The Rise and Fall of ‘The George Jones’ Museum & Restaurant
It seemed like an ambitious plan to say the least. First came the late September 2014 announcement of the 4.35 million-dollar purchase of two adjacent properties at 128 and 130 Second Ave. N. in Nashville by the widow of George Jones parallel to the Cumberland River, and right near the Lower Broadway entertainment district. Then on January 13th of the next year, George’s widow Nancy Jones unveiled all they had in store for the multi-level, 44,000 sq. ft. property.
Eventually coined simply “The George Jones,” the location would be the ultimate shrine to The Possum. Along with housing a George Jones museum and multiple pieces of memorabilia, there would also be an event space, a music venue, a restaurant, a rooftop deck and bar, and a gift shop, all to commemorate the legacy of the country music legend. Also unveiled as part of the presentation was the plan to have the name and likeness of George Jones used on his own line of flavored moonshine and vodka, branded after his first #1 hit from 1959 written by The Big Bopper, “White Lightning.”
Along with the ambitious scope for the new property, what also was remarkable was how quickly they expected to have it open. They gave themselves only 3 1/2 months—until April 26th, 2015, which was the two year anniversary of George’s death—to get the entirety of the complex built, finished, artifacts moved in, the restaurant and gift shop stocked, and employees trained. Nancy Jones said they would be working “around the clock” to make it happen.
And remarkably, they did. “For Nancy to open the newly renovated George Jones Museum, Tennessee laws had to be rewritten,” said the law firm of Bone, McAllester, and Norton, who helped usher legislation through the state government to allow all facets of the multi-use space to be allowed, including a rooftop bar and package liquor operation for the George Jones-branded alcohol to be sold on the premises.
When The George Jones opened in late spring of 2015, it really was a sight to behold. Though the museum may not have been as expansive as some, it was still cool to see that the legacy of George Jones would be enshrined in Music City right beside so many other locations dedicated to country music legends. The food was surprisingly good, and so was the talent they hired to play the space. The venue became a regular place to play for traditional country artists such as James Carothers and Tim Culpepper.
For the first year, it felt like everything was running smooth, and the George Jones Restaurant and Museum would be a Nashville institution for many years to come. Unlike other Lower Broadway bars and restaurants, it wasn’t especially overcrowded, and the views of the Cumberland River made it one of the best spots in the region to grab a drink or a meal.
But financial irregularities behind-the-scenes soon began eroding at the integrity of the business and property. In the fall of 2016, it was revealed that the manager of The George Jones and a business partner of Nancy Jones, Kirk West (also known as Kirk Leipzig), had plead guilty to Federal fraud charges. West had lied about his income, and forged documents and pay stubs to dramatically inflate his net worth on tax documents to secure loans on properties around the Nashville area. Federal charges were filed in July 2016 against West, and he plead guilty to the charges on September 19th. Along with the two years in prison, West agreed to pay $935,045 in restitution to Reliant Bank.
Soon, some folks started to complain about poor service at the bar and restaurant. Though not being inundated with drunk tourists was one of the reasons to seek the property out, being slightly off the main drag ultimately made it difficult to draw in patrons. The downfall of Kirk West put the property on unsure footing both from a leadership perspective, and financially.
Then a couple of months later, on November 23rd, it was announced that the George Jones Museum had been sold by Nancy Jones to a Nashville-based investment group called Possum Holdings LLC. Along with the George Jones Museum and all of its facilities, the ownership group also negotiated a Master License to the George Jones name, image, and likeness. The George Jones estate no longer owned the George Jones Museum and Restaurant, nor his name or image.
“I poured my heart and soul into building a premier destination for George’s fans in a way that he would have loved,” said Nancy Jones at the time.
The principal of the new Possum Holdings LLC ownership was a man named Paul Jankowski, who was a former executive at MCA Records, Gibson Guitars, and other music-based entities, and was currently the Chief Strategist at New Heartland Group which works on matching brands with celebrities. Some of the company’s high-profile deals included matching up Taylor Swift with Pepsi, and Blake Shelton with Pizza Hut.
After the sale, some felt like the family atmosphere of the place began to disappear. Then the pandemic hit with mandatory shut downs, which put the business in peril. And then to add injury to insult, the George Jones Museum and all of its neighboring properties were swept up in the 2020 Christmas bombing of 2nd street in Nashville, which happened on the block down from The George Jones
“Christmas morning brought news that the unimaginable had happened,” the venue said in a statement. “Thank you all for reaching out with words of encouragement and support for all of the businesses facing another mountain to climb as the result of the explosion in 2nd Ave. We are ok. We got off much better than many others.“
Though only minimal damage was sustained by The George Jones, it left a pall over the entire 2nd. Street corridor that remained even when lockdowns finally eased, and tourists began trickling back into the area. More recently as life returned fully back to normal on Lower Broadway, both the supply and labor shortages continued to weigh heavily on the property.
On Monday, December 13th, after 6 1/2 years of trying to sustain the business through a litany of adversities, The George Jones announced it was permanently shutting down.
“It has been a difficult 2 years for so many—our company has been no different,” said the property in a statement. “From the pandemic (and the starts and stops there) all the way through to the 2nd Ave bombing one year ago—we have fought for what is right for our loyal staff and local partners. As many business owners know, between the workforce shortages and difficulty with consistency of products, it is a challenge day to day (to say the least) to make a business viable. For these reasons, it is with a heavy heart that we announce we are closing The George Jones Entertainment Venue after a beautiful run.”
Current ownership promises that the museum and all of its contents are being handled with care, and will hopefully find a new home soon. But it will not be the one first envisioned by Nancy Jones as the premier destination for all George Jones fans, and a shrine to “No Show” in Nashville.
– – – – – – – –
It really is a shame that with all the commerce and activity that transpires in the Lower Broadway area, one of the few bright spots and businesses that paid tribute to a country legend was one that couldn’t survive. Seemingly snake bit from the start, and saddled by bad financial decisions behind-the-scenes, now all George Jones fans can hope is that the artifacts and memories re-emerge somewhere else so like the music of George Jones, they can sustain well into the future.
December 14, 2021 @ 12:05 pm
Wow, this is so sad. I went to Nashville for the first time in 2018, along with my brother and parents, and the George Jones Museum was one of the highlights for me. Glad I got to see it before shutting down. I have pictures of us sitting in the massive rocking chair! I could have guessed it was struggling. We were in Nashville during the busy CMA Fest in June (which we didn’t realize was happening until we got there) with lots of people around. The Johnny Cash Museum was packed, but the George Jones Museum was nearly empty — our family and about four other people! And it was a beautiful sunny day with streams of people passing by.
King Honky Of Crackershire (Merry Christmas!)
December 14, 2021 @ 12:35 pm
“ The Johnny Cash Museum was packed, but the George Jones Museum was nearly empty”
Yep. George Jones draws C(c)ountry Music lovers. Johnny Cash draws casual fans of music. These things matter. The kind of person who loved George enough to make a trip to Nashville, probably can’t afford to take off work long enough to go.
Don’t let anyone fool you. C(c)ountry Music isn’t for the masses, and it really never has been.
December 14, 2021 @ 1:44 pm
Location matters too. The Johnny Cash museum is right in the thick of the heart of Lower Broadway. You had to purposely venture down 2nd Street to get to The George Jones. Personally, I preferred the George Jones location, because it was away from the hubbub, and overlooked the Cumberland. But I think a lot of folks didn’t even know it was there. Then when the 2nd Street bombing happened, some of the stuff that would draw people down 2nd Street got destroyed. Yes, Johnny Cash is more of a ubiquitous character, and that helps. But a lot of factors beyond George’s name went into the location’s failure.
December 14, 2021 @ 4:54 pm
Very well said. Very well. Thank you.
18 Dales and a dozen comments
December 14, 2021 @ 6:18 pm
King Honk, I might be going off the reservation a little here, but I was wondering who you thought was the current king of creeper C(c)ountry? Obviously Conway Twitty was the founder of the genre but was wondering who might be considered the foremost creeper C(c)ountry artist today? I was thinking maybe Randy Rogers? Thanks.
And when I went to the George Jones Museum/bar/restaurant they were out of retail bottles of moonshine.
King Honky Of Crackershire (Merry Christmas!)
December 14, 2021 @ 8:41 pm
I apologize Dale, but I don’t think I’m qualified to answer that. I don’t listen to enough new music to say who’s the foremost anything. The last album I bought was that double album Jamey Johnson released in 2010. There’s some new singers I like, but so far, none have impressed me enough to spend money on, although I imagine I’ll buy a Will Bannister album eventually. If you say Randy Rogers is good, then I guess I’d better give him a listen. Merry Christmas.
December 16, 2021 @ 1:34 pm
I think his Daughter should take over For her Father George Jones,And have something for her dad, would be more appropriate.
December 15, 2021 @ 7:09 pm
King Honky bringing the cold hard truth.
Christopher G. Thomas
December 16, 2021 @ 1:22 pm
yeh i was there in 2018 as well. My wife randomly stopped in for a drink and heard some great music. I liked the place, Real shame
December 14, 2021 @ 12:18 pm
Damn shame, but it was probably inevitable. As a museum George Jones doesn’t have the draw for the casual tourists who come to Nashville the way Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline do. The rooftop bar was always pretty packed, as was the first floor restaurant, but with real estate prices what they are down there, it probably wasn’t sustainable for a 4 story building to only have 2 stories of entertainment, with the other two being a low trafficed museum, and an event space/offices.
King Honky Of Crackershire (Merry Christmas!)
December 14, 2021 @ 12:37 pm
“As a museum George Jones doesn’t have the draw for the casual tourists who come to Nashville the way Johnny Cash and Patsy Cline do.”
December 14, 2021 @ 12:52 pm
Thats a shame. The food was ok, but bringing my partner to the museum was what turned her into a bonafide George Jones fan.
December 14, 2021 @ 1:30 pm
Sounds like Nancy sold at a good time. Somebody else took the hit.
December 14, 2021 @ 1:38 pm
Is it true that management put a sign on the door that said,
“WE STOPPED SERVING HERE TODAY,” then placed a wreath upon the door?
December 15, 2021 @ 12:22 pm
Yes, but that was only after that lonely sound, the closing of the door.
December 15, 2021 @ 1:06 pm
They took down the sign that said, “Step Right Up, Come On In.”
December 17, 2021 @ 11:14 am
Rumor has it the bartender was overheard saying “I can close down this bar, I can gas up my car, I can pack up and mail in my key”…
December 17, 2021 @ 11:28 am
I heard the same thing. I also heard that same bartender got a little arrogant with respect to the customers.
He was overheard saying, “But if they’re happy thinking we still need them, then let that silly notion bring them cheer. Oh, how could they ever be so foolish? Where would they get such an idea?
December 14, 2021 @ 2:15 pm
Dadgummit! I just found out this place existed a few months ago from watching The Southern Weekend. I was hoping to visit it on my next visit to Nashville. My previous visit was in 2007.
December 14, 2021 @ 2:28 pm
I was hoping Nancy didn’t take a huge financial hit. If I read the article correctly, she didn’t.
December 14, 2021 @ 3:38 pm
If Nancy Jones got hit financially, it right before she sold. I really don’t know any of the specifics, but I can’t imagine she would have sold the venue and George’s likeness rights if she wasn’t leveraged in some capacity, and had debts to pay off, possibly from the purchase and construction/operation of the venue.
December 14, 2021 @ 2:57 pm
Most times I went in, the music was unbearable. Might as well be FGL museum.
December 14, 2021 @ 3:49 pm
Its a sad commentary on a lot of things. The Mrs and i go to Nashville often. We meet like- minded souls at Roberts, The Palace and a few other spots. Real fans of Country music are out there and willing to travel for the good stuff. Problem is, Lower Broadway makes the $$$ off of the bachelorette parties. These gals do the circuit, a drink at each honky tonk, the stupid pedal bar, the even more stupid open air buses with dance platform, etc. Its a billion dollar business. So for every hardcore country fan that shows up to hear music, theres 50 partiers there to drink a white claw or purple hooter shooter. Do the math and you start to understand why. George Jones? Who???
December 14, 2021 @ 5:01 pm
Stopped at a rest area on our way back from Pigeon Forge this past week and picked up a brochure that reminded me of the museum being in Nashville. I told my wife we need to really make a trip to Nashville to see the George Jones museum. Unfortunately that’s not going to happen.
On another note I always felt a bad taste in my mouth knowing they were selling Jones branded alcohol. Not because I’m against alcohol but just knowing the struggles he had with it throughout his life. Something just seemed kind of off about that part of the complex.
December 14, 2021 @ 5:26 pm
The alcohol branding is an important element to this story. One main focus of “The George Jones” was to be the flagship for the alcohol brand, and they literally had to change laws to allow them to sell package liquor out of the location. I think they believed the brand was going to be huge and went big behind it. I’m not sure it met their expectations.
December 17, 2021 @ 1:23 am
Absolutely agree with you about the alcohol I myself thought about what alcohol did to George life and nearly killed him. I don’t know why they put his name on it, very bad taste. His daughter Georgette also sells apple whisky for god sake she knew what the stuff did to her family and her dad. Its all about money and no respect
December 14, 2021 @ 9:02 pm
I wish I had known of this place before. I would have stopped in on one of the times we’ve went to the smokies. In my mind, Jones is the greatest country performer ever but that’s just me.
December 14, 2021 @ 10:25 pm
I never thought the George Jones Museum/Restaurant would last very long.
I don’t know how long the Johnny Cash Restaurant will last, either, but Cash, at least, was a major American–and even worldwide–star, having a very recognizable persona and using his recording career as a launching pad into national TV, a couple of movies, the Folsom and San Quentin concerts, visits to the White House and associations with Presidents, evangelical leaders, and also with the civil rights movement and the intellectual side of the entertainment world. Jones was a country music singer.
Also, these businesses, created years after the artists’ deaths, give off an air of being more an attempt to monetize what’s left of their celebrity, rather than anything truly personal, to the artists.
December 15, 2021 @ 3:14 am
I went there 5 years ago. I really liked the museum, the restaurant not so much. You did have a great view over the Cumberland river, stadium and bridge wnet you went to the bathroom.
I happened to be there when they launched the George Jones liquor shots and Nancy was giving away free shots.
Sad to see it go under.
December 15, 2021 @ 4:00 am
I never expected the George Jones Museum/Restaurant to last.
I’m not all that sure the Johnny Cash facility will last either. But Cash, at lease, was a major American persona and star who transcended country music. with successes in television as a frequent guest and sometime host of network music, talk, variety, holiday, or dramatic programs. Cash established connections in every realm from presidents to evangelists to poets to civil rights to counterculture figures. Jones was a country music singer.
Either way, these restaurants/museums that are opened years after an artist’s death strike me as more an effort by the people who control the artist’s estate to monetize the subject’s persona then as anything personally connected to the artist.
December 15, 2021 @ 5:46 am
I have always been a George Jones fan, I hate seeing places like this go down , I consider it an icon of a famous entertainer.
December 15, 2021 @ 7:10 am
At least it gave us the great James Carothers, new album “watcha got left” is a blast!
December 15, 2021 @ 7:44 am
Location, location, location.
If it were on a well-traveled road, the GGMR would limp along like the rest of the restaurant businesses in today’s crapper economy. Margins are slight, and energy costs keep rising (for obvious reasons) and getting passed along to the consumer. Demand is shrinking.
Time to buckle up.
December 16, 2021 @ 7:21 am
The location almost couldn’t be worse. If you are familiar with the area you know the riverfront is NOT where you want a traffic driven business.
December 15, 2021 @ 2:07 pm
I am so sad about this, the Possum deserves so much more. I guess his only enduring and true legacy will be the music. Even with that, it is only his voice, because who knows where the profits from that music goes. Love you forever, George Jones.
December 15, 2021 @ 4:01 pm
It’s a sad thing. I wished I could have seen it. Hope the memorabilia finds good homes. Marty Stuart is the big collector of all things traditional country. Maybe he might rescue some of it.
December 15, 2021 @ 8:57 pm
There’s a little more to the story than this. The manager went to prison for embezzlement. Pretty big part of the story you missed.
December 17, 2021 @ 1:17 am
And then Nancy married kirk West after what he done, they were in on it together. Bloody thieaves
December 17, 2021 @ 1:15 am
Did they forget to mention Nancy married kirk west after ripping off George jones because don’t forget George jones was the legend and money maker.
Yes she married the man that robbed George jones for his money.
She should give Georgette half of George Jones money to keep his legacy going because Nancy for one hated country music and two wasn’t has devoted has people think. George hated money hungry people
January 15, 2022 @ 7:58 pm
I doubt that Nancy was dumb enough to legally marry Kirk Leipzig (West), but she does definitely live with him.
Mike Stampede 77
December 18, 2021 @ 3:48 pm
Man when I used to live downtown, that was my favorite spot. I loved how the smell of wood hit you right when you walked in. There used to be a bar to the left, right inside the door and they had a cooler on the counter that held 7 ounce bottles of Miller High Life (PONIEZ). Used to get tore up from the floor up!
December 19, 2021 @ 7:48 pm
This is a shame but the bottom line is when too much debt is taken on then risks run too high. George Jones fans deserve better than this.
December 20, 2021 @ 12:06 pm
George was a country singer, he loved what he did,so we all miss him !