If you were shocked by the transformation of the old Steak & Pizza into the Paris-in-Tennessee that is Once Upon a Time in France, you are not going to believe what’s in store at Overlord. The soon-to-open 60- to 70-seat neighborhood bar features what is becoming Melvil Arnt’s signature formula: French-inspired food, drink and aesthetics behind nondescript facades.
In 2019, Arnt and his parents opened Once Upon a Time in France, an East Nashville French bistro. Now Arnt is venturing out on a solo project turning a former Hair World (the linchpin of Gallatin Avenue real estate) into a new bar, set to open this summer at 2503 Gallatin Ave. The Overlord name is an homage to Operation Overlord, the Allied landings in Normandy during World War II, and the soldiers who went on to liberate Western Europe.
When Arnt & Co. decorated Once Upon a Time in France, most of the artifacts came from the family collections that they brought from France. This time, Arnt achieved a Bohemian 1940s look by sourcing items for the bar’s walls from eBay and raiding his own Inglewood home. There’s a photo of Margaret Stanfill, for example — the first American woman, a nurse, to land on French soil during the war. The eclectic collection of items lends heavily toward World War II, with Europe, East Nashville and drinking paraphernalia thrown in.
Arnt restored an ornate vintage wooden mirrored bar and rescued leather booths from an old restaurant. Those booths don’t have the kind of dividers that typical American restaurants have and instead are designed to encourage more European-style sitting — shoulder to shoulder with strangers and getting to know them. He hung stylish geometric-patterned wallpaper (that was the starting point of his design inspiration) and inset marble tile in wood wall panels. He created a cozy green-velvet-adorned raised corner booth that can be reserved for birthday parties and the like.
The interior is a jaw-on-the-floor, am-I-really-on-Gallatin-Avenue experience, and Arnt is planning for the menu and experience to be just as original and welcoming. Overlord will be a cocktail, beer and wine bar with a small kitchen for charcuterie, croque monsieurs and salads. As is the case at Once Upon a Time in France, the menu will be stocked with exported wines, beers and cocktails that may be hard to find elsewhere in Nashville, including as many as 30 French liquors. Despite that, he intends to keep prices reasonable, with many cocktails in the $10-$11 range, and many glasses of wine at $8-$9. Arnt still owns the restaurant with his parents, and will work there some, but it has a manager, and runs like a “well-oiled machine.” The bistro’s steady success has allowed him to expand and fulfill his bar-owning dreams. Overlord’s front corner has space for live jazz performances, what he envisions as “old-school 1930s and 1940s jazz” where people will get up and dance, not just sit in their seats and tap their toes.
Arnt describes himself as “terrified of being bored,” so, Overlord is not Arnt’s only new project. He’s also hanging wallpaper and tin ceilings at The Authentique, a small wine bar in the works (watch this space for more details soon). All three of the projects — Once Upon a Time in France, Overlord and The Authentique — demonstrate Arnt’s commitment to neighborhood-owned and -run places in East Nashville. “I haven’t been here as long as everyone else, but I understand East Nashville and understand that people here like authentic things," he says. "You can lie in Midtown and you can lie downtown but you can’t lie in East Nashville.”
Arnt’s dream was to open June 6, the anniversary of Operation Overlord, but as he awaits inspections and permits, he thinks July is more realistic.