There’s no shortage of terrible, overpriced bars in the world, so let’s talk about one today. Just because. After all, as much as we like heaping praise on true achievers, you still have to be able to call a dud a dud, right? Speaking of which: The L 27 Nashville bar at the city’s Westin Hotel. Imagine if you will security staff with necks as thick as your thighs, demeaned waitresses and cheap vodka – all wrapped in plastic.
After a few years in this business you learn that when it comes to the world of cocktails, not all that glitters is gold. And yet it’s still a shock to find yourself confronted with a place so overwhelmingly bad in every way, especially when it exemplifies such an accustomed cliché: a shitty bar in a 5-star hotel. Now, we’re all aware that there are plenty of horrible hotel bars. But it’s worse still when the hotel prides itself on its international standards, only to host a bar you wouldn’t recommend to your worst enemy. That’s the kind of bar we’re talking about. Admittedly, it may seem a little mean to single out a particular establishment. But that’s precisely what we’re doing today, because the experience is so fresh in my mind I still feel like I need a shower. We’re talking about the L 27 bar at Nashville’s Westin Hotel.
Smashville and Incredible Hulks
The Westin Nashville is still a pretty new hotel, and for its price class it has a very healthy ego, an attribute not uncommon here in “Nashvegas,” “Music City,” “Smashville” or any of the other nicknames the city goes by these days. Nashville is currently enjoying a boom unseen here for ages. Downtown around Broadway you can stroll from bar to bar for over a mile, with live music blasting out on all sides. The area is under constant construction, revealing the level of investment pouring in here to the heart of Tennessee’s most popular hotspot.
L 27 Nashville sits atop the hotel roof, crowning the Westin tower. And according to the hotel room brochures, L 27 is no less a crowning achievement than the pioneering new “Eldorado” of bar culture in Dixie. Enticing phrases like “hand selected,” “regional,” “craft cocktails” and “vibrant” brim with promise…hell, there’s even a swimming pool! So it’s at this point you either shout excitedly “Let’s go!,” or the veteran in you recognizes the same old marketing claptrap lazy agencies always use to make F&B sow’s ears sound like silk purses.
Entering L 27 Nashville is an adventure all its own. The elevator doors open to reveal a gentleman we’ll refer to as “The Neck” who’s been squeezed into a fiberglass suit, obviously to underscore his unassailable authority. Ignoring or oblivious to the obvious flecks and patches of gray hair, The Neck insists on seeing ID before we even leave the elevator, just to make sure we’re not sneaking in without having reached the ripe old US legal drinking age of 21.
Drink of the Hour: Vodka-&-Soda
The L 27 Nashville bar itself looks like how folks in the Transylvanian backwoods probably imagine the future. There’s a touch of the Orion spaceship here, a dab of Resopal plastic there, and lots of gold inside. You’ve got retro-futuristic fake gaslights, along with fancy bar tables outside surrounded by Plexiglas-enclosed seating bays furnished with artificial leather sofas for cozy making-out. But let’s not forget that this is a drinking establishment. And what they like to drink most of all at the moment seems to be vodka-&-soda. They also drink wine – Californian wine of course – chugging it back from glasses with no stem. Inside, a cover band does its best rendition of “Ring Of Fire.” Speaking of fire, smoking’s not allowed anywhere outside either, although there’s plenty of space where no one would be bothered. But we’ll give the hotel management that one.
Under the ever-watchful eye of an even neckier Neck, the cocktail menu already inspires a sense of foreboding, declaring that the “master mixologist” has assembled a selection of regionally-inspired (didn’t we have that already?) seasonal “craft cocktails.” Many of these thankfully feature bourbon, or less thankfully vodka, and then Tito’s Vodka no less, which many self-proclaimed American cocktail connoisseurs still falsely insist is a handcrafted product.
Since Nashville also has its own Broadway, you’ll find a Manhattan here too, albeit with a mock-up cherry as a warning signal. And reflecting all the expertise of a true “master mixologist,” L 27 Nashville’s cocktails are filled with delicate, thimble-sized ice cubes made from…get this…chlorinated tap water. While other watering holes are realistic enough not to charge an arm and a leg for two ounces of Tito’s and three blasts from a soda gun, at L 27 you can take out a mortgage for this “delicacy” served up in a plastic cup. Yep. A plastic cup.
Plastic cups are also L 27’s container of choice for the normally delicious Yazoo IPA. To get one delivered to your table though you’ll first have to hand over a credit card and reveal your room number. When I ask the waitress, she tells me it’s true, regrettably there are no real glasses for the beer served at L 27 Nashville. For some reason the management has clad her and the other waitresses in black uniforms that aren’t necessarily what one could call flattering, and that might even be illegal in other states. *
L 27: Fed up, but still thirsty
One of the Necks raises a disapproving eyebrow as he decides that our peculiar questions are keeping the waitress from her other duties. He could have saved the effort: What’s truly peculiar is that here at L 27 Nashville, without having eaten a bite, it’s the drinks and the bar itself that have left us completely fed up.
But important questions still remain: For instance, is the pool filled with the same water that the ice cubes are made from? Does the cover band also have “Escape (The Piña Colada Song)” in its repertoire? Does the “master mixologist” moonlight during the day as the lifeguard at the pool, given that it’s closed in the evening? Why are salty snacks served with cocktails here, but not with beer? If Queen Elizabeth showed up, known as she is for possessing no ID whatsoever, would The Neck refuse to let her in for a Dubonnet-Martini in a plastic glass? And, most importantly, are the wine cups also made of plastic? For now however, these and other burning questions must remain unanswered, since we hadn’t had time to drink up sufficient courage and sneak past the Necks to ask the other guests before we were overcome by the desire to simply leave.
What lingers after a visit to L 27 Nashville is a sense of tragedy; tragedy because with the hotel’s well-traveled, sophisticated international clientele a genuinely innovative bar concept here would be another real jewel in its crown; tragedy because apparently a particular clique of Nashville locals are regulars here, convinced that it’s “the place to be” at the moment, and this in turn has the hotel and bar management convinced that they’re doing everything right. That might even work from a strictly financial perspective for now. But when it comes to real substance L 27 Nashville is an abyss, an affront to everything that should distinguish a quality-conscious bar in 2017, both in terms of the drinks and, more importantly, the “vibe.” So, despite the fact that the highly-acclaimed Silver Dollar recently closed its doors (R.I.P.), if you find yourself in Nashville near the Westin thirsty for a good drink and a great place to drink it, you’re still better off making your way down to Broadway, grabbing a seat at Merchant’s and ordering up a Boilermaker. Here the beer is better, colder, and there’s a greater selection. The same goes for the bourbon. And at Merchant’s, it comes in a glass. A real glass.
A Place beyond the Ryes
Again, maybe it’s mean to specifically pick on one of the world’s innumerable truly bad, overpriced bars. On the other hand, we are talking bars here, not kindergartens, and if you piss in a wide circle with overhyped claims like L 27 Nashville, you shouldn’t be surprised when you get called out on it. By the way, the Westin Nashville also has a restaurant, or in their words a “Social Gathering Lounge and Eatery” called “Decker & Dyer,” where, heaven forbid, they also serve “craft cocktails.” But we didn’t go there. It just seemed so lonely without The Neck to welcome us.
* Note: To avoid any misunderstandings and accusations of sexism on the part of the author, no one here is criticizing the waitresses at L 27 Nashville for their appearance. The criticism is aimed squarely at their employer for sticking them in uniforms that, at best, make them look like “Coyote Ugly” tryouts.
Bildquelle: Photo via L 27 Nashville.