Drinking is easy. Finding the right bar, not so easy. We’re here to help. As a public service to all of you thirsty explorers, every week we highlight the best bars in America and tell you what makes them so damn great. This week we’ve got a bar where you can drink, eat and play, morning, noon and night.
NAME: Pinewood Social
LOCATION: Rolling Mill Hill, Nashville, Tennessee
ON THE JUKEBOX: The Milk Carton Boys, The White Stripes, Punch Brothers
WHAT TO ORDER (NEWBIES): District 9 (a take on the Ward 8): rye whiskey, Maurin Quina sour cherry aperitif, absinthe, lemon and orange juices
WHAT TO ORDER (REGULARS): Southern Limerick (a take on the Irish coffee): pour-over coffee, 1776 rye whiskey and Meletti amaro; heavy cream and aromatic bitters are floated on top
WHY WE LOVE IT: Americans usually spend their days going from home to work to home to work to home…you get the idea. There’s not a lot of in-between. To break up that monotony, establishments are embracing the idea of becoming “the third space”—the space where people can come to do lots of different things in one location. The Ace Hotel chain is an example of this: You can sleep there, work there, eat there, party there and shop there.
Inspired by this idea, brothers Benjamin and Max Goldberg opened Pinewood Social, a do-it-all industrial space near downtown Nashville. Here, you’ll find a coffee shop, restaurant, bar, co-working space, couches for lounging, bowling alley, a karaoke room, bocce ball courts, Ping-Pong tables and two swimming pools. “People can come in in the morning and start with coffee, have a business meeting, then zone out until lunch, then meet their friends for afternoon drinks and bowling, which can turn into dinner…” beverage director Matt Tocco says. “It’s a unique concept in a lot of ways. Almost like a big shopping mall or something. The novelty of it alone—you can’t help but wonder what the hell it is. You just want to go down and see it.”
Because there are so many things to do at Pinewood Social, it attracts an eclectic crowd that gets younger and livelier as the day wears on. The city’s mayor often stops in for coffee and a certain black-haired, Nashville-based, alt-rock singer who shall not be named pops in on a regular basis. “The people-watching here is incredible,” Tocco says. In the middle of all of the activity is the bar, Pinewood’s literal and figurative focal point. “I use Pinewood as my office during the day—I sit at the bar—and I’m always impressed by how many cocktails go out at 11 A.M. I’m like, alright! Good for you.” (Most of the other bars in Nashville that serve great cocktails don’t open until 5 P.M.)
One reason people are comfortable drinking in the morning here is because the menu has a dedicated coffee cocktail list. One of the bar’s most popular drinks is the Southern Limerick, its take on an Irish coffee, made with rye, amaro, coffee, bitters and cream. “We take drinks that everyone loves, make them a little more representative of the South, and try to say something about where we are as a cocktail community now,” he says.
When Pinewood Social opened in 2013, Tocco had 10 cocktails on the menu. He quickly doubled that number. “We were having so many people come in from so many walks of life, I needed to cast a wider net,” he says. “We wanted to have things printed on paper that appealed to more people.” For the most part, vodka and whiskey-based drinks are the most popular (as they are in most of the country), so Tocco tries to get people to try new spirits by sneaking them into whiskey and vodka drinks, or what is known as splitting the base. The Expense of Honesty cocktail, for example, is made with bourbon, two types of rum, demerara sugar and bitters.
“Rum is my favorite spirit, so I’m always putting rum with whiskey,” Tocco says. “I take people’s comfort with whiskey and give them what they want, but also push them to try new things and realize there are probably a lot of other spirits that they’d enjoy as well. We always want to be doing what tastes the best, not only what the people around us are used to.” But that’s not to say you can’t get a solid Jack and Coke here. “We’re a refined setting and we have an aura of quality, but we say no as little as possible,” Tocco says.