After nearly 32 years in operation, Nashville’s iconic Hermitage Cafe will serve its final late-night meal on Halloween night, October 31. Rumors swirled on social media in late September, after social media posts and real estate records indicated that the site had been sold to an undisclosed party. Owner Sherri Taylor Callahan confirmed that the site had indeed, sold, but it was done so without her knowledge.
In a Facebook post last week, Callahan emphasized that no, they aren’t selling out — they were caught completely unaware. “We were not given the option to buy the property, we did not sell out. I am unsure what the new owner’s plan for the location is. I just know that the Hermitage Cafe will not be part of their future.”
A tornado, a Christmas Day bomb, a flood, an ice storm, and the unending months of closure and solitude due to pandemic — many Nashville residents weathered the year of loss while often comforting themselves during the wee hours of the morning with biscuits and gravy from Hermitage Cafe’s kitchen, takeout meat-and-three meals, and the like. At Hermitage, well-after 3 a.m. post-bar closing visits were the norm — locals might likely wind up at the cash-only diner in the wee hours of the morning to sop up the night with $3.25 biscuits and sausage gravy after far too many “holler and swallers” and zig-zagging through the honky-tonks of Lower Broadway (if you know, you know). And luckily, if they didn’t have cash, they knew there was an ATM right outside.
I know I’m not alone when I felt the stomach pang upon reading of the impending closure. This feels very “new Nashville” — an iconic restaurant will likely be bulldozed to make room for something shiny, tall, and new. Several other classic Nashville spots have been or will be pushed out too: from Rotier’s (RIP French bread cheeseburgers) to Mercy Lounge’s closing and forced relocation. Meanwhile, Cafe Monell in Berry Hill also quickly closed this weekend because they, too, lost their lease.
Grief and tragedy have been a throughline in Nashville’s last 18 months. I know it well — the kind of grief-stricken pit that only a hug or a stiff cocktail or comfort food can help. And it’s exactly the kind of food that Hermitage Cafe has served for decades to everyone from cops and firemen to drunk socialites and songwriters that everyone respected by leaving alone, in the proper (old) Nashville way.
Shields Taylor first opened the diner, which has always welcomed quite an eclectic mix of customers, located a little on the outskirts of downtown at the corner of Hermitage Avenue and Middleton Street. When Taylor died he left it to his widow Pat Taylor. Pat’s daughter Sherri (Taylor) Callahan ensured that the cafe remained open after Pat’s death in 2014 — a legacy to her mother who ran the diner solo for years. In 2015, the diner got a little interior facelift courtesy of the Food Network, which was filming for the show American Diner Revival. It always felt the same, open all night from 10 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. serving breakfast all day (well, night) favorites from country ham, biscuits and gravy, and pancakes alongside patty melts, chopped steak, fried chicken, and fried bologna sandwiches.
According to my iPhone, my last visit to the late-night cafe was after a 2019 Broadway jaunt, timestamped February 1 at 3:18 a.m. I have speckled memories of introducing strangers to the diner and buying their dinner (or breakfast for dinner). My photo shows a patty melt and a heap of blistered hash browns. I can’t remember who was with me on this particular night, but I do know that date. My mother’s birthday was 9 days later, on February 10, 2019, and she passed 19 days later, on February 20. Needless to say, Hermitage Cafe was a comfort to me as I sat in the deep trenches of grief and loss. I’m sure there are countless others who share the long-time Nashville tradition — soaking up all the alcohol with greasy diner fare at Hermitage Cafe alongside musicians, factory workers, and tourists at the historic all-night diner.
“We could have not made it this long if it wasn’t for the amazing community in Nashville. From the police force, EMTs, the fire hall, bartenders, barbacks, starving artists and musicians, to the ones who finally made it big, news guys waiting on the next story, tourists, people who had a few too many, to the ones who just wanted to check us out, and most of all the regulars that over the years we have learned your name and your orders. Thank you. We sincerely would have not made it without you,“ Callahan posted on Hermitage Cafe’s Facebook. The owner urged folks to get out and support the local mom and pop restaurants because “they are being pushed out of town” and thanked her “second family” of employees, who she said are starting a food truck, and hints that perhaps there will be a second shot for Hermitage Cafe — “maybe.”
Several chefs and bartenders in the Nashville industry commented with their own lamentations on posts, while many remain hopeful the diner finds a new location. But will it remain the same?
“If COVID-19 is not closing these places down, gentrification is. Right now mom and pops need the community’s support more than ever. I had amazing community support for 32 years. Thank you again, Nashville,” wrote Callahan.
Hermitage sold hundreds of T-shirts last week ahead of its closure; if you missed out on those, you still have time to support the business until its final hours on October 31.