Nashville restaurateur Tom Morales, of TomKats Hospitality, opens the group’s newest restaurant project February 5. Woolworth on 5th, located in the historic arts district in downtown Nashville, will reprise the original Woolworth as a restaurant and live music venue that honors the history and events that took place there. Morales and his team began work on the historic space in early 2017, renovating and restoring the building to its original beauty. This restoration follows a number of successful Morales projects throughout Nashville. In 2004, Morales played a major role in the restoration and rebranding of the famous Loveless Café in southwest Nashville. Morales’ ventures under the TomKats umbrella include The Southern Steak & Oyster, which opened in 2012 in the SoBro district and now includes the adjacent Southernaire Market. The Southern was followed quickly by the historic rehabilitation of Acme Feed & Seed on Lower Broadway in 2014. TomKats’ most recent project is Fin & Pearl, a sustainable seafood concept that opened in December 2016 in the Gulch.
“The history of Nashville is rich and diverse and should be preserved, yet every day we hear about another building being torn down to make room for something new,” says Morales. “The Woolworth building needed to be saved, and we are honored to be part of the next chapter of its history. Woolworth on 5th brings a unique vibe to the downtown scene—a welcome table of home grown flavors, old school sounds, and classic dance moves—and we are excited to share it with the city we love.”
Located at 221 5th Avenue North, the Woolworth building is a registered historic site as part of the Fifth Avenue Historic District in downtown Nashville. One of the original “five and dime” stores, F. W. Woolworth became the site of some of the first lunch counter sit-ins during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in Nashville.
In February 1960, groups of students from Nashville’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities staged sit-ins at the lunch counters of Woolworth, Kress, McClellan, and Walgreens, with the goal of desegregation. After weeks of taking a principled peaceful stand, and after enduring violence and arrests, their voices were heard and Nashville’s mayor agreed to desegregate the lunch counters. Motivated by their success, the Nashville Student Protest Movement continued its efforts to desegregate all public facilities until the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The new Woolworth on 5th will honor the history of this space by serving as a welcome table for all—an upbeat atmosphere with food, music, dancing that everyone can enjoy.
The menu at Woolworth on 5th will explore the roots and history of Southern culinary arts, with ingredients and techniques that can be traced all over the globe, from north Africa to South America. TomKats Hospitality Executive Chef Matt Farley collaborated with Morales to create a menu that is packed with flavor and tradition.
The breakfast menu features Southern classics with a unique twist, such as the hoppin’ john omelet with tomato gravy, corn cakes with jalapeno bacon, pimento cheese, fried eggs and collard green pesto, whole grain sorghum bowl with honeyed yogurt and sautéed spiced apples, and sweet potato pancakes with sweet bourbon butter and Vermont maple syrup.
Lunch offerings include classic fried chicken with country green beans and bird pepper mac and cheese, hot harissa chicken sandwich with American cheese, lettuce, tomato and pickles, lamb meatballs with fennel mint chutney, and the squash fritter po’ boy with sautéed onions, peppers, pickled scallions, and black bean spread.
The dinner menu elevates the atmosphere with more upscale cuisine: blackened catch with succotash and potlikker beurre blanc, braised short ribs with corn pudding, wilted greens, and crisp onion, ancho rubbed pork belly with collard greens and maple cider gastrique, and red quinoa with pigeon peas, hominy, wild onions, heirloom tomatoes, greens and pepitas.
The mezzanine level will have a separate menu designed for sharing. House favorites include duck leg confit quesadilla with stilton, roaster butternut squash, figs, and port reduction, chicken liver mousse with charred peach and pickled red onions, low country shrimp boil with andouille corn salad, and whole grain mustard remoulade, and roasted baby beets and carrots with star anise-carrot syrup, crispy quinoa, and lime yogurt.
The beverage program at Woolworth on 5th is inspired by the building’s previous life as a diner. Guests on the main floor can order from a menu of accessible, soda fountain-inspired cocktails such as the Fifth Avenue Fizz—vodka, lime, simple syrup, bitters, and soda, and the Five and Dime—rum, aperol, grapefruit, and St-Germain. The bar will offer alcoholic and nonalcoholic milkshakes and floats, as well as a selection of draft beers. The mezzanine level will serve an elevated menu of wine, beer and elevated craft cocktails, such as the Smoking Monk—whiskey, chartreuse, simple syrup, and bitters, with an absinthe rinse, and Tippi Toes – pamplemousse rose, bitters, and prosecco.
Woolworth on 5th is where Nashville will go for song and dance. The basement level of the restaurant, known as the New Era Ballroom and open to the public in March, will host a variety of regular music and performance programming. Live music in the New Era Ballroom will explore the sounds of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, with a lineup of genres ranging from funk to swing, to gospel, to jazz. Nashville’s first big band, the Downtown Dippers, will reside as the house band at Woolworth on 5th to entertain on a weekly basis. Wednesday nights will feature The Big Idea, a community night of poetry and cultural exploration led by Nashville actor, playwright, and director Barry Scott. Scott will bring an intellectual component to the entertainment at Woolworth on 5th with spoken word poetry and historical performances.
Nashville’s F.W. Woolworth department store opened in 1930, in a four-story building on 5th Avenue that was constructed at the turn of the 20th century. F.W. Woolworth occupied the basement level, street level, and mezzanine. Through a massive restoration effort, led by Nashville architecture firm Tuck Hinton, much of the original Woolworth space has been preserved for use at Woolworth on 5th. Elements of the building that could not be preserved were carefully recreated to pay homage to the original space.
Existing terrazzo floors in the basement, main, and mezzanine levels were restored to their original glory—with intermittent rectangular concrete bands, which lay beneath the store’s merchandise display counters. Original cast iron railings exhibit the geometric ornament that was characteristic of the Art Deco period of the 20th century. Staircases were recreated to match the originals, with stained maple paneling and Art Deco line work revealed in the walnut inlays. Spaced between the wood paneling are new antiqued mirror glass panels.
Architectural detail and design elements reflect the Art Deco period. Rounded, fluted plaster soffits outline the ceiling throughout the space. Original tiered plaster pilasters line the walls of the double-height dining room. New dining booths on the main level use same curved details and lines from the Art Deco era as well as hints of the streamlined details from the mid-1960s during the height of the Woolworth diner. New aluminum signage runs the length of the main level bar—inspired by the Woolworth lunch counter. Beautiful vintage 1920s wallpaper and vintage-inspired light fixtures are used in bathroom above colorful Art Deco tile wainscoting.