“In victory, you deserve Champagne,” said Napoleon. “In defeat, you need it.”
Rumours Wine Bar in the Gulch needs a healthy pour of bubbly this week. Despite the best efforts of all involved, the latest iteration of our favorite wine bar closed its doors yesterday, and I find myself, once again, writing a eulogy for a favorite watering hole.
The backstory: When I learned in winter of 2012 that Rumours in 12South would soon close, displaced by a four-story mixed-use development, I mourned a little. Here’s an excerpt from the emotionally overwrought essay I posted the day I found out about Rumours’ imminent demise:
I’ve enjoyed many happy moments at “our” little wine bar..It’s where I celebrated my 40th birthday, and where Hal and I shared hundreds of glasses of wine, and philosophical conversation, with friends from all over the world.
If you’ve never fallen in love with some little watering hole, it may be difficult to understand why people might mourn at one’s passing. I probably won’t be able to explain it to you. To start, you might try doing a little background study: read The Tender Bar, J.R. Moehringer’s memoir about his hometown pub in Long Island. That pub raised him; it laid his history’s cornerstone. At its best, a neighborhood bar can become just that—a character in your life story, an ever-changing repository of plot twists, a constant volley of escalating tales, practiced and perfected.
I was cautiously hopeful that Rumours’ creators could remake that same neighborhood-y, twinkly-light magic elsewhere. And to be honest, when I first walked into the new space on Division, I thought, just maybe, that they’d pulled it off. The lovely but restrained build-out warmed up the boxy, new-construction aesthetic immeasurably. The kitchen boldly went where it had not gone before, with delicious results. But most of all, I remained hopeful because I believed in the people who created Rumours. I believed in their ability to weave their magic once again.
For Hal and me, they most certainly had. In the past year and a half, we’ve enjoyed many delightful hours on Rumours’ gorgeously gardened-up patio, despite the cheerless Gulch-y surroundings (and the noisy belchings of ventilated kitchen air onto the patio—which architect’s idea was that?)
But magic spells don’t work the same on all people.
Co-owner Jenn Doherty McCarthy, tireless weaver of magic spells, had this to say by way of farewell—as always, positive and upbeat:
“We would like to thank everyone who supported us over the last year and a half. We need to thank our fantastic staff, loyal and regular patrons, and all of the local businesses we worked with. Our time in the Gulch was fantastic. Being part of this community has meant the world to us.”
I don’t know the full story of why Rumours on Division St. had to close this week. But it’s easy to surmise that moving from 12South to the Gulch meant giving up 12South foot traffic and neighborhood loyalty and gaining, in return, the high lease rates of Nashville’s nice-try “new urbanism.” The Gulch may be the up-and-coming, almost hot-spot. But for now, at least, Rumours’ back-corner slot in the Icon isn’t exactly center stage. And it’s likely that the bizarre new pay-on-delivery alcohol law for liquor-by-the-drink businesses that went into effect last spring did not help with any small independent restaurant’s cashflow issues.
Besides all those bottom-line difficulties, there are the intangibles: How do you recreate that your-best-friend’s-old-house atmosphere below a new hi-rise condo? How do you retool a beloved neighborhood wine bar on a charmless Gulch side street? It’s probably beyond the creative abilities of most folks, but to my mind, Jenn Doherty McCarthy, Tammy Webb-Baker, and Christy Shuff* did a pretty stellar job of it.
With a nod to the success of The 404 Kitchen (and best wishes to Prima), the Gulch district isn’t exactly a neighborhood, per se. Sure, it’s a nice shot at a “new urban” living space, but not one you can easily love. I’d hoped Rumours could make the place a little more lovable. That wine bar was the only Gulch locale that motivated me to jump on a bike and coast down 12th on a sunny weekday afternoon, and it was the only patio within biking/walking range (save the 12South Taproom) where Hal and I could enjoy a long patio evening of holding court with a rotating cast of characters—and the happy serendipity that accompanies those ensemble-cast nights.
Maybe we’ll find another sun-drenched home-away-from-home patio. But more importantly, I wish Rumours’ owners and staff well. I hope they land on their feet, and I say a giant “thank you” to them for the warm welcomes, glasses of wine poured with verve and sass, and overall excellence they exuded whenever we were in their midst. They did not serve us; they hosted us, as friends and colleagues. And they are invited to the Halcyon Garden patio anytime they care to drop by. I’m pouring.
“Accept what life offers you and try to drink from every cup. All wines should be tasted; some should only be sipped, but with others, drink the whole bottle.” —Paulo Coelho
*note: Shuff is no longer affiliated with Rumours in the Gulch. She’s working on a new bar in The Nations, which should open in the next few months.
12South Flats Ready to Roll (Nashville Post)
The Hills Have Eyes (Nashville Scene)