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Nashville’s Drinks List for Everyman

Henrietta Red caters to two crowds: the natural-wine set and baseball fans. Here’s how the restaurant does it

Situated in Nashville’s Germantown, Henrietta Red, a pretty little neighborhood spot, flaunts a vaguely nautical feel with its star-patterned tiles and blond floors and a vegetable- and seafood-driven menu to match. The restaurant has only been open since February, but the food, much of which passes through a blistering wood-fired oven, as well as the smart and quirky beverage program, quickly caught on—Henrietta Red landed on this summer’s Bon Appétit Best Restaurants list.

But what’s probably the most impressive aspect of Henrietta Red is that it handily caters to two distinctly different sets of customers: the local neighbors (a mostly 30-to-40-something group, there for the refined small plates and obscure wines) and a beer-swilling baseball crowd (there to pregame). The restaurant sits a few blocks from First Tennessee Park, home of the city’s Triple-A affiliate team the Nashville Sounds. From April to September, the barroom is packed and rowdy, with folks vying for space for their plates of oyster fritters and bottles of Pacifico—at least until the first pitch, at which point the bar empties but the dining room is filled and buzzing with patrons looking for a biodynamic white to pair with their chicken liver pâté and roasted cauliflower steaks. The restaurant has had its challenges balancing these two groups—but the dichotomy has also helped it find its niche.

Henrietta Red is owned by chef Julia Sullivan (formerly of New York’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Per Se, and Franny’s) and her business partner, general manager and wine director Allie Poindexter. The two met while working at Haven’s Kitchen in Manhattan.

Poindexter’s budget-minded wine program, with its mix of smaller European growers and producers, and a number of organic and biodynamic options, leans lighter, taking Sullivan’s menu as its example. And when it came time to tackle the spirituous side of things, Poindexter enlisted Patrick Halloran, formerly of Nashville’s Patterson House, to craft the cocktail list. His drinks menu has the same intention as the wine list—to pair well with Sullivan’s food and provide inventive twists on classics. Halloran’s spirit selections veer into quirky territory, with a selection of apple brandies, for example, or a happy hour emphasizing sherries, Madeiras, and vermouths.

Both Poindexter and Halloran have had to be creative in catering to both of the restaurant’s crowds.

Poindexter’s wine list, while full of deals and accessible whites for those who might want something familiar to go with their oysters before a game, also includes more obscure labels and a deep stash of rich and hearty Rhône wines (her favorites) for those looking to expand their wine horizons. And given the restaurant’s proximity to the stadium, she also wanted to include a range of beer styles—from funkier bottles, like an Almanac Peach de Brettaville, to mainstream options like Coors Banquet and Miller High-Life Ponies. “Frankly,” Poindexter says, “those beers also go nicely with some oysters,” particularly before a game.

Even the setup of the restaurant is representative of the distinct drinking personalities: The barroom, separate from the dining room, has become a convivial meeting space, with two long communal tables and 14 seats at the white marble bar and a happy hour sign that boasts “bottles of bubbly” and “buckets of beer,” depending on the day of the week. The 70-seat dining room is spare and open, with views of the oyster shuckers and wood-fired oven from comfortable chairs and long banquettes lined with pillows, meant to encourage lingering in groups of two or four.

For the more casual baseball crowd, the bar is a haven with its own food menu, mostly a selection of appetizers and snacks like potato chips with caviar, tomato salad, and oyster fritters—and Halloran’s cocktails are meant to support this more laid-back food. “The [cocktail] menu was conceptualized to be a little more accessible, fun, and easy moving,” Halloran says. Raw oysters are especially popular in the barroom, and Halloran offers the Rebujito, a classic spritzy sherry cocktail from Spain, with fino and his house-made lemon-lime soda; it matches the brine of the oysters beautifully.

His cocktail list runs between 8 and 10 drinks that change seasonally. “We ease off the boozy, stirred drinks in the summer because that’s the last thing people want,” he says. Those will come back on once the weather cools off, but some drinks, like the Little Deuce Coup, a guest favorite made with vodka, lemon, grapefruit, and the bar’s house-made grenadine, will stay put year-round. Despite the playful names and riffs, Halloran takes the program seriously, making most mixers in-house and using boutique spirits as his bases for drinks.

The bar’s Jell-O shots sum up its point of view perfectly—Halloran turns classic cocktails into somewhat fancy, edible gelatin bites, spinning the boozy college throwback into something refined but still fun. He makes three versions each week—his 20th Century Cocktail, for example, or Fernet and Coke—creating 145 shots per week, and more when anticipating heavy-traffic weekends. The shots consistently sell out. “We start to see a pickup right around dessert. At the bar, people will order them all night, especially late night,” Halloran says. Adds Poindexter, “We’ve developed something of a reputation as the place to go for more obscure stuff. People are willing to try new things when they come here.”

Halloran takes pride in his selection of rums (he stocks 17), and a strong range of brandies, five of which are apple (he personally collects Calvados), like the Germain-Robin Heritage Apple, of which only 300 cases are made each year. There’s also a Clear Creek Pear Brandy. “It’s so unexpected in that it tastes and smells like the freshest, ripest pear. Plus, they’re a really sustainable operation,” Halloran says of Clear Creek. There’s also a selection of eight sherries, two Madeiras, and two vermouths, all of which are available as $6 two-ounce pours during Sunday night happy hour.

While cocktails are definitely a draw, especially in the barroom, Poindexter’s wine program brings in more revenue each week, averaging about $1,600 per day, compared with the $900 to $1,300 Halloran sees in sales of cocktails and spirits.

“We really want to support smaller growers, off-the-beaten-path varietals, and people who are considerate about their environmental footprint,” Poindexter says. Heavier on the white wines (between 29 and 35 bottles, with six by the glass) for obvious reasons, the list also features about 10 sparkling wines (five by the glass), three rosés (two by the glass), and between 20 and 25 reds (five by the glass), but Poindexter says she expects to be tinkering with that balance soon.

“I’m scaling back [the list of reds] because there’s been a lot more interest in whites,” she says, adding that her best by-the-glass seller is a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire; by the bottle, it’s the Château de l’Eperonnière Savennières. (The restaurant’s best-selling by-the-bottle red is the delicately styled Teutonic Bergspitze Whole Cluster Pinot Noir.)

Six months in, Poindexter says she’s still getting a handle on her clientele. Despite a strong effort to train the staff with accurate descriptions for each wine, a big challenge has been selling through her more obscure allotments. One Prosecco she recently added—a cloudy, unfiltered, and super-fizzy col fondo—had to be moved from the by-the-glass list to by-the-bottle almost immediately—most guests just weren’t into it. “Throwing anything down the drain,” says Poindexter, “is wrong on so many levels—so if it’s not working, we have to make a hard decision.”

Halloran’s seen something similar at the bar. “I may love apple brandy,” he says, “but I didn’t buy five bottles of Germain-Robin Heritage Apple when we opened. I bought one—and it’s treated us just fine.”

Erin Byers Murray is a food and drinks writer and author based in Nashville, TN.

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