Saturday, April 16, 2016

We walk into a bar in Tennessee

Embers Ski Lodge, Nashville, TN

After a day of t-shirt and shorts weather, one obviously feels the need to cozy up at the fireplace of a ski lodge. At least that's how things worked for us in Nashville, TN. Embers Ski Lodge is a bar in the 12South Neighborhood (quite the trendy place), and it's committed to the alpine theme. The servers wear ski patrol shirts as does the welcome bear. The lights are snowballs. The drinks have thematic names like the award winning "Cool Runnings."

What really won us over though was when Willa the bartender asked for our IDs before she'd take our drink orders. (A little tip for getting tips to bartenders out there: of course you need to get ID for people who might be underage. But the people who really appreciate being asked for ID are the people who are parents of people who need to be IDed.)  We both ordered Old Fashioned variations, Rudolph's Vacation for me and a Sun Drop for Mindy.

I noticed a Steph Curry jersey and a more generic Golden State Warriors shirt, and I knew I would need to talk with the people wearing them. When I went to their table, I met three friends who were waiting for the Dubs to make history as the team with the most wins in a regular season*. Shawn, Michael and Carson cheerily greeted me. They could tell by my Oakland A's shirt where my probable sports alliances lay.

We talked for a bit about a trip the guys had taken to see the Warriors play against the Grizzlies in Memphis and the team's prospects in the playoffs**  We had time before the game started to ask our two questions: What makes for a good bar? What makes for a good church?

Shawn and Carson agreed on the importance of good liquor. Shawn noted that being a native of this area means loving the whiskey. I suggested perhaps a wine and beer bar would be just as good, and both guys scoffed. Michael, on the other hand, doesn't drink, so he values different things. He likes a good cheese dip. (Jumping ahead to the next question, he said churches could use a good cheese dip.)

It just so happens that Carson does the financial books for Embers (and the pizza parlor next door), so he also considered what makes for a bar that does well financially. He said statistically, a bar that has a patio and the weather for it will do well -- both things Embers had that day. (We were inside in that night though. That's where the televisions are)

Shawn and Michael live in Clarksville, where there are plenty of bars -- country bars playing country music. They prefer a place like Embers that plays other music (I noticed Shawn singing along with Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean," but there was also more contemporary stuff like Sheppard's "Geronimo.")

On to the church question. Not surprisingly (we were in Music City, after all), music remained the focus. Carson appreciates a church building having good acoustics. Michael grew up in a Church of Christ Church that had no musical instruments where singing was a capella, so he appreciates a good band. (Carson had a similar experience growing up, but his father would take the kids to a Church of Christ and also to a bonus church for music, being inclusive.)

Shawn's uncle played the organ and would travel from church to church -- and his uncle hated going to a church with an organ that hadn't been cared for, out of tune and in disrepair. So a church needs both a good organ and a good organist for Shawn.

More friends came to join the group to watch the game: a couple, Angie and Devyn, along with Kyle. They were roped in for the questions as well. Angie said that the music must not be country. "You don't find me at a honkytonk!" (We obviously did not come to the most typical of Tennesee bars. Of course, the snow sports theme might have been a clue to that already.) Devyn said a good bar needs to have lots of TVs for watching sports. "I could sit and drink at home. Sports and people to talk about sports is what brings me here."

Transitioning to the church question, Devyn said, "Put a bar in the church." More seriously, he said the speaker should be funny. He said that when he grew up in the Catholic Church and it really wasn't fun. I asked what Angie thought would make for a good church, and she agreed with Devyn that a bar in church would be prettygood.

Kyle answered the bar question by pointing to the importance of "the welcoming factor." He values being able to go into a bar in a new city and have a good conversation with a stranger. He comes from Boston, and he appreciates the friendliness of the South. For a good church, he appreciates a good choir and "unbiased opinion about sexuality."

We had an opportunity to chat with Willa the bartender (yes, the one who had won us over by IDing us) and ask our questions. She said a good bar, beyond the liquor, needs a sense of community. A lot of bartenders are focused on putting on show, but to her, it's more important to make a connection with the guest and have a good conversation.

We asked her what makes for a good church, and she repeated that a sense of community is important. When she was a kid, she said, she went to a Presbyterian Church and considered going to into youth ministry. But her parents became Jehovah's Witnesses and made her go with them. She felt continually judged. She said, "A church should be your safe haven, your support system." But that wasn't what she felt when she went with her parents.

I was glad to find that Embers on that night was a safe place for a Warriors fan, and I stayed until the end (Central Standard Time).

Total time spent in bar: Mindy 1 hour 15 minutes, Dean until the game ended (conveniently, we were staying a block or so away)
Our rough count: 25
Music: light rock with some eclectic choices
Snacks: there's a full food menu with a multitude of French fry options
Followup: none
Visitor Treatment: A sign at the entrance invited us to sit anywhere; Willa (the bartender) offered us a drink menu and brought us water as soon as we sat at the bar (and she'd checked our ID). The waitstaff were friendly and willing to pose for pictures near the antique skis.

*Yeah, they did it, 73 wins. Go Blue and Gold! 

**All the way, baby!

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