The Sampler and the bar at
The Ordinary

The bar at The Ordinary in downtown Nashville has always reminded me a little bit of “The Sidetrack Tap” in Garrison Keillor’s “News from Lake Wobegon.” I guess it’s because you enter by going around to the side, up “Old Hickory Lane,” and slip in the side door.

It was a rainy spring afternoon, and I was meeting Mrs. Sampler at workday’s end for a midweek happy hour, so we strolled up the narrow Old School Way, behind the Ordinary, and ducked around the corner into the side door off the alley.

You push thru a pair of old fashioned swinging saloon doors and into a nice dark little bar where you wouldn’t be surprised to see Clint Bunsen or Carl Krebsbach and an assortment of various “Norwegian bachelor farmers” relating their various tales of “the little town that time forgot and the decades cannot improve….”

I don’t know if you’d exactly call it a “locals” bar, but it is the only bar on the main drag, right downtown, and I’m told shopkeepers and townie professionals often gather there of an evening or weekend to recount life’s little victories and to drown sorrows.

It has a long history. Back when the “Old School Way” still led down to the red brick two-story Nashville High School (approximately where the Grasshopper Flats shop now sits) and bobbysoxers and lettermen walked up it to Jerry’s Root Beer Stand (on the corner of Main Street, behind the Nashville House and across from the courthouse), a restaurant and bar called “The Old Hickory” sat where the Ordinary is now (thus “Old Hickory Lane”).

There are a few tables with nice white tablecloths, but I always prefer to sit at the bar, perched on a stool and gazing into the back bar mirror, mulling over community, history, the whole many-angled thing of life itself, miscellaneous topics of the day, and, of course the bill of fare.

I usually have Guinness Extra Stout at the Ordinary bar. One time, a few years ago, when I was out for a little frivolity with the not-yet-Mrs. Sampler and friends, we stopped at the Ordinary bar and ordered Guinness Stouts and the bartender, with a practiced twist of the wrist, ended the pour by making cute little shamrocks in the top of the foam. Ever since then, I’ve always ordered it, hoping I’ll get the shamrock, but, alas, I have been cruelly and repeatedly disappointed.
It is a husband’s duty to be able to order the correct cocktail for his wife, and I know mine likes a gin martini on the rocks with extra fruit. (I have learned that the “fruit” in this drink order is olives.)

It’s a nice place for drinks. Besides the various inevitable memorabilia and some really nice antique neon signs, the walls are replete with old photographs depicting various old Brown County characters and scenes, calling to mind many a quaint and curious memory of forgotten lore.

We are told that in Colonial times, an “ordinary” was the tavern, restaurant, and guest house where local residents and travelers gathered to share spirits and camaraderie.

Records in colonial Connecticut, in 1644, ordered “one sufficient inhabitant” in each town to keep an ordinary, since “strangers were straitened” for want of entertainment.

Another thing I know about Mrs. Sampler is that she wants only one drink, and that she likes an early dinner. Accordingly, we examined the menu, which includes homemade soups, salads, extraordinary sandwiches, special fish selections, chicken, turkey, barbecued back ribs, and steaks with all the trimmings.

When I sit at the bar, I want bar food, so I started with some beer battered onion rings off of the ample appetizer menu; they were hot, delicious, and served with a couple of nice pickle slices.

On the little daily specials board behind the bar, I spied the soup of the day, which proved to be a tasty vegetable soup, reminiscent of my dear mother’s own. We split a bowl, and the rings, and studied our options further.

The deep-fried Tilapia with coleslaw and fries was tempting, but Mrs. Sampler does not want me to eat breaded fried foods exclusively.
I suggested the “open-faced Reuben”, but she balked.

“Who wants to eat a Reuben open-faced?”

“Well, they’d probably put a top on it for you if you wanted.”
We settled on a hamburger with chips, which was juicy and delicious.

That’s when I started to think about Jerry’s and the Old School Way, and the Old Hickory, and the old ordinaries of colonial days, which were, I expect, a far cry from what we’ve come to expect today.

Sitting there on your stool at the public bar foot rail, enjoying a beer brewed since 1759, savoring a truly American meal of a burger and rings with vegetable soup, there’s time to consider history, to gather up a sense of place, and to consider which parts of your life actually have the potential to make you profoundly satisfied.