WILLIAM DRIVER, THE FORMER SEA CAPTAIN, was a Union man beset on all sides by the Confederacy. In 1837, the Massachusetts-born Driver settled in Nashville after a long career at sea, bringing with him the seventeen-foot-long United States flag that served as the masthead on his journeys around the globe. On holidays, Driver proudly displayed the flag above the street in front of his home, hanging the enormous banner between his attic and the high branches of a locust tree across what is now Fifth Avenue South. But when Tennessee seceded from the Union in 1861, the Stars and Stripes was less welcome. When the new Confederate governor sent his men to collect Driver’s famous flag, the fearless mariner turned them away. An armed squad arrived for a second attempt. Again, Driver refused to yield. Fearing for the safety of his beloved flag, he asked local women who were friendly to the Union cause to sew the flag within a calico quilt. Despite repeated searches of Driver’s home, his flag remained concealed in its ingenious disguise. No one managed to find William Driver’s flag—the one he called “Old Glory.”
The captain’s flag now resides at the Smithsonian, but another Old Glory has arrived in Nashville. It’s just as grand as its namesake and almost as well-hidden. Strolling through the shops at Edgehill Village, you could walk past the entrance to Old Glory a hundred times and still miss it. The black door is unassuming, situated in an interior courtyard that weaves between Taco Mamacita and Bella Napoli Pizzeria. A wide golden triangle painted on the surrounding brick is the only clue that something out of the ordinary might be inside.
I’ll admit I wander for a while, walking with false certainty past diners in the portico, pausing at random doorways that most likely contain brooms. Eventually the sounds of a classic country song drift from behind the triangle and draw me toward my destination. I step into Old Glory, and moving down into the space via a curling staircase with a gorgeous Art Deco brass railing, the magnificent scope of the place comes into view. Tall brick walls soar up to a ceiling high above me—it must be at least fifty feet up. A broad smokestack rises toward rows of clerestory windows. Rusted chains and knotted ropes hang from various metal remainders of the room’s previous life. Two terrace levels are stacked above the bar. This was once the boiler room of White Way Cleaners, a commercial laundry company that owned the space going back to the 1920s. I’ve seen rehabbed warehouses and factories turned into entertainment venues in the past, but this new addition to Nashville’s cocktail scene has an incomparable grandeur. William Driver would be proud.
The Soler sisters, Alexis and Britt, are the mixologists behind this insane masterpiece of industrial conversion. Alexis and Ben Clemons opened No. 308 in 2011, and their Gallatin Avenue bar quickly became a beloved Eastside staple. Britt hopped on after finishing college, and now the sisters have established their own foothold on the other side of the river. When I arrive, Britt welcomes me from behind the bar with a smile. She and her sister join me at a cushy leather booth and tell me all about their new adventure.
Our conversation is loud and enthusiastic, with liberal expletives. Old Glory opened its doors in March, less than two months ago. “That was a whirlwind! I don’t even fucking remember,” Britt exclaims. “It feels like we’ve been open a year,” Alexis adds, with a hint of weariness. Britt counters, “A year, and then like two weeks at the same time!”
Five-plus years at 308 gave the Soler sisters a solid sense of the Eastside vibe, but Edgehill was totally foreign, as Alexis explains. “Coming to a new neighborhood, we were kind of unsure of what was gonna happen because we don’t really know the dynamic around here.”
Their fears quickly proved unfounded. “When we were building out, people would come to us and be like, ‘Oh! I’m so excited! We need something like that.’ So that was reassuring,” Britt shares. “I don’t think we expected quite the response that we received, ‘cause it was just all at once. [We were] flooded with awesome people coming and visiting us.”
The build-out was a complicated affair, tangling the Solers in the massive undertaking for more than a year. “We designed the space,” Alexis states proudly, then pauses for a beat as she and her sister take a satisfied glance around us. I ask about their reaction when they first saw the remarkable space. They both laugh. “We didn’t really say anything,” Britt tells me. “It was one of those sisterly moments where we just walked around . . . and we just looked at each other and just kept looking, and we were like, ‘Yeah. This is it.’”
Though the fundamental design concept was all the Solers’, they had plenty of help: Powell Architects assisted with contracting; Lindsay Meacham of Red Rock Tileworks added the “OG” custom tiles that feature prominently; Andrew Ferrin of Ferrin IronWorks designed the metal elements, such as the railing of the central stair.
“They’ve made our vision what we wanted it to be,” Britt tells me. Alexis also recognizes the value of everything the community brought to Old Glory. “I think that’s what made the space really special. Obviously it’s super cool as it was, the day we walked in. But building into the space instead of changing it was very important to us, making it look like everything was here already.”
ready.” Luckily for the cocktail enthusiasts of Nashville, Old Glory is more than just a pretty, wrought-iron face. Their distinctive menu features flavors from the Solers’ Miami childhood, giving Nashvillians a sip of Latin American and Caribbean fare with drinks like the Cowboy Curtis, which consists of tequila, fresh grapefruit, and Cholula hot sauce. Or the Beet Happening, with mezcal, beets, greek yogurt, and dill, which is, as Britt puts it with a smile, “inspired by our Jewiness!”
To accompany their unusual beverages, the sisters developed what they call their “ice program.” Old Glory sports some of the finest ice in Nashville, and their summer menu currently in development will highlight the wide variety of ice they offer: pebble ice; KoldDraft half cubes, preferred by bartenders for their ease of service; and custom-cut, crystal-clear ice carved from three-hundred-pound blocks crafted in a massive Clinebell machine. Unique cocktails in an unparalleled space deserve only the best in frozen water.
Craft cocktails also merit a fine meal. Though the ceilings of Old Glory are actually sixty feet tall, the floor space below is limited, making food production a particular challenge. Alexis and Britt brought on Rachel Tumerman, a chef originally from Madison, Wisconsin, but didn’t give her much in the way of a kitchen. Rachel joins our conversation, and I ask her how she manages. “They said, ‘You’re not going to have a hood system,’” she recalls with a resigned sigh. “Not having a hood system means that you don’t have a fryer, or an oven, or a stove, or fire in general—which are typical cooking methods.” Everyone at the table laughs. Rachel continues, “I’m just quite insane enough to be like, ‘Oh yeah, yeah, no, it’s totally fine.’”
As a veteran of underground restaurants, Rachel was used to working with constraints, recalling one multicourse meal she had to prepare without access to running water. Lacking fire, Old Glory’s food offerings could easily be pedestrian. Instead of basic, bland sandwiches, Rachel turned to alternative techniques: “Curing, fermentations, different methods of breaking down food and making it edible without necessarily having to apply heat.”
Rachel’s effervescent personality and gung ho attitude blend well with the Soler sisters. The team instantly hit it off after meeting through mutual friends, and the exuberance these three talented women share gives Old Glory a high-energy atmosphere.
Alexis fell in love with the industry at an early age, dropping out of high school and working in every facet of the business: “There was no other choice for me. I feel so passionately that I get teary when I talk about it!” She explains that with both 308 and Old Glory, their focus is on providing a good time for their customers. And they lead by example. “We’re bartenders. We have fun in life,” Alexis points out, but that’s not the only reason people have enjoyed their establishments over the years. “Ultimately, it’s the people that draw you in—the family, the hospitality,” she adds.
Their hospitality in action: Saturday night at Old Glory is a hot, sexy mess. College students fresh from finals mingle with folks coming to check out Nashville’s newest hot spot. A line of patrons snakes up the central staircase. Metal blends into brick, stone into flesh. The distinctive squiggles of recent NATIVE cover artist Alic Daniel trace a path to the mezzanines. The platforms and balconies give the place a cinematic scope. People are watching people who are watching people. Trays of food make their way around the crowd: smoked potatoes with tasso ham; house-cured lox; glass jars full of pickled vegetables. In the dim light, the towering ceiling seems even higher.
And in the middle of it all, Alexis and Britt Soler stand together, watching Old Glory unfurl.