For Dinosaurs, Dolly Parton’s obsession began with a painted, larger-than-life severed head of the country music icon. Five years ago, a loyal customer offered the coveted work of the local artist Brett DouglasHunter at the bar in Nashville, because he wouldn’t fit in his car for his long trip to Los Angeles.
According to recipient and current owner Alex Wendkos, the portrait has been there ever since, a glamorous harbinger of the many Dolly memories that would follow. Photos of the star, themed fan art and life-size cardboard figurines of Parton began to adorn the dimly lit interior, and guests began to make a flight game, then back, a precious cardboard figurine Dolly. “We were posting on our Instagram that he was missing,” Wendkos laughs. “But people were always helping to find it and return it.” The trick only spurred the quirky but oddly appropriate relationship that has blossomed between the queen of Nashville and the city’s oldest dive bar, which some guests have begun to fondly refer to as Dolly’s.
It won’t be until 2022 that Dino’s will acquire its crown jewel: a gigantic, fantastical lemon that supports a blushing sculpture of the star that functions as a new patio bar. Dubbed Dolly’s Lemonade Stand, the bar opened this summer, but the idea was born out of a trip down a post-pandemic internet rabbit hole. “My manager and I realized we needed a satellite bar outside to help spread the bartenders’ workload,” Wendkos says. “So we started thinking.” After looking at potential concession trailers and food trucks for the outdoor patio, Wendkos found the giant lemon in the business section of Craigslist. Located in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, it was owned by a man who worked with concessions for state fairs. “It was so ridiculous and outrageous, but it made sense for Dino’s,” Wendkos says. “I slept on it for a few days and couldn’t stop thinking about it. It made no sense – but, at the same time, all the sense in the world – to do that.
After the saleswoman dropped the giant lemon in the aisle of Wendkos, she prepared it for its new life: she spent weeks cleaning it, thinking of a name and replacing the outdated sign. Fortunately, there was already a functional ice well, sink and all the storage necessary to serve as a bar. After deciding on the name Dolly’s Lemonade Stand, she called in Brett Douglas Hunter for the finishing touches. “There was no one better than Brett to do Dolly’s sign because his indoor artwork has been such a hit. He’s a friend and a regular, and we all love him.
Hunter’s finished sign was a perfect fit. The bold, mixed-media sculpture of Dolly, wearing a polka-dot dress, welcomes guests into the giant lemon with outstretched arms. According to Wendkos, guests and staff love the booth…so does Dolly.
“One of Dolly’s assistants was a regular and she wanted Dolly to come to lunch before the pandemic hit,” Wendkos says. Then COVID-19 hit and, like most people, the singer couldn’t make it to the bar. But after the big lemonade stand reveal, she sent her own kind of tribute. “Dolly’s assistant posted a glamorous black and white photo of Dolly, saying: Dino’s, I will always love you. It’s signed Love, Dolly“, said Wendkos. She cherishes the photo so much that she put it in a safe place, but she knows Dolly’s love for Dino’s life from the start. “She watches us from afar and we feel like we have her blessing. But I’m still waiting when she comes in.
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