Merritt Hawkins is the coolest chick on Broadway, trust us. She’s always slingin’ drinks as fast as they can get ordered, and day-drinkers are her specialty. We got a chance to sit down with her and talk about her former career on Broadway (the performing arts version) and her current life on the strips of Lower Broadway in Nashville. You can find her at AJ’s Good Time Bartypically during the daytime hours.
RR: You’re one of the most recognizable bartenders on Broadway. A lot of it is because you’re tall, and some of it is because of your awesome (sometimes purple) hair. What else sets you apart from other bartenders?
Merritt: Well, thanks for sayin’ that about me! I started bartending at Rippy’s in 2008 and worked there for two-and-a-half years, and got a lot of regulars back then who live in Nashville who have followed me over the years. I try to be as efficient as I can to get people drinks and I try to connect with everyone! No matter where anyone is from I want to make sure they have a great experience at my bar!
RR: When you moved to town, you were coming off a pretty successful dancing career. Tell us about that career and what you did before coming to Nashville.
Merritt: Yes sir, when I moved to Nashville I had just gotten off of the Broadway tour of “Sweet Charity” which Molly Ringwald was the star. I started dancing when I was four years old in Louisville, went to a performing arts high school, danced in college and majored in Musical Theater at Point Park in Pittsburgh and after two years of school got a job at Disney World. I ended up getting to be in two Broadway shows and two Broadway tours. As a dancer, for most of us, Broadway is our ultimate goal and I am so blessed to be able to live that out! All of it was a dream come true and I can’t believe I actually got to live it!
RR: You’re married to a former pro basketball player turned musician. How did you guys meet?
Merritt: Matt and I met downtown here in Nashville years ago. I was working at Bootleggers and my husband says that he walked past with his friends and said, “I wanna marry that girl someday!” I was bartending with a mutual friend of ours, we were both in relationships, and once we were both single we ran into each other, two days later went on a date, and ran to the courthouse and secretly got married two months later. In August we will be married five years!
RR: Working for Alan Jackson must be really cool. We hear he spends some time at the bar and this Christmas he gave some of the employees a trip to see him in concert. How cool is it having AJ as your “boss”?
Merritt: Working for Alan Jackson is very special to say the least. He got all of the employees a bus and we drove to Lexington, and were VIPs to the opening night of his tour! We all got to meet him. He was very nice and he made us feel very special. VIP Room, VIP bar, tickets in the pit! It was amazing! What other bar owner does that for his employees? Plus, knowing everyone knows he’s my boss is really awesome too!
RR: Broadway is a tourist attraction, but there are some regulars (including us!)… you and the musicians on Broadway work for tips, but what’s one tip you’d give to someone who’s never been to Lower Broadway before?
Merritt: Check out as many bars as you can! There are so many talented musicians and great bartenders. Every bar has a different atmosphere and different kinds of music. Then, pick your favorites and go back to those!
RR: You’re learning to play bass guitar (left-handed!) as we’ve seen from your Instagram! Why have you always wanted to play bass?
Merrirr: I’ve always secretly had a passion and wanted to learn bass. My husband got me an Ibanez for Christmas this year! It was so cute, he forgot I was left handed and got me this right handed beautiful bass and then had to return it. I can’t read music, but I’m having a blast learning! Maybe one day you’ll see me playing on Broadway, the Nashville Broadway that is!
RR: Give us your favorite drink recipe.
Merritt: My favorite drink to make for my AJ’s customers is the Hoochie Coochie! Come visit so you can give it a try! If I’m out drinking a cocktail, I always order the classic, Negroni.