With the craft cocktail movement having taken hold in Nashville’s bar scene, it’s become essential for owners to give their watering holes a distinctive look and experience. For Austin Ray, those defining aspects have become realized in his reinvention of the speakeasy space underneath The Sutler. Enter the Melrose neighborhood saloon and descend the stairs into the dark, artsy gathering space called Rambler.
Electric! There’s all manner of chic, savvy lighting in these darkened rooms: backlit bar highlighting the hues of bottles and their boozy contents, uplit murals (one like psychedelic stained glass!), votives at intimate tables surrounded by comfy red seats that resemble pincushions, a ’60s stylized neon R glowing on a black wall.
Take a seat; check out the menu. You’ll find eight signature cocktails and six three-ingredient classics that Freddie Schwenk, one of Nashville’s premier masters of shaken and stirred, designed for Rambler. Here’s a sweet amenity: If it’s happy hour, the staff will hand you a warm towel to cleanse the workday away.
For our first taste, we ordered from the lineup of signatures. With Old Forester 86 as its foundation, The Haymaker is a heady nod to the Old Fashioned, deepened yet with amaro, crème de banana and cacao. Served over a big single cube, it’s a dangerously smooth sip. The San Junipero delivers the bracing herbal notes of Tanqueray swirled with amaro, Branca Menta and maraschino. Our server described it as the minty cousin of a Manhattan, and that portrayal fits it well.
A concise food menu consists of light bites. We recommend bar snacks, a trio of salty-savory treats that go well with any drink. Culinary director Jason Brumm created his own versions of Chex mix (word — it’s got a nice cayenne kick), honey-roasted nuts (sweet and spicy) and scratch-made Cheetos (Yes, their own “cheese that goes crunch.” Who does that?). All are fun and tasty.
Brumm, aka Chief Sausage Officer at Von Elrod’s (another in the A. Ray Hospitality Group), introduces similar creativity here with his chicken-lemongrass meatballs, paired with ponzu and dynamite sauces. We also enjoyed the bubbly dip of goat cheese fundido. It comes topped with corn salad sparked with cilantro and lime and a stack of fry bread rounds for dipping. We were less thrilled with the crab Rangoon, which lacked sufficient crab.
Rambler Cocktail Bar is a great addition to the burgeoning Melrose neighborhood. We like its vibe, its private bar-within-a-bar feel, rambling to its own cool rhythm.