“A Good Place to Meet”
by Jeff Tryon
photo by George Bredewater
Centrally located on Van Buren Street in the heart of the downtown shopping district, The Ordinary Restaurant and Bar provide the perfect meeting spot for both weary shoppers and locals to relax, eat and enjoy each other’s company.
The restaurant’s simple, tasty fare and intimate surroundings make it one of Nashville’s most sought-out dining experiences, according to owner Andy Rogers.
“It’s sort of a good place to meet,” Mr. Rogers said during a recent interview about the bistro which has served the town and tourist trade for over 25 years in it’s current incarnation.
Mr. Rogers said the Ordinary is the perfect compliment to his other downtown landmark, the venerable Nashville House, the flagship of Brown County’s tourist industry.
The Ordinary serves a slightly different crowd, More of a younger group, and is more often patronized by those living locally, Mr. Rogers said.
“The two somewhat complement each other,” he said. “It’s kind of interesting, there’s more late evening activity at the Ordinary, while The Nashville House is more traditional, having been there longer.”
The differences between the two are reflected in their respective menus, he said.
“We try to differentiate it from the Nashville House,” he said. “We don’t serve the fried biscuits and all. At the Ordinary, we broil everything, there’s no grill.
“It’s more contemporary. We offer sandwiches all day long. On the other hand, we’ve got the very popular wild game feast that includes pheasant.”
“The Nashville House is more tourist-oriented. At the Ordinary, we do get a blend of tourists and locals.”
But who would think of naming their restaurant and bar, not something unusual, but just plain “ordinary”?
Actually, it was Mr. Rogers who named it.
“Well, I was kind of looking around for something different,” he said of naming the restaurant. “The Ordinary was what they called an early American Tavern.”
Like English bars are called “public houses” or “pubs,” early American taverns were called “ordinary houses” or “ordinaries.”
“They still have some of them on the east coast,” Mr. Rogers said.
With a cozy, country ambiance and a location right downtown, the Ordinary has become a perfect meeting-and-waiting place.
“It’s convenient for shoppers,” Mr. Rogers said. “When they come to town, the menfolk gather in there and then the women come get them and they can sit down and have a drink and talk about their day.”
“Being right across from the Brown County Playhouse doesn’t hurt anything,” Mr. Rogers admits.
Many local folks also like to meet there, especially since it’s the only bar in the downtown area.
And, once each year, the Ordinary becomes the center of attention in Brown County.
The Van Buren Street eatery has been the home of the Brown County Children’s Christmas Auction every year except one since the event began in 1979.
“We tried it one year at the conference center at the Seasons, but it wasn’t the same,” Mr. Rogers said. “Everybody complains there’s not enough room for everyone to sit, but on the other hand, bringing everyone together and kind of jamming them up; it works better than having them all spread out.”
The restaurant started in 1975 when Mr. Rogers bought the Old Hickory Restaurant and bar from the Wilson family.
The establishment is in essentially the same building as when it was the Old Hickory, which was started in the late 1930s or early 1940s by the legendary Carl Wilson, perhaps better known by his pen name, Tramp Starr.
“It’s basically the same shell that was there, the old house, plus Mrs. Wilson added the south part on there,” Mr. Rogers said. “We tore the old kitchen off and built a new kitchen and new bathrooms. We re-did the bar twice and we’ve added some storage in the back.”
In the deal in which he acquired the Old Hickory, now the Ordinary, Mr. Rogers purchased the entire block down to and including the Franklin House.
That gives the Ordinary something that few downtown businesses can boast—ample parking.
With parking at a premium throughout Nashville, the attached parking in the rear across Old School Way is a boon to the business and the town.
“I could build something there, fill that lot up, but in this situation, it would be detrimental to me and to the town,” Mr. Rogers said.
At just over 25 years old, the business may get a slight makeover in the near future, but Mr. Rogers said he plans to keep the things he likes best about the Ordinary.
“I like the booths in the dining room and the intimacy of the bar,” he said. “It’s sort of a small bar. Those are things we need to maintain.”
“It’s not like the Nashville House; you can’t change the Nashville House. People don’t want change there,” he said. “But every so often we need to look at what we’re doing and try to enhance the venue. I’m looking at it now to re-evaluate it a little bit. I don’t know what we’re going to do or if we’ll do very much.”
“It’s been changed a couple of times,” Mr. Rogers said. “When we remodeled it the first time—those benches were all built there inside the property, and you’d have a hard time getting them out of there.”
Among about 30 employees at the restaurant are some who have been there for nearly it’s entire existence.
Lula Couch, who is the head waitress and runs the dining room at the restaurant has been there just about it’s whole life.
“She’s been a champ,” Mr. Rogers said. “She’s been very loyal. She really makes the place. People come in there and they want her to wait on them.”
Other longtime employees include Mr. Rogers’ son-in-law Ron Herr, who runs the kitchen.
The restaurant is open year round, although the months of January and February are sometimes kind of slow for business, he said.
For a cozy cocktail at the end of the day; or as a meeting place in the course of a busy day of shopping, the Ordinary is Nashville’s extraordinary place to meet.