Rumour Has It – The reemergence of a fantastic wine bar

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The bar at Rumours Wine Bar in the ICON (all photos by Ron Manville.)

First, let’s start by saying that the loss of Rumours in 12South was a blow, but we’ve all known that for a year. It’s hardly worth reiterating the story of the much-loved wine bar losing its lease, the building being torn down to make way for more modern shopping, dining and living space of the sort that, for good or ill, is changing the face of that particular neighborhood. Of course, we consoled ourselves with the understanding that Rumours East was still there, but we felt the loss of the west side incarnation deeply.

Now for the good news: Just a few weeks ago, Christy Shuff presided over the opening of the newest Rumours wine bar, this time in the Gulch, in the bottom of the ICON building.

Before you go off thinking that a shift to the modern building changes the concept, go give it a try. Rumors is set on the far southeast corner of the building, away from the hustle and bustle of 12 th Avenue South, and walking distance from the Yazoo Brewery. It’s the cooler, more industrial side of things. There’s still a charming outdoor space with a pergola, sure to be filled as soon as the weather is agreeable. There’s a coziness (yeah, I used that word in reference to the Gulch, and the ICON, no less) to the location, set into the corner as it is.

Server Jaque Faye with a glass of wine (Chateau Virgile 2009), the stuff that makes Rumours what it is.

When you move inside, regulars from the old place will feel right at home, while those who haven’t experienced Rumours yet will quickly feel warm and welcome. The walls are rich in color: eggplant, wine and midnight blue. Textured wood on the bar and the slightly weathered wooden tables add depth – and the art is familiar, much of it coming from the old building. As soon as dusk arrives, there’s an incredible ambiance, something Shuff calls “the most beautiful accident ever.”

Rumours always maintained a special place in the hearts of its customers; it was a most vibrant, smarter neighborhood hangout, a place people made time to come more than once a week. Over more than a decade, Shuff strove to provide that kind of setting, back to the days when she started her first art gallery a decade or so past.

Her goal, shared with her collaborators, is to infuse that same sensibility into the new location – the ambiance, the delicious food, the intriguing wine lists and the reasonable prices that make regular visits plausible.

If she takes a lot of pride in the new location, that’s understandable. When she first looked at the place, it was essentially a “box of gravel” waiting to be turned into something. That was in February of last year, and the real ground breaking was in July, so it’s been a year of planning and working.

Chef JoEllen Brown

During that time, Shuff and accountant Tammy Baker wisely chose to continue paying Rumours Chef JoEllen Brown, so she’d stay on the payroll when the new place opened, maintaining the quality regulars had come to love – a tough financial call, but ultimately worth it. Aside from the reality of Brown’s talents, it’s also kind of cool that Rumours is a business run entirely by women, a rarity in the culinary and wine world. It’s the first time the triumvirate of McCarthy, Shuff and Baker have done something this collaborative.

To round out that list of A-list women is Rumours manager Jenn McCarthy, who also serves as sommelier – we Rumours fans quickly understand the importance of a sommelier in this particular venue. Rumours is and always has been a place where one goes to drink wine.

The Bluegrass Revival – Bulleit rye, Cocchi Vermouth di Torino, Fernet Branca and St. Germain

Part of the fun of the new location, however, is the addition of cocktails guaranteed to broaden the masculine visitorship. The spirits are all boutique, with plenty of familiar Nashville brands, including my own beloved Corsair Artisan and Whisper Creek Tennessee Sipping Cream, as well as plenty of Kentucky bourbons. On tap you’ll also discover a wealth of microbrews, including Yazoo, Blackstone and Lazy Magnolia.

The menu surprises with the return of Rumours’ best comfort foods, like the delicious mussel bowls (love them), now with more options – Thai coconut, white wine and caper, spicy tomato, Curry basil and classic broth, with the option of adding shrimp or meatballs, and/or pasta if you so choose.

The tastes and small plates can make a meal on their own, especially with options like the Benton’s Bacon deviled eggs, the Irish stout mac & cheese, and the meatballs. The entrée prices start at about $15 and remain under $30. The hand-sold cheese plate, the $4 side items, there are plenty of things on this menu that make sure you won’t go hungry, whether your goal is graze and share or dig in to a whole entrée.

Fried Brussels Sprouts with Benton’s Bacon and Aged Gouda

The menu, obviously, reflects the favorites of the old location, but adds more small plates and shared appetizers. That adds to the whole social experience, whether you’re there with your date or with a group of friends. Chef Brown expresses a lot of creative thought with her menu, gearing it to meet the Rumours audience – a nifty balance of people who are there for the warm feeling of place but adventurous when it comes to their spirit and wine intake.

Wines by the glass have always been my personal draw when it comes to Rumours, and that’s unlikely to change any time soon. Shuff’s instituted a new option, a choice of five or eight ounce pours, so you can enjoy a smaller amount of a new wine to discover whether or not it fits your palate or order a big glass of a favorite. The richness and diversity of the list, from sparkling to the heaviest reds, ensures that you must take it seriously. The first glass is no easy choice, let alone the first bottle when you’re there with a group.

If you’ve missed the 12South incarnation or you haven’t tried Rumours at all yet, now is the perfect time to (re)acquaint yourself. Expect to see my friends and I there on a regular basis – it’s got everything we like.

Rumours, 1104 Division Street, open daily 4 p.m. to midnight.


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