Feb 15, 2017

Nashville’s Dino’s deserving of legendary dive bar status

If there were such a thing as a Dive Bar Hall of Fame, I would feel compelled to nominate Dino’s in the Music City’s East Nashville neighborhood above any other bar I’ve visited. Although I've only been fortunate enough to visit a few times, there's something wonderfully seedy about the place that you just can't help but love.

Dino’s is generally considered Nashville’s oldest dive bar, and by its appearance from the sidewalk (and the very close view from Gallatin Avenue as you drive by -- if you park in front of the place you’re practically sticking out into the road), it certainly looks like it could be.

If your definition of fine food is pub grub on a hot grill that’s probably older than you are, you’ve come to the right place.  I hope they never wash the windows … it would remove part of the place’s charm.  

The first time I walked into Dino’s I was about to be the only customer in the bar.  A homeless person was trying to negotiate with the bartender terms for which he could earn exactly $9 in exchange for work around the place.  No more.  No less.  It was a wonderful introduction to the Dino’s culture, as the bartender patiently convinced the drifter to move on.  Once the homeless man left, I ordered my first Dino’s $7 shot and beer special and told the bartender, “This is my kind of place.  I already can’t wait to come back.”

The longer you stay and the later you arrive Dino’s, the busier they get, of course.  There are only a handful of bar stools in the whole place (prime seating, if you ask me), and I staked mine out directly in front of the cash register.  By the time I called it a night, the remaining bar stools, as well as several table behind me, would be occupied with regulars, from the lone and quiet drinkers to the loud and boisterous hipsters.

As for why I chose the end of the bar in front of cash register, where I’d be dodging paying customers throughout the evening, I think it was the George Jones bumper sticker on the back that convinced me I found the right spot.

If I had elected to sit at the other end of the bar, I would have had a great view of Dino’s limited shot selection.  The choices may be small, but they are definitely interesting, especially when paired with one of their equally limited beer choices.  I tended to pair the Overholt Rye or Four Roses Bourbon with a cold Shiner or Yuengling.  

I am somewhat ashamed to admit I have yet to eat at Dino’s … I always arrived after dinner elsewhere … but when you see that handwritten menu over that grill, how could you go wrong?  The menu has slowly been revamped since new ownership took over, but the basics are still there, and the low prices appear to have stayed intact.

Fortunately, from what I’ve seen, the new owners have decided to preserve much of Dino’s classic “divyness.”  For instance, if you do choose to dine in at Dino’s, you’ll find a decent amount of booth and table seating inside, but don’t expect new tables or white tablecloths.  And the lighting?   Dim and hazy, as it should be.

There are nights when Dino’s has live music (and even a comedy night), but I kind of like the idea of a bar that still clings to spinning the vinyl whenever the bartender of cook feels like it.

And, like every great dive bar, there are plenty of odds and ends on display and attached to the walls to talk about.  This bowling trophy stood out to me, for some reason.

I guess the best compliment I can give Dino’s is that if I were living in Nashville, I’d probably wind up making it my “home base,” much like George Rank’s in Springfield, Ill., is now.  It’s obviously a much different atmosphere than the party scene of downtown Broadway, but if you’re looking for a place to just chill and make new friends in Nashville, go to East Nashville and give Dino’s a try.  


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