Tootsie’s Honky Tonk owner pushes bill to exempt Lower Broadway bars from Nashville oversight

The bill would remove Metro Nashville’s authority to regulate all bars in the downtown tourism development zone, instead, give oversight to the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission.

By: - March 14, 2023 6:04 am
A restaurant on Lower Broadway in mid-April. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

A Lower Broadway honky tonk sits empty in mid-April. (Photo by Jason Kempin/Getty Images)

Tootsie’s Entertainment LLC, the company behind several honky tonks on Lower Broadway, is pushing legislation in the Tennessee General Assembly to remove all bars from oversight by Nashville’s beer board.  

The legislation, filed last week, would block Metro Nashville’s authority to regulate all bars in the downtown tourism development zone and instead give oversight to the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission. 

The bill appears to have been brought forth after lobbying from Tootsie’s Entertainment, which owns Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Kid Rock’s Big Honky Tonk, Honky Tonk Central, Rippy’s Bar & Grill and several other properties on Lower Broadway.

Tootsie’s owner Steve Smith and the Metro Nashville government have butted heads in recent years, particularly over rules during the early months of the coronavirus pandemic. Smith sued the metro government when they suspended beer permits at several of his establishments in June 2020.

Rep. Bill Beck, D-Nashville, said the legislation is the latest attempt by Republican lawmakers and business interests to capitalize on the “hate for Nashville.”

“We shouldn’t be bringing legislation because certain bar owners want it,” Beck said. “I don’t understand why we need this.”

Rep. Johnny Garrett, R-Goodlettsville (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)
Rep. Johnny Garrett, R-Goodlettsville (Photo: Tennessee General Assembly)

Rep. Johnny Garrett, R-Goodlettesville, and Sen. Paul Bailey, R-Sparta, are sponsoring the legislation. A House subcommittee heard the bill for the first time last week, delaying a vote until March 15 as Garrett tries to fix some of the language in the bill’s amendment. 

The legislation is part of a caption bill, a type of placeholder bill lawmakers use to propose last-minute legislation. 

Garrett told the Lookout the bill would provide “more oversight” of bars on Lower Broadway, citing that half the liquor by the drink sales in Tennessee occur in Nashville and a vast majority of those in the tourism development zone.

“There are probably going to be some bars that don’t want to be under the alcoholic beverage commission,” Garrett said. “But, I think overwhelming the majority of ones that have a high volume of activity and patrons welcome this kind of change to help out with that regulation.”

The bill is the latest attempt from Tennessee Republicans to remove regulation authority from the Metro Nashville government and comes as the relationship between the two bodies is at its lowest. 

Lawmakers approved legislation to cut the size of the Metro Council in half and are moving through bills to take over Nashville’s airport board and sports authority, which oversees professional sports stadiums. 

Garrett and Bailey are also sponsoring the bill on the sports authority.

Smith declined to comment for this story, but the lobbying group representing the business provided a statement from Toostie’s.

“With downtown Nashville accounting for almost half of all on-premise consumption for the entire state, this bill creates a higher standard of safety for a high-consumption area and also addresses past instances where establishments were double-regulated by local agencies,” Toostie’s statement said.



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Adam Friedman
Adam Friedman

Adam Friedman is a reporter with the Tennessee Lookout. He has a particular love for data and using numbers to explain all kinds of topics. If you have a story idea, he'd love to hear it. Email him at [email protected] or call him at 615-249-8509.