserted, East Nashville is our Brooklyn, the Five Points neighborhood is Nashville’s Williamsburg. Although the confluence of streets from all directions can make navigation a little confusing, you’re never far from a bar to ask for directions and a drink. Beyond the Edge is a sports bar stalwart that has only recently gone smoke-free indoors, so you’ll be able to watch games on their 25 screens without looking through a haze. 3 Crow Bar is a watering hole that stays open as late as the law will allow, serving from a long menu of beers and spirits plus their dangerously boozy frozen Bushwacker. Red Door Saloon is another casual choice for cheap drinks and simple food like steamed sandwiches and hot dogs. Attracting a diverse crowd inside and on the covered porch, it’s a nice cross-section of the neighborhood. Noble’s is a newer addition to the Five Points area, but it has quickly made itself at home thanks to a menu of comfort food, craft beer, and cocktails. The main bar closes earlier, but the Break Room upstairs welcomes night owls until a 2:30 last call. A night out at Rosemary & Beauty Queen often feels like a house party, since the cocktail bar is indeed located in a historic home that blends in with the rest of the neighborhood. However, they won’t kick you out until 2 am, and how many party hosts will do that? After you’re done crawling and you’re looking for your “fourth meal,” check out nearby Dino’s or The Treehouse for burgers and late-night snacks.
If you’re feeling the need for speed plus a little nostalgia, you can’t beat skating on wheels or blades. Rivergate Skate Center caters to adults with a Sunday Night late skate from 8 pm until 11:30 pm for the 21+ crowd, and Brentwood Skate Center also features the occasional adult rink session later in the evening. For skateboarders, rollerbladers, and BMXers Two Rivers Skate Park stays open until 11 am for your outdoor shredding pleasure. If you think ice is nice, the Ford Ice Centers sometimes feature skate rentals and rink time later in the evening, especially for adult beer hockey leagues.
Refuel at a downtown diner
Now that the venerable Hermitage Cafe has closed and Athens Family Restaurant doesn’t serve 24 hours anymore, late-night greasy spoon options have become a little more limited. Fortunately, The Diner offers both casual and slightly more upscale fare in its six floors of dining space towering over SoBro. Each floor serves something a little different from breakfast and pastries on the ground floor to sports bar fare on the second level and a sushi/raw bar experience on the top floor. It’s open until 2:30 am, so you’ll have plenty of time to make your choices. At Sun Diner, the menu is a little more straight ahead diner food-focused, and the decor is a throwback to the days when Elvis ruled the airwaves. Best of all, they serve until 3 in the morning.
Watch the tassels twirl at Skull’s
Unlike a lot of downtown clubs, Skull’s Rainbow Room isn’t an homage to anything. It’s the real damned thing with a history stretching back to when original owner David “Skull” Schulman first opened his lounge in 1948 and watched it become the entertainment anchor of Printers Alley in its heyday. The modern-day incarnation of Skull’s maintains the old school vibe with a beautiful ornate bar pumping out cocktails and a kitchen preparing a classic chop house menu. But the real highlights are the PG13-rated burlesque shows Friday and Saturday nights starting at 11 pm. Accompanied by a live band, these lovely dancers have mastered the art of the tease, gracefully moving to the music and working the room without revealing too much.
Discover Nashville’s spooky past
The aforementioned Skull Schulman was the victim of a brutal murder in his club in 1998, and that’s one of the stories you can hear as a part of Nashville Ghost Tours, a ghoulish walk through history. The tour starts outside of Skull’s and meanders around downtown while knowledgeable guides share details of the city’s haunted history. Don’t worry, if you get too scared, you’re never more than a few steps away from a bar for some liquid courage.
Catch a midnight flick at the Belcourt
As the city’s favorite cinema, you’d expect the Belcourt to screen arthouse fare and the latest first-run highbrow films, and they do that for sure. But at midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, they’re not afraid to get weird with late shows. The two movies are usually thematically related, but it’s absolutely fine if you only want to see the musical slasher “Stagefright” the first night and give “Slumber Party Massacre II” a miss on Saturday. Any midnight showing at the Belcourt is worth staying up late for.
Experience Nashville’s most decadent late-night bites
It’s not like you’re probably hankering for kale at 11 pm, so it’s a good thing that Nashville bars and restaurants are there to ease your craving for a quick edible nightcap. The Big Bar at Bastion serves fantastic drinks, but there’s only one thing on the food menu: quite possibly the best nachos in town. Actually, you could say two things since they are available in a vegetarian version, but the original with smoked pork, multiple cheeses, tomatillo salsa veggies, and sour cream is absolutely transcendent. Mother’s Ruin in Germantown isn’t the sort of place you’d want to tweet about if your doctor follows you on Twitter (like mine does). The menu isn’t exactly healthy, but damned if it isn’t delicious and available until long after midnight. Get the Old Bay waffle fries with spicy ketchup and caramelized onion dip, but don’t tell my doc I sent you. At Black Rabbit, you can enjoy live music, strong drinks and great food in a historic building that was once home to Jimmy Hoffa’s lawyer. Almost everything they cook gets at least a kiss of live fire, and an order of their rabbit rolls made with a rabbit/pork bologna served with swiss, dijon and onion on a Hawaiian roll is the perfect boost to help you hop home after a late night out.