Gentleman Jim’s proprietor Jim Baldwin stands behind the counter of his bar, located on East Main. (Photo by T. Swann)
About 30 years ago, Jim Baldwin was on a search for rental property near MTSU campus. He didn’t want to live in the building he found at 2115 E. Main St., but thought students might.
Baldwin nixed the rental idea, figuring he’d keep operating Diddly’s as the local bar it was. He later changed the name to E.J.’s, after his son.
Little did he know, the gas station-turned-disco-turned-locals’ bar would become a staple for of-agers in search of a relaxed atmosphere and cheap drinks.
You may not recognize Diddly’s or E.J.’s, but you’ll surely recognize the name Gentleman Jim’s, which is what Baldwin decided to name it some 20 years ago.
Around the same time, he opened a second bar and grill smack dab on the other side of campus.
The original Gentleman Jim’s was dubbed “Clean Jim’s” by some college kids in an effort to differentiate it from “Dirty Jim’s” on Greenland Drive.
“It was picked up by some college students and just blossomed,” Baldwin said about the bar’s nickname.
“I have no idea. I asked a couple of times. One said it’s about the people that go there. It really doesn’t appear to be dirty in Dirty Jim’s or clean in Clean Jim’s – it appears to be the same. You’ve got frat boys at one end and Ag boys at the other. I’m glad they call it something.
He joked that the next bar would be called “Sloppy Jim’s.”
The crowds may be different at each bar, but the specials are the same, save for the food. The main differnce being, Baldwin pulled pizzas from the menu at Clean Jim’s.
“There a full menu over at Greenland,” he said. “It’s the best pizza in town, the best burgers in town, and nachos – the best nachos in town.”
Bars have come and gone over the years, but Jim’s continues to be a place to hang and enjoy a drink. It’s what keeps customers coming back.
It’s simple, he says.
“Find out what the customer wants and give it to them. And give it to them at a reasonable price.”
This includes large liquor drinks, cheap pitchers of beer and bottled beer specials, coupled with business hours from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. all week long.
“I just try to keep a quiet ,low profile and just keep on keeping on,” Baldwin continued. “We cater primarily to college students, but we have quite a few regulars that come in typically during the day.”
Gentlemen Jim’s, at both locations, can be found amongst other restaurants, beers and shops, but it wasn’t always this way.
“I wasn’t in town,” Baldwin remembered. “I was out in the country. That was out in the county, it wasn’t even the city back then.”
He spoke of a bar that once stood nearby the Main Street location.
“We sat down one night and figured out there were 14 different ones, while (Gentlemen Jim’s) was sitting over there,” he said. “They’ve come and they’ve gone. I’m the oldest one in town, as far as owner is concerned.”
With the extensive growth of MTSU and, subsequently, the city of Murfreesboro, competition has been on the rise.
“It has gone up tremendously, with new ones coming open downtown and the old ones still there,” he said. “I try to maintain the neighborhood bar concept rather than try to compete with the meat markets in town.”
So whether you’re a hipster looking for cheap PBR or a frat boy who loves Bud Light, take a trip to either Gentlemen Jim’s.
“Come on, come all,” Baldwin said. “Everybody’s welcome, as long as they’re 21 and they can prove it.” MP