“I was paying $1,525 for a bedroom in a loft in Manhattan. I moved here, found a one-bedroom for $825, and everybody’s like, ‘That’s expensive,’ and I’m like, ‘not by my standards!’ To people like me, from New York, people from Los Angeles, Chicago, that’s super affordable. It’s our fault the rents went up! And I absolutely own it. But everybody’s friendlier here, it’s nicer, cleaner, there isn’t just crime and mayhem and garbage on the streets. Things are greener. You can be somewhere far away from downtown in 15 minutes. And I don’t have to smell pee in the streets anymore.” — Amy Dee Richardson
Amy Dee Richardson is the lively major domo of Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge in Madison. Yes, Madison. It was a brilliant investment for the future because all the classic East Nashville bohos who’ve made the place what it is are being priced out and migrating, and the more it happens, the more that happenings and people are going to shift outward to Madison. “I moved to Nashville October of 2013, and I opened Dee’s doors to the public on Oct. 21 of 2016,” Richardson says. “And it could not have happened if I hadn’t become friends with Andy Gaines, who owns Mickey’s Tavern. I would get out of work at my fancy restaurant job at Adele’s, I would roll into Mickey’s and pitch a bitch about my night, and I just hung out there, got to know Andy more; then I met his wife, and then we opened this spot.”
Before it was Dee’s, it was a roughneck local watering hole, and not the homogenous spot it is now. “There was nowhere for anybody to hang out up here, that was nonsmoking, people felt safe, chicks could come in by themselves and not have to worry about some dudes bothering them,” Richardson says. “But it took a minute, the word had to spread. And now we have just the most badass collection of people that come in here. Margo Price is in here all the time, and so is Elizabeth Cook, she’s so damn funny. Josh Hedley, just so many of those, I mean, Margo’s sung here a few times, and Lily Mayes has played here twice now, and we get really cool bands in here. I get compliments. One of my regulars tells me that when he’s out of town, he’s really happy that his wife has somewhere to go that he doesn’t have to worry about her while she’s here.”
For such a “new” bar, Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge looks and feels like it’s been here unchanged for decades. Dark and woody, like bars in the upper Midwest, framed photos of Waylon, Willie, Johnny, Dolly, and Hank, and others who only need one name, are lined up on the walls. With the bar on the left as you walk in, there’s plenty space to mingle, and to the right on the other side of a waist-high bulwark is the dance floor, bandstand, and a jukebox that bleeds honky-tonk. With more locals catching onto Dee’s goings-on, higher-end bands and solo artists are finding their way to the place.
A Chicagoan by birth and breeding, Richardson bugged out of the Windy City for the lure of the Big Apple when she was 20 years old, for reasons she is not totally clear on herself all these years later. Fun was one part of the motivation, and Richardson had a great deal of it. She learned to pour drinks in bars, she learned to wait tables, and then she learned how to manage bars and restaurants.
She loved New York because of the constant excitement, the bright lights, and the city that never sleeps. But as the years went by, she came to hate New York because of the constant excitement, the bright lights, and the city that never sleeps. A friend who was a chef in Nashville invited her to come down and check out the scene, so she did, and Richardson knew soon after her visit that she would be back.
What does she love about owning a bar? Why would any sane person ever consider it? “I think my favorite part about owning this place is, yesterday I was walking through the bar and I thought, ‘Man, this place is so cool!’ ” she says. “Looking around at biracial couples, at gay couples hanging out here, straight, everyone’s cool. Some people have the whole ’70s country look going on, and everyone’s in here to have a good time. To be here, I just tell everybody: (a) you have to have money, and (b) you can’t be an asshole. If you can abide by those two rules, then you can hang out at Dee’s.”