Bye Bye Birdie: 3 Crow Bar No More
Jaime Miller talks with the former 3 Crow Bar crew about community and saying goodbye to an East Nashville staple.
Nothing lasts forever. And although the building still stands, the bar known as 3 Crow Bar was forever changed when longtime General Manager, Dava Nunley, and Owner, Bill Carney, were removed from operations within days of each other. After being forced to fire his long time manager and friend, Bill Carney received an unexpected and rather impersonal phone call on New Year’s Eve letting him know he’d been replaced. And while this is disputed by the bar’s lawyer, Micheal Killen, those close to the event maintain its truth.
Rumors and accusations started flying. The following Tuesday, new management met with what remained of the 3 Crow team, bringing new staff in tow. The situation with Bill and Dava was explained and although most were given the option, no one chose to stay, save the kitchen manager that was employed there for seven years, who quit three days later.
The public outcry was deafening. #ban3crow was trending all over social media.
According to sources close to the matter, poor sales in 2020 and an appetite for a new direction drove the other two “crows”, Ric Clarke and Kelly Jones who together also own the Red Door Saloons, as well as Jones owning the Broadway Brewhouse & Mojo Grill concepts, to make the business decision, turning the sixteen-year-old neighborhood staple on its head.
I worked at 3 Crow Bar for 10 years. Seeing my former coworkers and friends displaced after so many years of service, especially in the middle of this pandemic, feels personal. Judging from the outpouring of support and the shock from the East Nashville community, it’s personal for a lot of folks. This was more than just some bar. This was the Hub of the neighborhood. We built a home there for the community over time. We did it with love and we had a hell of a time! The best people came to see us. There was magic in that place. It’s something that can’t be recreated, and we were so lucky to be a part of it together.
Now that the dust has settled a bit I wanted to at least give the staff, my friends, a chance to share their thoughts on what happened and to update everyone on where they have landed.
I met up with the staff at a happy hour (masks up!) hosted by the former manager of 3 Crow Bar for 13 years and founder of East CAN Chilli Cook-off, Wayne Hanan, who emphasized how well the staff took care of their community as well as each other, to hear their thoughts. “Even at your worst,” he said, “ 3 Crow Bar loved you. We were a safe place for the community. We watched out for our customers and each other.”
“They tore apart our family. They broke my heart. There was just no way to recover from that and carry on.” says Maha Robert.
It was indeed a family, just ask Brandy “Legs” Brassfield who would’ve worked there forever. In 2017 she broke her ankle and was unable to work for 8 months. “I was devastated and so afraid. I knew there was no way they could hold my job, but everyone pulled together and worked my shifts until I could come back. One of our regulars even started a meal train for me. It was unbelievable.”
This is what community and family are.
Under the leadership of Bill Carney and Dava Nunley, there was virtually no employee turnover. Getting a job at 3 Crow was like getting a golden ticket. There were great regulars, a staff that treated each other like family, and a boss who respected his employees and credited his success to them.
That was before the tornado and Covid, of course.
When 3 Crow Bar took a beating during the tornado, it was the staff members like Katie Saddiq that were there 7 days a week cleaning up the glass and repainting it, ready to get back to work. It seems a shame to dismantle a group of people like this, but I suppose we’ll just call it “business” and see how the bar on the corner of 11th and Woodland fares after all the backlash.
This neighborhood, as most people know it now, was built over beers and burgers at the tables of places like Beyond the Edge, Margot Cafe, The 5 Spot, and 3 Crow Bar. For me, it feels as though we have lost another staple of our neighborhood and not for any valid reason, but over something petty and thoughtless.
Of course, it is, in fact, the owners’ right to take the business in any direction they see fit. It isn’t what they did that is so hurtful to the community, it’s how they did it. A bar is a community gathering place and should reflect the values of that community. This is no reflection of the community that built itself in East Nashville.
I reached out to some of that community to get a sense of what they feel about what happened.
“When 3 Crow first opened its doors, we all were grateful for what at the time felt like the nicest non-restaurant bar East of the Cumberland River,” said Melissa Corbin, a food writer, and longtime patron. “It was very much our neighborhood gathering place, not just your everyday watering hole. We celebrated, rallied, and on occasion even mourned together there. But, like most things, its shininess eventually rubbed off. It’s been such a long time since I hung with old friends there. But, when I heard of the recent dissension, I hurt for Bill and the staff who tended to way more than what they poured into our glasses. They tended to the heart of the East Nashville community. Is this indicative of an end of an era, or just flat out two egregious narcissists with no understanding of how their actions have affected so many? Like anything else, I suppose the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Regardless, it’s so disheartening to see the lack of humanity and decency happening at what once was part of the IT that made this particular IT city.”
Charley McPherson of Miracle One Wine Co. remembers finding sanctuary there. “At 3 Crow I found a new family. This family was fun. They didn’t judge. They would mock, tease, and even lightly abuse one another… but never any judgment.. 3 Crow was the land of the misfit toys on steroids. I still refer to it as “my living room”. I spent as much time there as I did at my home. It was a safe place for me to hang where my westie alumni wouldn’t find me to make me feel bad about my failed marriage. I had no history here. It was mine to write. It was a sanctuary of sorts. A modern-day Cheers with equal parts of Norm, Kurt Cobain, Julia Roberts, and Pink. It drew the most fascinating crowd. It was a privilege to be a part of it.”
“It sucks man,” says longtime patron Breck Cooper. "It’s left a true void in the community. 3 Crow was the place you could go alone and chat with the bartenders over a beer, a shot, and a smoke and you knew you would run into friends. If they weren’t there yet you knew they would be soon. You could always count on running into people you know and love.”
We all know there were bars in that building before 3 Crow, and there will be other businesses there in the future. After all, everything is temporary. I also know that whatever bar is in that location is going to do well. The tourists that come to Nashville aren’t going to notice that they are in a hollowed-out clone of what 3 Crow was. They’re probably just happy to get a Bushwacker before their pedal tavern adventure to celebrate someone’s upcoming nuptials.
However, the demise of this special place seemed hastened for no other reason than short-sightedness and greed. And after everything we’ve been through, Crow Bar deserves its eulogy.
So here’s to you, 3 Crow! A magical place and stretch of time in East Nashville that meant we had a place all our own. When the rest of Nashville thought we were sketchy and wouldn’t come over the river, we had you. After concerts and funerals, we had you. Before long nights out and on Saturday & Sunday afternoons, we had you.
Bill gave that to us, Dava did, and yes, even Wayne gave us a place to come that was unpretentious and comfortable and safe. A place where we could just be ourselves.
For my part, I will always cherish the memories I have of my tenure at 3 Crow Bar and am so grateful for the friends I made there. I am proud of the staff, and I understand the loyalty they have to the awesome leadership team who deserved far better treatment. 16 years was a great run.
3 Crow Bar may not be closing its doors but it is no longer the home we all built and loved. A bar is more than a place, it is the people.
For those of you who want to support some of the former 3 Crow staff, some East Nashville establishments were kind-hearted and wise enough to snatch them up when they heard the news of the changeover.
Terry Clark and Scotty Dillion were unavailable for comment. Under the advice of legal counsel, Dava Nunley cannot comment at this time.
There is a gofundme page HERE
For the new management’s comments, feel free to read the Tennesseean’s article here:
The staff wishes to thank everyone for the outpouring of support.