Bar Sovereign: The best bar you’ve never heard of, until now
By: Haley Buske
Try driving past Nashville’s newest bar three times, cursing at Siri for leaving you stranded on a deserted side street and your gas light flickering on just as you realize you’re idling in front of a strip club.
And it’s raining.
Where this new bar might be tucked away is anyone’s guess, but luckily, the bartenders answer the phone.
The guy on the other end of the line, probably one of the owners, Sean Hinton or Gabriel Fuenmayor, says you’re less than a block away.
Wedged between a Nashville party bike hub and a fire and safety center, Bar Sovereign is an easy place to miss.
Forget the blazing neon lights, toe-tapping honky-tonk bands and rowdy sports fans of Broadway. Only a dark vintage Jag and a small bronze plaque by the door hint at the bar hidden behind its aloof exterior.
Pull open the heavy wooden door and the low thrum of the bass mingled with low-key laughter pulls you in as a bar stool calls out your name.
In what used to be a choppy, assortment of office rooms, a long, single slab of Elm wood stands out as the center piece of this European-esque bar.
Dark wooden book cases, filled with every sort of nick-knack imaginable from a relatively large model of the Titanic to a bull-horn plastered with big, black letters that spell “COCAINE,” span the wall behind the bar.
You don’t know it yet, but you’ve just met the owners of the bar. Sort of.
The artfully cluttered walls. The bench-seating suspended by ropes. The television in the corner playing movies. This space mirrors the personalities of the guys who spent 11 months putting this bar together.
As Fuenmayor, a quirky South-American-turned-Nashville native, will tell you, his sister says the place looks like his head exploded onto the walls.
Perhaps that’s a bit graphic, but just talk to the guy for five seconds, and both he and the bar will start to make a little more sense.
The same goes for Hinton. The brash, yet thought-provoking Brit can lean-back, take a swing of Guinness and talk with you for hours. And most of the time he does, in fact both the owners do. Even with a bar full of people.
The guys take their time.
“It feels very comfortable in here,” says Hinton,” because it’s filled with junk we’ve stolen from friends, or that’s just been sitting in Gabriel’s shed, or even my son’s bedroom.”
After quietly opening a few days before Christmas, the bar hosts a steady stream of patrons until 2 or 3 in the morning, or whenever the party stops.
Attracting everyone from the 21-year-old eagerly edging up against the bar to the 40-something guy in the booth by the backdoor, Bar Sovereign’s door never swings shut for too long.
Guests stroll in wearing a casual T-shirt and pair of faded jeans to a black fedora and bright red-and-black cheetah print button-up. Cotton jackets and heavy wool coats adorn the hooks underneath the lip of the bar or pile up haphazardly on edge of the row seating against the walls.
And nobody seems to care.
“It’s one of the only businesses where it’s totally cool to just be chilling and doing my thing. You don’t get that everywhere you go,” says Christina Lepoutre, a now friend and bar regular as she sits relaxed typing away on her laptop.
Stuffed in the center of the bookcases behind a massive piano harp that Fuenmayor salvaged from an old upright, the liquor supply boasts an impressive assortment of choices.
With a rotating drink menu of tasty and creative concoctions like the classic B.S. cocktail full of whiskey and mint with a few other surprises, the bar constantly changes what it has to offer.
While their cocktails have the town talking, it’s the beer that Hinton and Fuenmayor will talk your ear off about.
With all local brew, except for Guinness, always Guinness as the owners put it, the beer taps, just like the cocktails, are always on rotation.
And the brew is always fresh. One of their main breweries is about a block away.
“We use Czann’s right around the corner from us,” says Hinton.
“Any time we run out of a beer they just walk it down,” Fuenmayor follows up.
“So it’s shook-up as little as possible,” Hinton says.
“The guy carried it on his shoulder the other day. You see that?” interjects Fuenmayor.
Fuenmayor and Hinton even thought so far as to put the beer cooler directly beneath the tap, so the beer comes directly from the keg instead of a plastic tube system.
And even though it’s not local, if you ask them, they’ll tell you about how they pour the best Guinness in town. No secret to it, just art.
From the start, the guys knew Guinness would be the mainstay at Bar Sovereign. They even managed to wrangle Guinness into creating a custom tap just for them.
Besides Guinness, always Guinness, everything else changes.
In addition to the rotating tap and cocktail menu, the guys plan on creating a daily food menu based on the fresh pickings at the market. Maybe even someday, they say, they hope to open the bar up for breakfast with a little coffee and a mimosa, or two.
If you sit around to talk long enough, Fuenmayor might regale you with a tale of a time when he spent a few years in Europe working pop-up events with Michelin Star chefs.
And by way of that conversation, he’ll point to the art on the wall, which just happens to be on consignment from the Lazarides Gallery in London.
“I’ll tell you a cool story about that one,” says Fuenmayor, who accidentally met the manager of the Lazarides Gallery when he gave him a spot to sleep on his couch during a pop-up event in Frankfurt, Germany.
The two stayed in touch, and when Bar Sovereign opened they worked out a consignment deal for 61 pieces from the gallery to travel to Nashville, Tennessee.
So those paintings hanging on the wall? You can buy them.
And if that doesn’t blow your mind, at least a little bit, check out the bathroom. It’s the first legal unisex bathroom in Nashville. Hinton and Fuenmayor even had to sit in front of a 10-person board to get it approved to build it that way.
The bar is full of surprises that’ll keep you entertained for a good while. At least long enough to drink a couple of beers and an expert cocktail.
But it’s not for everyone.
“If you like it, that’s great. If you don’t like it, just turn around and go out. We don’t do specials or anything like that,” says Hinton.
“The point is we don’t pander to anyone. We’re presenting something, and we’re presenting it with quality,” follows Fuenmayor.
“We want you to come in because it’s good,” Hinton shrugs.
And as you sit across the bar, and sometimes beside Hinton or Fuenmayor as they join their patrons for a beer, the bar keeps on making more sense.
The guys built this bar just as much for themselves as anyone else.
It may be hard to find, but once you do, last call comes way too soon.