Dive bars are an American tradition. For better or worse, every town in America has at least one, bars that attract everyone from white-collar executives to the guy who was working at the paper mill until he lost his job. Everybody’s got a story, and millions of people like to tell those stories over a cold one at a local dive bar, often to the strains of a jukebox playing drinkin’ and cheatin’ songs recorded over the past 60 years.
So since everything related to country music in Nashville is larger than life, it only makes sense that Nashville would be the home of the ultimate dive bar, which, though classier than many, may be Losers Bar and Grill on Division Street. With George Strait manager Erv Woolsey among its owners, Losers attracts daily crowds of some of Nashville’s most talented songwriters, singers and record label personnel, who come in for camaraderie, inspiration and beer, or sometimes just to cry in those beers over the jobs or deals they just lost.
It’s not unusual to see someone like chart-topper Chris Young show up and climb onstage at Losers to sing one, or to hear hit songwriters like Jonathan Singleton (Josh Turner, Gary Allan) doing a full band show while patrons play pool and shuffleboard and hang out on the back porch. And Chuck Wicks recently shot a music video in the club. Both local and national acts can appear at the club at any time, sometimes booked in advance and sometimes just because they’re in the neighborhood. There are no strangers at Losers, and much of the time the barstools are filled with hitmakers nobody recognizes, but who are responsible for some of the biggest songs on the airwaves at any given time.
Local musician Dave Cloud said he’s spent some of his best times at Losers, where the ambience and the reasonably-priced draft beer are both inspirational and relaxing. Cloud himself isn’t a country singer; his band Dave Cloud & the Gospel of Power leans more towards garage rock with a touch of punk cynicism and a healthy dose of counterculture attitude and volume of the ‘60s and ‘70s. But Cloud himself, whose new album is titled Practice in the Milky Way, loves to listen to real country music while he enjoys a cold one, and Losers is his favorite place to get both, whether that music is live or recorded.
“One of my favorite things about Losers that people might not think about much is what comes over the sound system,” he said. “People I love to listen to – Buck Owens, Dwight Yoakam, great singers like that, I get to hear at Losers. Lee Roy Parnell, that’s really the only place I can hear his records. When you listen to the radio these days it’s kind of limited to the skeleton of what country music used to be, but I love to go in there on the off hours and have a beer and listen to some great music.”
In some ways, Losers is to the songwriting community what the golf course is to doctors when it comes to building relationships and striking deals. Nick Autry, an artist himself and the studio manager at Black River at Sound Stage, has exchanged business cards more than once at Losers over a beer or two.
“I don’t really think of Loser’s as just a bar,” Autry said. “I think of it as a place for songwriters and artists to network, to collaborate, to work on their careers while being part of the music family here. I think it’s just a great place to have in such close proximity to Music Row, and a place that gives Nashville honky-tonks a little more character.”
Losers is usually packed on weekends, partly because of the bar’s reputation among tourists and partly because local college students can have a few beers and walk home to nearby Vanderbilt. And it’s right next door to Winners, a bar and restaurant that has some of the same owners as Losers, and a Monday night show each week to die for, sometimes with national acts that might sell out the Ryman one night and show up at Winners the next to play for a packed house that was perhaps “tweeted” only minutes before about the show.
Cloud, who has seen as many bars as anyone as a touring artist on both sides of the Atlantic, believes that it doesn’t get much better than Losers, and that the Music Row/Vanderbilt area is the better for being its home. “Lower Broad is great,” he said, “but Upper Broad is just a little classier.”
For more information, go to www.losersbar.com.
By Rick Moore