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VOL. 42 | NO. 35 | Friday, August 31, 2018

Spyridon: Saturation reached on star bars, hotels

By Tim Ghianni

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The explosion of star-owned bars and restaurants on or near Lower Broadway raises the question of whether there’s room for more.

Butch Spyridon, president/CEO of the Convention and Visitors Corporation, has the expected positive view of the honky-tonk explosion. But he has reservations about whether there should or even can be more such establishments down there.

“I think on the live music, honky-tonk front, we’re pretty well saturated,” Spyridon says, talking in particular about the star-owned clubs but also taking into consideration all the other neon lit fronts that spew tourists, guitar music and the occasional lonesome yodel out to Lower Broad days and nights.

“I think we’re probably running out of buildings,” adds entrepreneur Steve Smith, who with family and/or partners owns Tootsies, Honky-Tonk Central, Rippy’s and soon will unveil Kid Rock’s Big Ass Honky-Tonk and Rock and Roll Steakhouse. A short walk away, he and partners have The Diner, among other holdings.

“It’s going to be the largest place on Broadway,” he says of Mr. Rock’s Big-Ass venue. “It’s all one big patio. Every floor has a patio” on which the customers can dine in air-conditioned or gas-heated pleasure year-round.

Smith, who has taken over decrepit or demolished areas to found his businesses, adds one more thing about Kid Rock’s: His belief that it will become the toast of Broadway.

“(Kid Rock) is the largest celebrity down there” and will draw fans from not only the world of country music, but also from his other genres. “He’s a star in country, hip-hop and rock music,” continues Smith, who considers Mr. Rock to be a golfing buddy and good-old-friend in general.

“Me and Kid Rock been friends a long time,” says Smith, as he waits for his tee time at Old Hickory Country Club, another recent acquisition by him, wife Leah and best pal Al Ross.

Regardless, is there room for more places after Mr. Rock opens up in September?

“I would put restaurant, honky-tonks and hotels in the same category,” Spyridon says. “We need to absorb what’s right there, before we add more.

“It’s not a bottomless pit.”

It’s not just the lack of suitable storefronts to tear down, rehab or cannibalize. It’s the music, too, that Spyridon adds he believes could suffer if too many more venues are jammed in down there.

“I think there’s more opportunity there, but in reality, it’s hard to find labor and it’s hard to find bands,” Spyridon continues. “You don’t want to sacrifice the quality of the music. You want to be able to deliver good quality music 365 days a year.”

He says right now, “the cream of the crop” performs on Lower Broad. But with the changes come the challenges. “Now you are not talking about one level per bar, but two or three bands playing (at the same time) per bar.’’

Music basically plays 17 hours per day and Spyridon notes bar-owners are having to look more closely at the music and musicians than ever before.

“Somebody may have a show at 2 in the afternoon at one bar and 5 p.m. at another. The bands can make a good living, but they have to really work, hustle.”

He prefers to have the existing honky-tonks continue to provide good music rather than risk getting it watered down: “I’d rather hear them keep the quality up than let the quality suffer.”

Basically, he’s worrying that if the quality players get spread too thin, and lesser pickers fill in the gaps, it could be a setback for the city’s image and tourism.

Musicians aren’t the only ones who could be in short supply. “Some of it is labor, some of it is capacity. Bars, restaurants and hotels, we’re at a tipping point.”

And that’s not mentioning that, even though tourism booms, there is a finite number of people who want to come to Nashville and support all this growth.

That number has not been reached, of course, but it will take a lot more than the much-publicized and oft-scantily clad bachelorette parties – who can be seen and heard on the pedal taverns, tour trucks and sidewalks seven days a week – to keep the honk in honky-tonk.

While Spyridon doesn’t expect to see more celebrity bars down in The District, he thinks stars will be investing in other businesses and properties across Nashville. “I certainly think there will be more bars and investments in Donelson,” he says, picking out that area as an example.

There already are a couple of venerable institutions out on McGavock Pike in Donelson, right across from Opryland. Willie Nelson and Friends Museum and General Store shares a wall and a parking lot with the Nashville Palace, a legendary music venue. There remains room for expansion in that Music Valley Drive area, where Willie’s place opened in 1992 (after first opening in Madison in 1979.)

While Spyridon doesn’t think there will be a lot of star-owned entertainment vehicles out in the rest of the city, he does point to Ray Stevens’ CabaRay Showroom on River Road. The “Everything is Beautiful” and “Ahab the Arab” composer performs at that elegant nightclub and restaurant on Friday and Saturday and sometimes on Thursday. And fine dining is offered all week.

Back on Lower Broadway, Matt Harville, general manager at Alan Jackson’s bar on Lower Broadway, doesn’t know where the next celebrity bar will be located, but he is sure it will come to the already crowded honky-tonk district.

“I really don’t think Nashville shows many signs of letting up anytime soon. The popularity of the city continues to grow,” he says. “It’s a great city to be in and it’s great to be part of that growth.”

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