Favorite Lil' Dive Bar: Rotiers

Words by Ashley Locke
Photos by Abigail Bobo

Time slows down at Rotier’s; it may even go in reverse. In some ways, it feels like it hasn’t changed since it opened in 1945, because it hasn’t—and that’s the point.

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Its pine-paneled walls are covered with vintage signs and newspaper clippings. It’s the kind of place that makes you feel like a regular on your first visit, as if you’ll find someone from your past tucked into one if its cozy, green-leather booths waiting for you to arrive.

The hole-in-the-wall has been taking care of Nashville locals since the end of WWII. Its original draw was a mix of beer, burgers, pinball, and poker—but when the state of Tennessee made gambling illegal, the founders, John and Evelyn Rotier, made food the focus. And you can taste it.

In those days, Evelyn worked the morning shifts, and John served late-night patrons. After John died in 1981, Evelyn kept running the cash register. She retired in 1996 and passed the business to her children, but she kept popping in to visit until she died in 2014. The original Rotiers are gone, but by now, everyone’s family.

The neon signs in the window read “Steak” and “Seafood,” but don’t be fooled—the real prize is the French-bread burger. It’s just what it sounds like: a burger on French bread instead of a traditional bun, and it’s the dish that made Rotier’s famous. The ground beef is brought in fresh daily, grilled, and topped with a slice of cheese to make a perfectly cozy burger. Just ask Jimmy Buffet, who puts the burger in his top-five favorites—according to one of the newspaper clippings on the wall.

Though the French-bread burger is the star, don’t just glance over the vegetable plates when you visit. The farm-to-table restaurant trend is chic, but there’s something about green beans, fried okra, and squash casserole served Southern-style—with all the butter and oil and calories you can count—that makes Rotier’s a standout dining experience. Everything they offer tastes like home.

The place has become a home for businessmen on lunch breaks, Vanderbilt students from down the block, and tourists searching for old-school Music City. Everybody knows the little mom-and-pop joint tucked away in West End is a must-visit.

I like to visit at lunch during a busy day, because, as so many others do, I want to slow things down from time to time. I usually pick a place at the bar towards the front and order the newest thing in the place and the oldest thing—a Yazoo Brew and the famous burger. While Rotier’s takes me back home to a simpler time, what it offers never gets old.