Story By: Lindsay DeCarlo and Read Ezell
Photography by Daniel Meigs
Nashville Design Week 2023
In 2021, as the pandemic forced everyone, especially the hospitality industry, to reevaluate their priorities, Alex Burch decided to open his own restaurant.
Given the timing and the state of the restaurant industry, it was hard not to think that this might be a bad idea. That fact became a tongue-in-cheek rallying cry for Alex. Today, it is the name of his newly opened restaurant in a beautifully reborn former church in East Nashville.
Bad Idea isn’t just a new restaurant. It is a celebration of wine exploration, an expression of Nashville’s design talent, and a testament to creative collaboration.
After managing the wine lists at Nashville favorites, Bastion and Henrietta Red, since 2016, Alex set out to create a restaurant unlike anything else in the city. As a sommelier, he knew Nashville lacked a wine-focused restaurant. Alex sought to emphasize great wine and wine education while making it fun and approachable. Together with Chef Colby Rasavong, Bad Idea features an evolving menu designed to complement its ever-changing wine list.
This community focus started with the way Alex funded the restaurant. Rather than traditional investors, he turned to the community he’d built in Nashville, opening a campaign on the equity crowdfunding platform Wefunder to raise capital. Today, over 150 neighbors of the restaurant, former colleagues, and Nashville community members and collaborators are investors in Bad Idea.
Alex, in turn, invested in collaborations with some of Nashville’s most talented designers to bring his vision to life. While he was at Bastion, its Big Bar hosted events for Nashville Design Week, including the Calendar Launch Party in 2019. Already well connected in Nashville’s culinary scene, events such as this exposed Alex to the deep design talent in his home city.
I always thought it was a bad idea to open a wine bar in Nashville.
The design collaboration on Bad Idea began with motion branding shop Lasso Studio. Long before the restaurant was funded, Alex reached out to Allen and Lindsey Laseter, the husband and wife team behind Lasso Studio, to create a brand identity for Bad Idea. “Alex was drawn to the work we did for the Nashville Design Week 2021,” said Lindsey Laseter. “With Nashville Design Week, we were given total creative freedom and leaned into our own approach and style, so it felt great that Alex responded to something that was truly ‘us,’ and trusted us with the same freedom.”
“Alex falls into the camp of founders who know what speaks to them. He had a clear vision, thoughtfully bringing in the partners needed, and trusting the creatives to do what they do. Alex is steadfast, and that shows in the project.”
“We worked to create something quirky, toeing the line of irreverent,” continued Lindsey. “I remember Alex saying, ‘I always thought it was a bad idea to open a wine bar in Nashville,’ that just really stuck with me. The name is irreverent, so the challenge was to create a brand identity that was too.”
Lasso’s system for Bad Idea confidently exercises type, illustration, and color. Much like the space, the brand is at once playful, elevated, and relaxed. “It doesn’t have to be rigid to feel unified and impactful,” says Lindsey. A more artful approach felt right, with bold brand illustrations leading the way as a clear visual to represent how Bad Idea’s approach to wine and food is joyfully unexpected.
This is not the first time wine has been served here.
“With Nashville’s rapid growth, it’s difficult to find a distinctive space with character, especially in a great location,” said Alex. But in a former church nearly destroyed in the March 2020 tornado, Alex found just that. The building at the corner of Russell Street and South 11th Street was redesigned and revived by EOA Architects with a team led by Principal Tracey Ford and Senior Project Architect Keith Bush. “It was a rare opportunity to get to work with such a unique space, especially one in reconstruction. I feel incredibly fortunate to go beyond restoration and create something new and distinctive with such fantastic local talent,” said Alex.
For the interiors, Alex engaged Design Object, a design firm led by Jesse Brown, Lauren McCloud, and Abi Spear. Design Object took on Bad Idea’s interior design as one of their first projects as a new studio. “In a place with a storied past, this is not the first time wine has been served here,” said Jesse Brown, “with an atmosphere as eclectic and lively as the wine selection, guests are welcome to come as they are and break bread over their favorite bottle.”
“Bad Idea offers a unique experience, taking risks with bold color and contrasting modern forms against a historic backdrop,” describes Abi Spear. “Whimsical details, sophisticated patterns, and laid-back furnishings create an unexpected spirit of self-assured playfulness.”
Design Object brought in art and design studio New Hat, also a former Nashville Design Week brand partner, and expert at pattern play. “It takes a lot of vision to do something different without overcomplicating it. Design Object had the creativity to see that the patterns and compositions we design transcend wallcoverings and invited us to do something entirely new here,” described New Hat Founder Elizabeth Williams.
New Hat wove inspiration from the building’s window frames, an eye motif, a droplet, and elements from Lasso’s brand identity to create an avante-garde composition that is at once reflective of the building and playful in approach. The design comes to life with a millwork wall and printed pattern acrylic “cloud” that floats above the bar. New Hat and Design Object worked closely with local furniture and millwork fabricator Mesa to print and fabricate the bar cloud.
“There aren’t many people as stalwart as Alex. We are all independent small business owners and identified with Alex and what he is doing with Bad Idea,” said Elizabeth. “The amount of great practitioners working on this project is evident in the results. All of us really believed in Alex and his vision.”