The structure at 401 Broadway was originally constructed in 1870 and housed a different business on each floor. A pharmacy inhabited the first floor, while a wholesale drug manufacturer took up the second floor. In fact, to this day you can still see an ad for “blood medicine” on the interior brick wall of the third floor, which was once painted on what was then the outside of the building. In 1892, when Nashville was booming and the Cumberland River was a thriving trade route, the building underwent additional construction and was completed to create the building that stands today. At that point in time, the second floor operated as hotel, as evidenced by all the fireplaces that remain. Each room was very small and guests may have even had to share their tiny room. However, on the 'European plan' of 25 cents a day, no one expected luxury.
In the 1920s the Ryman Auditorium began hosting The Grand Ole Opry, which drew many musical legends to stay at Merchants Hotel, convenient as it was (and still is!) to The Ryman. Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Porter Waggoner, Little Jimmy Dickens and Roy Acuff are just a few of the country music stars that stayed at Merchants.
During prohibition the Merchants building became a speakeasy, where folks came to get their hands on outlawed spirits. Rumor has it Al Capone even frequented the space, which also served as a brothel, a casino, a saloon, a pool hall, and probably a host of various other illustrious businesses. In the 1970s it became a honky tonk and the state of the building continued to deteriorate. In the 1980s the building was scheduled for demolition until was purchased in 1988. It was then that Merchants restaurant opened. For many years it became a reputable dinner location and was one of the only reasons locals would ever venture in the seedy downtown Nashville streets.
After some unfortunate business dealings, the Merchants building was sold. The restaurant slowly deteriorated once more until, on the cusp of closing, it was purchased by local brothers and restauranteurs Benjamin and Max Goldberg.