I have lived in Nashville since the age of five and never knew Merchants existed until I recently stumbled upon it while strolling downtown. I could tell there was history behind this place. From the outside I could see the building was older. Upon entering I immediately noticed the marble counters and unique tile design on the floor. The seating was dignified yet old-fashioned. Merchants is like no modern restaurant and that’s what makes it so special.
In 1870 the first floor was a pharmacy and the second floor held a hardware company. Then, in 1892, the building became Merchants Hotel. They charged 25 cents for the room and 25 cents for a meal each day. Each room had a bed and fireplace. The remnants of the rooms can still be seen in the restaurant. Notable Nashville stars have spent the night in the hotel include Dolly Parton, Hank Williams, and Patsy Cline. Merchants Restaurant opened in 1988 with the second floor used for more formal dining.
When I walked in I promptly grabbed a seat at the bar. A friendly bartender wearing suspenders and a bowtie came over to take my drink order. I took a look over their specialty drink menu and realized that I didn’t recognize half the ingredients listed. I decided to take a shot in the dark and landed on The Botanist (Botanivore Gin, St. Germain, simple, mint, lemon, and cucumber).
I couldn’t help but notice the bartender in the process of making my cocktail and observe him. It took him a good six or seven minutes to make my drink – and that’s not a complaint. It was obvious he was passionate about perfecting the taste for his customer. He wasn’t rushed as he muddled the lemon, but instead took his time to complete his craft. I was very impressed and couldn’t wait to taste the fine concoction he had created. As he handed me my Botanist, I immediately took a sip – oh yeah, that was worth the wait.
My meal of choice was the Blackened Catfish Sandwich (lettuce, homegrown tomato, lemon caper aioli, and pickled chow chow) with a side of sweet potato fries that paired excellent with the catfish. It’s hard to get a decent fish sandwich in Nashville. The catfish was so fresh I thought I was in Florida.
As I was enjoying my meal the lady next to me was quite confused on what she wanted. The bartender once again catered to her needs and took the time to explain the menu and answer her questions. The excellent customer service was once again very impressive. I worked my way through college serving and am often let down when going out to eat. I expect attentive service and do not always receive that. I am here to tell you that at Merchants, you don’t have to worry about whether you will receive great food, drinks, and service: you will.
Who knew this gem was right here all these years! I wish I’d discovered it sooner.
Nashville, TN 37203