Gainesboro not be your first place to look for a slice of Celtic pub life in Tennessee, but co-owner Diana Madli and her staff have created just that on the main square. Diana is an unlikely pub owner. She came to Jackson County on a whim on a visit to see friends in Middle Tennessee. After buying a farm as a vacation escape from her consulting work in Florida, it was soon clear Gainesboro had other plans for her. The original town square was in bad shape and she and her business partner hated to see it fall into disrepair. They bought half a block and asked around to see what locals really wanted. A good restaurant and a place to gather.

The Bull & Thistle  sits across from the Jackson County courthouse. It’s hard to miss with its traditional gold letter signage and the bright red UK phone box outside the entrance. Inside you’ll find a lovingly restored floor, excavated from underneath seven layers of tile and plywood. The ceiling in the bar and restaurant are original tin tiles now burnished to a copper finish. Dark wood finishes and bricked support columns add to the warmth of what is actually a pretty big place for small town pub. Though I was greeted by Van Morrison on the house sound system, the corner stage plays host to local and regional musicians playing pop, blues, rock, and, of course, some traditional Celtic tunes.



The bar and restaurant menus reflect British and Irish pub food traditions with some American bistro favorites added for good measure. There’s also a cheese plate and a bone marrow starter for those looking for something a little more adventurous. The Bull & Thistle offers twenty beers on tap, many from throughout the state and several import pub standards like Guinness and Bass. A wine list and full bar service are also available.

I visited for a special five-course tasting menu, Wild Game and Native Brews. The evening featured six Tennessee-brewed beers from Calfkiller , Yazoo, Yeehaw , Ghost River , Hap & Harry’s, and  VonSeitz Theoreticales. The standouts were the amuse bouche opener, a deviled quail egg paired with Calfkiller Sergio’s Ole Evil-Ass Bullshit Ale; wild boar soft tacos paired with Yeehaw Winter Porter; and the dessert, a wildflower panna cotta paired with Green Thyum from Theoreticales.




Before each course Diana and Ben talked about the food and the beers. Diana is a beer aficionado and was as excited to talk about Tennessee beer brewing and culture as Ben and sous Randy were to talk about the food. The Bull & Thistle staff, lead by General Manager Van Glass are incredibly welcoming and did an excellent job of making the two communal tables feel like they were the only ones in the busy dining room offering regular dinner service.

Tasting menus are offered throughout the year and announced at the pub and on social media. But don’t wait for one to go. The place is packed out on Friday and Saturday nights for live music and upscale pub grub. If you don’t live in the area and aren’t keen on driving all the way home, Cookeville’s hotels are only twenty minutes away. If you’re passing through and have time for a detour, they also offer lunch Wednesday through Saturday and a special brunch menu on Sunday.




The Bull & Thistle
102 S. Main St
Gainesboro, Tennessee
(931) 268-7170
Wednesday & Thursday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
Friday & Saturday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Sunday brunch 12 noon – 4 p.m.
Closed Monday & Tuesday

Reservations recommended for dinner Friday and Saturday night


Contributed by Victoria Raschke