sisters

A Perfect Mix

How two sisters, once distant, are electrifying Nashville’s cocktail scene, one trendsetting bar at a time.

These days, it’s not easy to get the Soler sisters sitting still in a room together. It’s understandable, given that they have three bars to run in various corners of Nashville. But when it does happen—even if it’s over caffeine instead of tequila—the conversation will likely turn to cocktails. 

“I think some of our best drinks come from working together,” says Britt Soler, 30, the younger sister by 5 1/2 years. 

Alexis agrees, and it gets them reminiscing about a favorite: the Beet Happening: mezcal, Greek yogurt, fresh beets, citrus, a touch of agave, and a sprig of dill. 

“It was a cool drink,” Britt says, a little wistfully. “It was a pretty one.”

“We should bring it back,” Alexis says. 

But Britt quickly objects: “No. Everyone would be so upset.” 

By everyone, she means her staff. The bartenders at Old Glory, where Britt spends much of her time these days, turn out hundreds of craft cocktails a night. Where a customer might see a cool drink, Britt just imagines everyone covered in beet juice. 

But the debate is hardly the start of a sisters’ quarrel. If anything, the bar business, with all its quirks and drama and late nights, has brought them closer. After a period of hardly knowing one another growing up, Britt moved to Nashville after college to help Alexis, then 28, and her partner open their first bar, No. 308. A few years later, the sisters opened Old Glory, and in July, they partnered with others on their latest venture: Flamingo Cocktail Club. In just under a decade, the Soler sisters have helped transform Nashville’s cocktail culture. But they’ll say it’s about more than just creating surprising spaces and providing fresh drinks. It’s about fulfilling a family legacy built on a strong work ethic, dedication, and loyalty. 

Flamingo Cocktail Club / Falcon Coffee Bar

Established 2018

At 10 p.m. on a recent Thursday at Flamingo Cocktail Club, a DJ spins The Isley Brothers from the balcony of what was once a church. The lights are low and the vibe chill in the “sanctuary” below, where curved couches snake through the space under vaulted ceilings webbed with a pattern of richly stained wood. Plants, coupled with shades of turquoise and rose, make the club feel like 1970s Miami, the city where Alexis and Britt were raised, along with partner Angela Laino, who headed up the design and programming for Flamingo with Alexis. The sisters have a knack for taking inspiration from the bones and history of a place and adding their own style in ways that make sense in the now. 

As couples order cocktails and friends pop in for tequila shots, Alexis fluffs cushions on the patio out back. Earlier, she’d been developing a new cocktail menu, and soon she’ll meet with a new hire in the kitchen. Yes, it’s nearly midnight, but as Alexis puts it, she’s really “gettin’ it” at Flamingo right now. With a coffee shop and café called Falcon Coffee Bar in the front part of the space, the business is open “19 to 20 hours a day,” she says. “That’s a lot.”

Flamingo sits in an up-and-coming part of town called Wedgewood-Houston (WeHo for short). Industrial-looking buildings in the area have been morphing into restaurants, galleries, and artist spaces. But the condos going up around Flamingo aren’t on the market yet, and the Solers and their partners are definitely on the pioneering side of things in the neighborhood—just as they were with No. 308 in East Nashville. Alexis arrived in town in 2009 and Britt in 2010, a few years before Nashville became “it city,” and they’ve stayed on the front edge of what’s hot here ever since. At 308, for instance, the sisters and co-owner Ben Clemons made their own sodas before others were doing it, with a noisy CO2 gas line and repurposed plastic bottles. They juiced fruit and made tonic syrup. They were the first in town to take cocktail culture away from the speakeasy-style experience, with its velvet curtains and waitlists, and move toward creating more approachable environments focused on fun. You could still order a craft cocktail from the menu, but you could also order a shot (with a creative name and fruit chaser) and beer. 

“I shouldn’t have all this,” says Alexis, describing how she dropped out of high school and skipped college. But plenty of people in Nashville would disagree. She’s worked hard alongside her sister, transforming unlikely and sometimes forgotten spaces into some of the city’s most vibrant and innovative bars. 

Matt Buttel of Nashville Bar Alliance (formerly Nashville Ice Lab) works with cocktail-related clients to provide scratch ingredients, ice, menu design, and development. He says the Solers created places that people seek out when they come to Nashville. They opened 308, for example, beyond the Five Points area of East Nashville. “It was a big deal that they took a chance.”  

He also says 308 was one of the early bars in Nashville to combine craftsman-ship with volume, and all the while, Alexis and Britt have been intentional about spending a lot of time at their bars. “They’re actually involved in making sure clients have a great time—providing real hospitality.”

Looking at the siblings these days, it’s surprising to learn a time existed when they weren’t close. Both sisters describe themselves as “feelers” and have more introverted tendencies than you might expect for people who work so closely with the public. Days off, which might happen on Sundays, for example, are sacred. 

For their differences, they might disagree most on who’s the most shy. “I’m totally more shy,” Britt says. “She’s more spontaneous.” But they’re both understated, she adds. And when they collaborate, there’s not a lot of bossing, but a lot of volleying: “What if we did this?”

Alexis found the bar business early, which initially created a family divide. “I was kind of a horrible child, and I moved out of the house very young,” she says. “I was on this very selfish, self-destructive path when I was younger, so I think that created a disconnect between us.” 

When the owner of a club where she had been hanging out asked if she wanted a job, Alexis took it, eager to get behind the bar and start learning. 

“I was attracted to how people [there] were and how it seemed so free and fun,” Alexis says. “Our family is super not-fun. I don’t want to say rigid, but there’s a seriousness that comes with who we are … We are inherently serious.” 

Meanwhile, Britt, just a preteen at the time, took a different path. 

“I grew up watching her do her thing, and I’m like, ‘I’m good. I’m going to be a Girl Scout until I’m 17,’” she says, and she’s not exaggerating. “It’s everyone’s favorite fact about me. I went to college. I did the whole thing. It’s funny—despite our disconnect, we came back together.”

After their parents divorced, Alexis broke up with her boyfriend and Britt left school for a summer, moving back into their mother’s house. “It was like a weird Three’s Company,” Britt says. 

“We had a really good summer,” Alexis adds. She had made her way through the Miami bar scene to take a job at the Florida Room at the posh Delano hotel, but decided to leave for a fresh start in Nashville. “Then I asked Britt if she wanted to come.” 

No. 308

Established 2010

No. 308 opened in East Nashville along a rough-looking stretch of Gallatin Avenue, in the same strip of shops as a paint store, a dive bar, and a barbershop. At first, the shotgun space felt sparse, a utilitarian drinking spot with pages from Tom Robbins novels and books by other renegade authors plastered to the bar. An interchangeable marquee between bottles of booze often read: “Sorry About Tomorrow.” 

Alexis opened the bar with Britt’s help, but also with co-owner Ben Clemons, a key figure in Nashville cocktail culture who was also her boyfriend at the time. 

“I met Ben right after I moved here,” she says. A mentor sent her to Tales of the Cocktail, a trade conference in New Orleans for spirits and cocktails, where she shared a room with Clemons and another bartender. Later, when Alexis visited Clemons in New York, they stayed in room No. 308 at the Ace Hotel, which provided their bar’s name. But a fairy tale it was not. 

“We fought, like, pretty much the entire time,” she says of opening their place. “Thank God Britt was there.” 

Despite a breakup in an intense industry, the pair stayed friends and business partners at 308, and Alexis says they couldn’t have made the bar happen without one another.

“We’re so far from that story,” she says now. “It’s like when you’ve been through a lot with somebody, you love them even more at the end of it—or hate them. I don’t know. One of the two. But I have a lot of love for Ben.”

Clemons recently opened a place (with a 308 co-worker and restaurateurs from The Treehouse) called Pearl Diver, a popular tropical-style lounge in a converted midcentury auto garage just up the road from 308. “I’m very proud of his project,” Alexis says. “It’s incredible. It’s very special.” 

Along the way, Britt has, of course, seen it all—the beginnings of bars and endings of relationships, including a marriage and divorce of her own. She still talks about going back to school—maybe for furniture design—and never expected to land in the bar business the way Alexis did.

She took her first service industry job as a hostess through her sister’s connections in the South Beach service community, but she didn’t fully dive in until coming to Nashville, where Alexis says she picked it up quickly. 

Indeed, at 308’s six-year anniversary party, someone snapped a photo of Britt standing on the bar pouring a shot. It’s a black-and-white image with the bar lit behind her silhouette. It looks like a party to be sure, but in a room that packed—in one of Nashville’s first high-volume craft cocktail bars—you know she’s working too. Both sisters say that ethic comes from their grandfather and mother’s influence.

“Part of what makes it natural for us to take on businesses is maybe because we grew up around family business,” Britt says. In 1949, their great-grandfather started a company called Miami Cash Register, and their mother runs the business today. “As a kid, that was really embarrassing when all your friends’ parents were like doctors and lawyers, and you’re like, ‘My mom sells cash registers.’” 

These days, the Soler sisters appreciate their late grandfather’s commitment to detail and good service. “To me, it’s the culture of owning something and having standards,” Britt says. 

And Alexis adds that she’s never worked a job where she didn’t feel ownership over the place. She appreciates the freedom entrepreneurship provides, and the Solers, who both have artistic hobbies like drawing and design, value the creativity in their businesses—not only in inventing cocktails but also in problem-solving and navigating personalities.

Thinking back on it all, Britt starts to get nostalgic, a little teary even—something the Solers say rarely happens. Britt recalls a recent trip to New Orleans that happened around the same time as the Tales of the Cocktail conference.

“I texted you and was like, ‘Walking these streets reminds me of you,’” Britt says to Alexis. “I’m forever indebted to you for introducing me to this industry, for the person it makes you, and the people it introduces you to, and the world it introduces you to. Nothing is better than that.” She stops for a beat and then adds, “That said, I’m always trying to find a way out.” 

“I was waiting for that,” says Alexis. 

Old Glory

Established 2016

No matter how many times a person goes to Old Glory, descending the curved, golden-railed staircase into the old boiler room feels like discovering a secret party of pretty people. Votives light the way up and down the stairs and into the nooks and crannies, softening the brick, concrete, and steel in the dimly lit room.

While Old Glory’s actual footprint is small (the bar has about 10 seats and a few booths), the space soars with a roof extending 60 feet overhead. A smokestack, a remnant of the building’s former life as a steam-cleaning operation, reaches to the ceiling like a piece of accidental art. Behind it, from about five stories up, ivy streams down the brick wall. Two small balconies overlook the action at the bar, where people sip rum with grapefruit and coconut or Gibson’s with gin and the crunch of vermouth onion. There’s no grander place to drink and hang out in Nashville. 

Though it might have been difficult for some to imagine a bar in this gritty, unusually shaped space, Britt and Alexis say it came easily for them. They had been searching for spaces for over a year when they finally found the right spot.

“We were super synced up,” Alexis says. “I’ll never forget that moment.”

“We just walked around quiet,” Britt adds, recalling when they were left alone in Old Glory for a time. “I feel like we just knew it.”

On a recent Thursday night at Old Glory, Britt shook drinks, poured shots, and welcomed friends, all while keeping one eye on a bar three-deep and the other on the door.

Then, when the clock moved past midnight, the DJ deviated from hip-hop to pump up the crowd on ’80s pop. Whitney Houston sang, “I wanna dance with somebody,” and the floor became a whirl of leopard print, stilettos, and stripes with drinks held overhead. For at least the next few moments, the revelers at Old Glory were onstage, too, dancing under a massive coal hopper, divorced from reality, and escaping into the Soler sisters’ world. 

Get in the Spirit

Mix up a few inventive cocktails courtesy of Alexis and Britt Soler.

1

The Parker

  • 1½ ounces High West Double Rye whiskey
  • ¾ ounce Amaro Segesta
  • ¼ ounce Benedictine
  • ¼ ounce St. George Bruto Americano

Add all ingredients to a mixing glass. Stir, and then pour into a rocks glass. Garnish with grapefruit zest.

The Grove

  • 1½ ounces Granny Smith–infused Fords gin*
  • ¾ ounce lemon juice
  • ¾ ounce simple syrup
  • ¼ ounce Luxardo Bitter

Add all ingredients to a shaker. Shake, and then strain into a Collins glass. Top with soda, and garnish with a generous selection of garden herbs.

*Granny Smith–infused Fords gin: Add 3 cups chopped Granny Smith apples to a large mason jar. Fill remainder with Fords gin to cover the apples. Seal and let sit for two weeks.

Birdie

  • 1½ ounces Reyka vodka
  • ¾ ounce fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ ounce simple syrup 
  • ½ ounce pineapple juice
  • ½ ounce Tempus Fugit Liqueur de Violettes

Add all ingredients to a shaker. Shake, and then strain into a chilled coupe glass. Garnish with dried flowers.

Dagger

  • 1½ ounces Banhez mezcal
  • ¾ ounce Ancho Reyes chile liqueur
  • ½ ounce passionfruit puree
  • ½ ounce agave syrup* 
  • ¼ ounce fresh lime juice

Add all ingredients to a shaker. Shake, and then strain into a rocks glass.
Garnish with a lime wheel and chile.

*Combine 1 part agave and 1 part water. Combine in a sealed container and shake until agave and water are fully incorporated.

Cougar

  • 1½ ounces Amontillado sherry
  • 1½ ounces Averna amaro
  • 1 pinch kosher salt

Add all ingredients to mixing glass. Stir, and then pour into a chilled Nick and Nora glass. Garnish with lemon zest.


Jennifer Justus is a Nashville-based freelance writer and author of Nashville Eats (Abrams). Email her at jenniferjustus8@gmail.com.

Photography by Stephen DeVries

Originally Published December 2018