The Diner Nashville is six floors of bars and dining tables with different options on each. It can hold more than 500 patrons. And it’s one of downtown Nashville’s few restaurants open around the clock.
Now, owners of the new SoBro establishment on Third Avenue South are close to adding a new distinction.
They’re one of two Nashville bar and restaurants lobbying for approval of state legislation, sponsored by Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton, and Sen. Thelma Harper, D-Nashville, that would grant them — and only them — the ability to sell alcohol for 23 hours a day. The only timethat would be off limits is from 3 a.m. to 4 a.m.
The bill is headed to the full House and Senate after it advanced in separate committees Tuesday.
Steve Smith, co-owner of The Diner Nashville, as well as Lower Broadway’s Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Rippy’s Bar and Grill and Honky Tonk Central, said the goal isn’t to keep the party going for Lower Broadway bar-hoppers. Instead, he said he’s trying to cater to a thriving downtown hospitality industry that includes bartenders, waiters, hotel workers and others who work late and get off in the wee-hours of the morning.
“There’s a lot of people who work downtown, they get off work, and they have nowhere to go for a drink, a breakfast, Baileys and coffee, anything of that nature,” Smith said. “And No. 2, if you’re staying in a hotel and you go back to your room and you want a midnight breakfast or room service, you can’t get it. And the hotels are the key to this city.”
The bill was written explicitly for The Diner Nashville, but a newly added amendment would give the same allowance to Scoreboard Bar & Grill on Music Valley Drive near Opryland, owned by Barrett Hobbs, who also owns Bootleggers Inn, Whiskey Bent Saloon and Doc Holiday's in downtown.
Under state law, liquor-by-the-drink sales must currently stop at 3 a.m. and can begin again at 8 a.m. Metro prohibits beer sales in Nashville between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.
The Senate’s State and local Government Committee voted 5-0, with two abstentions, to pass the legislation. The House Finance Ways and Means Committee approved the bill by a voice vote.
Harper, the Nashville senator, during Tuesday’s committee meeting said the bill would give people who get off work late the chance to get a drink, perhaps with their significant other.
“What this says is we will allow them to have a little spirit at 4 a.m.” Harper said. “That’s it.”
But Sen. Richard Briggs, R-Knoxville, who passed on voting on the bill, said the legislation would grant special exceptions not afforded to other establishments in the state.
“We have an awful lot of places that sell beer and liquor in the state,” he said. “And we’re giving it to one. The question should be, are we going to do it for everyone in the state or not do it for everyone in the state?”
Harper responded by saying that other bars and restaurants are welcome to seek the same alcohol sales hours as well — they just need to file similar legislation with the state.
Mayor Megan Barry’s administration is neutral on the legislation, Barry’s Press Secretary Sean Braisted said.
Hobbs, whose Scoreboard Bar & Grill currently closes prior to last-call at 3 a.m., said his bar would cater to the hundreds of workers at the nearby General Jackson and Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center if given the ability to sell alcohol at 4 a.m. He said he envisions his bar closing around 6 a.m.
He said the spirit of the 23-hour alcohol sales proposal is to give the hospitality industry the same options as others — the opportunity to “get off work, get something to eat, talk with their fellow workers and society, and if they happen to have a beer, so be it.”
“This legislation isn’t about ramping up night clubs to stay open 24 hours a day,” he said.
Nashville attorney Adam Dread, who is representing The Diner Nashville, likened the proposal to “premier-resort legislation.” He said The Diner Nashville, which is already open 24 hours a day, is located within walking-distance for 5,000 and 10,000 hospitality workers at any time of the day
“There’s a lot of hospitality workers who, rather than hanging out in parking lots, would like to go to a restaurant and get a beverage,” Dread said.
Asked whether the special hours would be unfair to other establishments, both Hobbs and Smith pointed out that they each have multiple downtown bars where they aren’t seeking new alcohol sales hours. Unlike The Diner Nashville and Scoreboard, those places lack full-service kitchens, they said.
“I think it’s an unfair analysis of the bill to say these guys are doing it and no one else can,” Hobbs said. “We’re just the only ones who went through the legislative process.”
Reach Joey Garrison at 615-259-8236 and on Twitter @joeygarrison.