Max and Ben Goldberg of Strategic Hospitality earned a James Beard Award nomination for Outstanding Restaurateurs last year, while they were still in their early 30s. Their recipe for success has revolved around figuring out exactly the sort of eating and drinking spots where they and their friends would like to hang out, leading to projects as varied as the über-cheffy Catbird Seat, a dive bar called Paradise Park Trailer Resort, as well as Nashville’s first luxe speakeasy, the Patterson House, and their wildly successful upscale diner/bowling alley/craft cocktail bar, Pinewood Social.
For their latest act, the Goldbergs have taken their game to the ballpark with an entertainment venture in the right-field stands at the brand-spanking-new First Tennessee Park, home of the minor league Nashville Sounds. The centerpiece of the new project, which they named the Band Box, is a section of 27 four-top tables with dedicated service offering craft beers, cocktails, wine and an inventive menu of upscale ballpark food. It only took Nashvillians four games to discover this baseball diamond gem, and the tables sold out at every game for the rest of the season.
It turned out to be a lackluster summer for the home team, which finished the year with a 66-78 record, the 12th best in a 16-team league. But the Goldbergs’ Band Box was a big winner.
Even on weeknights, when the rest of the stadium was less than half full, the tables, barstools, couches and standing room areas at the Band Box were packed to the gills. Because face it, this is AAA ball, and the vast majority of fans in attendance at First Tennessee Park probably have no idea where their home team Nashville Sounds are in the league standings. They’re just there for some al fresco fun on a beautiful summer night, watching the Boys of Summer knock the pill around. (Although it was quite novel to watch Pat Venditte, the only ambidextrous pitcher in the major leagues, earn his promotion to the big leagues during his stint in Nashville earlier this spring.)
In addition to the reserved tables, the rest of the Band Box is open to all fans, even those cheapskates among us who shell out just $7 for a spot on the general admission grassy berm in left field. Once fans are through the gates, they are free to avail themselves of all the amenities of the Band Box, including comfy couches for lounging, an assortment of available board games, multiple corn hole setups, Ping-Pong tables, and shuffleboard courts for older fans and cruise-ship aficionados. Thanks to the Band Box, it’s easy to enjoy an entire evening at the ballpark without watching a pitch, thanks to multiple televisions tuned to ESPN and a constant stream of party music blaring from the speakers above the bar.
Anyone in attendance can order from the menu of the Band Box, a shrewd call when compared to the typical ballpark fare available at the other concession stands around the ballpark. The elevated food options include the same cheeseburger served at Pinewood Social, made with heritage beef from the local Bear Creek Farms. The chicken sandwich is a revelation, with Korean fried chicken dressed with a sorghum Tabasco glaze and a buttermilk dill dressing. Healthier options include a quinoa chopped salad with feta and red wine vinaigrette and a plate of hummus and veggies. But come on, people, this is a baseball game! Get the nachos.
The Goldbergs turned to their Strategic Hospitality beverage manager, Matt Tocco, to develop some specialty drinks for the bar menu. If you’ve ever messed up a perfectly good Icee frozen drink by attempting to add booze to the cup, then you’ll appreciate the magic behind the Band Box’s frozen whiskey and coke, which features plenty of Old Forester while somehow maintaining its frozen integrity until the last draw of the straw. The punny Field of Creamsicle re-creates the original flavor of that childhood frozen treat with the ingenious addition of locally sourced Pickers Blood Orange Vodka. Keep the kiddies away from that one.
Although the Sounds finished the season mired near the bottom of the Pacific Coast League standings (possibly because Nashville is nowhere remotely near the ocean), fans are looking forward to next year, and the Goldbergs are already considering an expansion of the Band Box. If you build it, they will drink.