It All Comes Out in The Wash
Jamie Rubin's impossible dream gets a team
Jamie Rubin stands onstage with compadre Chris Autry, taking in the avocado-colored walls and far more open space at 626A Main St. He looks at his friend, smiles and nods, then, bringing his right hand down on his guitar, the pair launches into “I’m Goin’ In,” one of Rubin’s originals that he performs with his band, the Carpetbaggers Local 615.
Even with expanded space, hours, and menu, the new Wash still comes down to one thing: Rubin’s gregarious, empowering nature. Sure, there’re 12 beers on draft running the gamut of local and imported, and four batch cocktails on tap, as well a tap for four white wines (one sparkling) and three reds. But don’t let the fancy fool you.
Beyond the quirk, the funk, the “please excuse” note from Patty Griffin for musicians coming late to a gig from a recording session, The Family Wash really comes down to one thing: Jamie Rubin. Music lover, bon vivant, go-to counsel, and dream empowerer, his personality permeates everything he touches.
“Wherever Jamie goes, it’s going to be The Wash,” says Reeves Gabrels, who’s known the fast-talking Rubin since they started out in bands around Boston. “The idiosyncrasy follows him. … He’s going to have to buy more strands of Christmas lights to cover the ceiling. The Wash has a sound desk (laughter), but if someone was to blindfold you, spin you around, you could still find everything, you’d just have to walk a little more.”
Gabrels, a longtime creative foil for David Bowie, has spent the last few years between Nashville and London as guitarist for The Cure. But going back to his tenure in Jinx, a Pat Benatar-leaning heavy metal band, where he met a kid who looked like Mark Bolan, playing a 12-string bass — like Tom Petersson — in a Cheap Trick cover band, he recognizes Ruben’s passion and relentless pursuit of music as a driver for what made The Family Wash so special.
“The first couple times I played Nashville, I played there,” Gabrels recalls by phone from London. “It was the only place I could play; he was the only guy who’d book me. I remember playing for 20 people some nights, but he didn’t care. The last few times, it was packed — and people were leaving ’cause they just couldn’t get in. And it was like that with [Rubin’s other band] Sons of Zevon, too.
“So, what do you do? I’d bugged him for years . . . . ‘You’re only open 6 ’til midnight. You could be doing so much more.’ He had help, but it was really a one-man operation — and that’s a lot. Now he has partners — he can stay open, do breakfast, lunch, interesting things.”
Jamie Rubin, the journeyman musician and beloved barista from Fido, decided he wanted something more, wanted to stake his claim. He never intended to create the epicenter of hip at the corner of Greenwood Avenue and Porter Road when he opened a local dive he hoped would become a neighborhood watering hole. Of course when your friends include Audley Freed, Jen Gunderman, Chris Autry, Elizabeth Cook, and Gabrels, it won’t be long ’til you’re the cool place to congregate.
Suddenly his joint for a pint ’n’ pie turned into a destination. The destination’s momentum turned into a clamor. Freight-packed many nights, regulars grumbled they couldn’t get in, sound had to be run from the stage, the backup singers had to stand in the hall by the bathroom because the stage was too small, and there was never enough room when it was full. It created a chaotic, over-stuffed, Max’s Kansas City vibe.
There were troubles with the aggressive surprise health inspection that scared off customers. The building was in sketchy shape. But it was where everybody came. What else could one do?
Enter Brett McFadyen, who said, “You should talk to my friend Christian Paro,” recalls Rubin, sitting in Fido several weeks ago as the new Wash is being finished out. “He’s bought a new building with creative suites upstairs — and he’s looking for a restaurant.”
Bigger, newer, needing a build out. The salt-and-pepper-haired, compression-built rocker knew this was bigger than he was. But always one to walk through the doors that presented themselves, it wasn’t like he didn’t know people.
Talking to longtime Kentucky Headhunters manager and his once-upon-a-time Fido customer Mitchell Fox, they started looking at larger framing. Fox knew Garage Coffee’s Robert Camardo — the notion of a hybrid seemed to open up the possibilities.
Camardo bought in. Beyond the bar fare and live music, which had been staples, Garage Coffee would open an outpost in the “new Wash.” Upon entering the building, a counter devoted to Garage’s single blend of coffee would greet patrons, making a coffee shop within the larger whole.
“It’s the same bar as The Wash, but where you make the turn, that’s where the Garage/ Wash separate counter is,” Rubin enthuses. “And there’s a second bar, where one side is counter height and the other is standing, so you can grab your coffee and sit there. You can have meetings, or hang out.”
Indeed, the new seating order — with the giant community table specially built for the new enterprise in the front — will allow a modularity the original Wash couldn’t provide. In the main room, there are banquettes along the back and far walls, and tables in the middle that can become one giant table for large parties.
And yes, the stage — built by Chark Kinsolving — is still right there.
Given the rock passionista’s conviviality, everything about the new and expanded Wash will contribute to an environment where friendships will still be born and hanging out encouraged, but now there will be room to breathe while you do it.
Seeing the concept of strength-in-numbers, especially with the burgeoning population explosion all over the 6-1-5, Rubin realized The Family Wash could stay the genius local tavern/dive and expand its cozy, quirky reach in new and different ways. It made sense, and if you’re going to dream, dream big.
Though The Wash served other things, who ate anything but the shepherd’s pie? A classic comfort food, hearty meat-and-potatoes fare, it was the standard — and often the other reason — people trekked from West Meade or Franklin to the cramped room with the tchotchkes everywhere.
Suddenly, Rubin & Co. realized they could keep the pie and reach for the sky. Always friendly with John Stephenson, Fido’s longtime executive chef, general manager, and creator of the near-legendary Local Burger, Rubin reached out in a more concrete way.
“I’d always gone to John for advice — about the kitchen, staffing,” Rubin explains. “He’d been coming in to Fido as I was leaving, but we had this relationship — and he’s so smart about food. When I saw what this new space was becoming, I wanted him to be part of it.”
Stephenson was ready to embrace the larger context of cooking. Exiting Fido, the Nashville-born former record producer/ band manager/high school English teacher wanted the opportunity to build a kitchen to his vision, create a menu that leaned into his local food-driven, creative-pairing oriented sensibility.
Simple things — like potatoes — come in staggering variations. Butter-poached, deepfried new potatoes, fresh potato chips, but especially sweet potato gaufrettes (wafers) with a walnut-horseradish sauce speak to the creativity going into a menu where breakfast/ lunch/snacks/dinner are served all day, every day.
A family man among family men, Stephenson and Co. agreed not to insult kids with a children’s menu. “Rather than do that, we’re going to just do smaller portions at a smaller price for kids,” he says. “I’d rather treat children like real customers and give them that respect.”
The Wash will also give people soon-tobe staples like semolina and spinach green biscuits with fried green tomatoes, cheddar/ Havarti pimento cheese and grilled jalapeno mayo, grits ‘n’ (sausage or herb) gravy, chicken pot pie, fish sticks, or a simple fish dinner.
“We’re going to source from the neighborhood as much as possible,” Stephenson reports. “We’re trying to figure the balance out on desserts, because it’s a compact kitchen — and there are some great bakers here. But for the most part, what you eat is prepped, cooked, and prepared here.”
The menu is versatile, classic, basic in an elevated way. But beyond the Garage Coffee, the new bar, the improved kitchen, and focused menu, as well as the room to breathe, The Family Wash is destined to remain what is above all: a place for locals and music lovers to congregate in the name of a good time.
“Jamie created a spot he thought was cool,” Gabrels reflects about the unlikely hotspot’s origins. “That it became the musicians hangout in East Nashville — that was not his intention, but that’s also Jamie! He draws musicians to him, because he is one — and he understands. So by creating a place that’s a lot like his parents’ basement [where the two recorded as young men], he made a spot where we were all happy. It felt comfortable to hang there.”
Considering the history, it’s a little more than that. Rubin gets it, even if he’s shy about owning the real estate of being “that place” in the bull’s-eye of hipster cool. “A lot of things were born there — just from some stupid little conversation. Somebody would have an idea, and I’d say, ‘DO IT!’
“Hags [ James Haggerty] had the idea about doing a bossa nova night or Jenn sitting at the bar, saying, ‘What would you think about playing the Vince Guaraldi record in its entirety over Christmas?’ . . . I’m a musician; I know a lot of musicians. I’m fortunate enough to be able to, ‘Yes! Yeah! Great!’ That’s the fun of this place — and we can do it even more now.”
Rubin’s voice rises, takes on speed. He is fired up, and in his sweet spot. “Sons of Zevon was that way,” he continues. “Audley and Reeves were there late one night talking about Warren Zevon. Audley said, ‘The world changed when Zevon died,’ how no one ever talks about him. That started it. Then we did Neil Young; six months later, Tom Petty. …”
Like everything Rubin embraces, enthusiasm follows. His booking practices drew music lovers, word spread, space got tight. Beyond the hassle of the business, there were always friends, music to be played, and his Carpetbaggers Local 615. When the crossroads came, so did an opportunity. Teaming with Fox, Camardo, and Stephenson, his little juke-joint-that-could takes on a new realm and reason.
Yes, it is bigger, but in many ways, it’s the same. Yes, it accommodates more people, but for all the nights you crawled over someone to get close enough to the bar to get a beer, the breathing room will be appreciated. Yes, it is newer, crisper cleaner, but it will be broken in, no doubt, by the regulars who are missing their fix of pint ’n’ pie ’n’ conversation.
And there’s also the “office,” which will serve as band green room and recording studio. For all the storied music made at the original Wash, now there will be the ability to record — and even video — for the ages, then return to capture overdubs, vocals, or mix. At the end of the day, spontaneity and the moment are still what drive Jamie Rubin.
“Every Tuesday night at 11, Jamie gets up and does a set of his own material,” Gabrels says with true affection. “He’s a lifer. For him, it’s still about the music, even though he owns a club. That’s still music, just with food and service and running a business. Music is still the fuel for everything he does.”