For four years, guests have been throwing back drinks in the basement of The Sutler Saloon. Starting today, they can visit that exact same space, operated by the exact same company, but find a totally different name atop their cocktail menu.
That’s because the Sutler’s cellar has officially been transformed into Rambler Cocktail Bar, a new concept from A.Ray Hospitality, the restaurant company helmed by noted restaurateur Austin Ray and best known for its M.L.Rose chain of sports bars.
It makes the third new bar for the company in a year, following the October 2017 opening of Von Elrod’s Beer Garden & Sausage House in Germantown and the December unveiling of the new M.L.Rose at Capitol View. In a phone interview Tuesday, hours before Rambler’s doors flung open for the first time, Ray said that while the renovation of Rambler was a much quicker process than a typical bar opening — the Sutler’s basement space closed for just about three weeks — creating the new brand was just as “challenging” as any other project.
In fact, embracing that challenge is part of the reason Ray decided to open Rambler. The basement of the Sutler had a certain “wow factor,” Ray said, but it had never received the “intentional” approach to branding and concept design Ray’s team brings elsewhere. With the maturation of Nashville’s overall cocktail scene and the growing vibrancy of entertainment options in the Melrose neighborhood, Ray decided the time was right to rethink, rebrand and reopen the basement as its own destination.
Even though it’s in a basement inside another restaurant, Rambler isn’t designed to be a mysterious speakeasy. A.Ray is embracing the phrase “hard to find, easy to love,” when it comes to describing the bar, and if guests make their way down the stairs at the Sutler they’ll find a large, inviting entryway welcoming them to Rambler.
The space has been remodeled and refurnished, in a way Ray said fills the “deceptively large” area with multiple comfortable spots for guests to kick back and order a cocktail. There is food on the menu, and the staff will provide table service, something Ray said will differentiate Rambler from other cocktail bars.
Overall, Ray, a big booster of the Melrose neighborhood where he opened the first M.L.Rose a decade ago, said he sees Rambler as rounding out a strong suite of dining offerings in the area. Several of those are affiliated with Ray — along with partners Joe Parkes, Jr., David Parkes and Gary Parkes of The Parkes Companies., he owns a trio of restaurants in the Melrose mixed-use building alone, including Rambler, The Sutler and Melrose Billiard Parlor.
Ray expects to tinker and shift things at Rambler based on customer feedback, but as it stands now, he thinks he’s delivered on his vision.
“The basement bar is a challenge and an opportunity,” Ray said. “It’s challenging to get it right, which I think we’ve done. … It’s a place that you can really escape.”