“Germantown is a pretty small bubble of Nashville,” says Freddy Schwenk, co-owner of the neighborhood’s popular restaurant and bar Geist. Named for the influx of European immigrants that settled in the area during the 1800s, Germantown has maintained much of its historic architecture, and today is a bustling destination neighborhood. Schwenk moved to Nashville in 2013 and began bartending before launching his own cocktail consultancy and clear-ice business. Pointing to the influence of Germantown stalwarts like Rolf & Daughters and the James Beard Award–winning City House, Schwenk says the neighborhood has seen a delicious evolution over the past decade. “I think people started looking at Germantown as a real place to go for good food and drinks. It may be a small area, but the places we have are in the top echelon of restaurants in the city—and all of these restaurants have good bar programs.” From high-profile transplants to unique local businesses, Schwenk offers a tour of his favorite drinking and dining destinations.
Opened in 2018 in a historic blacksmith shop and named for its original operator, Geist preserves the beauty of the building while operating a cozy neighborhood bar and restaurant. “There are so many layers here—the building is beautiful, the lighting is great, the music is good, it’s a vibey spot, and food is definitely our focus,” says Schwenk. The menu aims for seasonal American fare and is complemented by a well-honed list of house cocktails, from an Old Fashioned made with rock candy syrup to an Espresso Martini with a hint of cinnamon, which remains a crowd favorite. “We just want people to come in and have a good time. And one way to make sure everyone has a good time is to have good drinks.”
“For dinner, I frequent The Optimist quite a bit,” says Schwenk. “It’s a transplant from Atlanta, and everything they do is great.” Housed in the historic Hammermill building, the Southern-tinged seafood restaurant makes full use of the former industrial space with multiple concepts on-site including Star Rover Sound (tacos, live music) and upstairs cocktail bar Le Loup. The bar’s expansive menu includes classics, “tributes” (modern classics), and originals like My Dinner with Andre (bourbon, sweet vermouth, Averna, sarsaparilla, birch, chocolate bitters) all complemented by a raw bar. “At Le Loup you can get a really nice cocktail and some oysters and call it a day,” recommends Schwenk.
The Nashville outpost of the delightfully raucous New York City bar, Mother’s Ruin, found itself right at home in the Germantown neighborhood. “We send people to Mother’s Ruin a lot,” says Schwenk, noting the easy 10-minute walk between Geist and the bar. “They took over a space from a restaurant that had been there a long time, and it’s much bigger than their New York location.” But the bar still embodies its trademark cocktail-dive aesthetic, with playful offerings like the Space Hippies (bourbon, lemon, mango, honey, amaro, bitters) and dishes like fried chicken and Eggo waffles. “Their cocktails are always really fun, but I’ll usually have an Old Fashioned or a beer and shot. It’s everyone’s favorite neighborhood bar—it’s always packed.”
Sweet by day and saucy by night, Green Hour comes alive in the evenings for a different kind of indulgence. “During the day it’s a chocolate store, and at night they turn it into an absinthe and cocktail bar,” explains Schwenk. That means absinthe flights are accompanied by house-made dark chocolate truffles like rosemary olive oil or orange balsamic. Or opt for a truffle recommendation alongside cocktails like the Red Warbler (mezcal, spiced cherry, lime, agave, bitters). “It’s a really small space with a nice cozy environment,” says Schwenk.
Inspired by the official cultivated state flower of Tennessee, Bearded Iris Brewing takes a similar approach to their beer, creating new styles through perpetual experimentation, particularly when it comes to creatively hopped beers. Though their brews span the spectrum from the crushable Table Timelager to Moon Dust imperial milk stout, their primary passion is cultivating the variety of complex flavors and expressions that can be created within the IPA realm. With so many offerings to sample, their Germantown taproom (which also functions as their main production space) makes for an especially appealing destination, says Schwenk.