Nashville is dynamic. Nashville has character. Nashville is a rising star as a travel destination, even for folks who don’t have country music on the playlist. There has never been a better time to fiddle around in Music City. Let’s do it right, with Global Gallop’s Ten Best Nashville experiences:
1) My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys: Best Nashville Museums
For general immersion in country music lore, waltz through the Country Music Hall of Fame. More focused fans can two-step over to the Johnny Cash Museum to pay tribute to the ‘Man in Black’ or boot scoot to the George Jones Museum to savor some ‘hundred proof memories’.
2) Small Town USA: Best Nashville Neighborhoods
Ditch the tired downtown tourist refrain and go deep in Nashville’s neighborhoods. East Nashville is the city’s nexus of grunge and hipster, where innovative restaurants, incubatory music venues and funky retail outposts are interspersed with thrift shops, tattoo parlors and used tire stores. Slightly more evolved, the 12 South neighborhood is like a group hug; a community of front porches, cozy coffee cafés, eclectic shops and inviting eateries. Idyllic German Town takes you back in time with picture perfect residential streets, manicured gardens, vintage storefronts, and a burgeoning dining scene.
3) Family Tradition: Best Nashville Classic Restaurants
Expect to queue up for a taste of the old school Nashville eating institutions, including The Pancake Pantry, an iconic breakfast mecca. For over sixty years, the Loveless Café has been dishing out hearty Southern comfort food and some seriously additive biscuits to adoring crowds. Despite a scruffy exterior and transitional location, Arnolds Country Kitchen packs them in, and packs it on, with heaping plates of ‘meat and three’.
4) Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way? Best Nashville Divergent Dining
Why ‘walk the line’ when Music City is full of so many unconventional dining options? Biscuit Love and Mas Tacos Por Favor are food truck spin offs that retain their maverick characters and sensible prices despite the tethers of brick and mortar. I Dream of Weenie keeps its hands on the wheel and a firm grip on its sense of humor, dispensing dogs with creative toppings like mac n cheese from the belly of a vintage VW van.
Put street food in the rear view mirror and continue to sample the idiosyncratic side of Nashville noshing. A $10 cup of java somehow seems rational in the quirky, industrial design digs of the Barista Parlors. Your mother might not think there is enough Pine Sol on the planet to convert a pet shop into an enticing eatery, but Fido Cafe pulls off the trick. Playing with your food has a whole new meaning at the cavernous Pinewood Social, which features six vintage bowling lanes, two dipping pools, a bocce ball court and a very talented kitchen.
5) The Sweetest Thing: Best Nashville Dessert Destinations
Nashville has evolved way beyond the Dairy Queen swirl when it comes to dessert options. Run, don’t walk, to the Cupcake Collection where the baked-from-scratch flavors include Sweet Potato, Key Lime and Campfire S’mores. Another not-to-be-missed dessert destination is Las Paletas, serving Mexican ice pops in uncommon varieties like avocado, hibiscus and ‘hot’ chocolate made with chili peppers.
6) Behind Closed Doors: Best Nashville Speakeasies
Sometimes it is just more fun to be sneaky, and two of Nashville’s most sophisticated drinking emporiums are a bit undercover. Beyond a velvet curtain, the chandelier lit Patterson House is an intimate cocktail dispensary where bartenders ply their trade with the gravitas of pharmacists. Behind a sliding bookcase in Savarino’s Italian Restaurant, a hidden stairway leads to Amari, a lavish libation den. Amari’s exhaustive drink menu makes it challenging to navigate the return trip to the outside world.
7) Friends in Low Places: Best Nashville Dive Bars
Nashville is hog heaven for dive bars, the bottom feeders of the honky-tonk world. Beyond priceless cultural entertainment, many of Nashville’s dive bars offer live music with no cover charge beyond the deposit of a couple of bills in the band’s tip jar.
The Springwater Supper Club, Bobby’s Idle Hour, and the 5 Spot are reliable down-and-out watering holes, but Santa’s Pub is the quintessential poster child of Nashville’s swill-slinging slums. Housed in a double-wide trailer festooned with Christmas decorations, Santa’s Pub is ruled with a firm but hospitable hand by its namesake white-bearded proprietor. On Sunday nights, live music is provided by the ‘house’ band, the Blooddrunk Shenanigans, featuring songs from their album “Falling Over”. The locals that frequent Santa’s Pub will welcome you like a lost friend, so long as you buy the first round of PBR’s. It’s a token ante at $2 a can, cash only.
8) The Road Goes on Forever and the Party Never Ends: Best Nashville Music Venues
Most visitors to Nashville follow the well-worn paths to the Ryman Auditorium and the show at the Grand Ole Opry. But Nashville is overflowing with more intimate entertainment venues featuring the full spectrum of music genres. You will need to book ahead to be sure of landing one of only ninety seats at the Bluebird Café, known for acoustic performances by the songwriters behind the stars. At the other end of the spontaneity spectrum, is the first-come, first-served Station Inn, a tiny oasis of tradition with a bluegrass bent located in the otherwise glitzy ‘Gulch’ neighborhood.
Under Grimey’s Record Store, the subterranean Basement is a cozy venue which strays toward alternative, rock and indie sounds. It comes as no surprise that the perennially popular Basement has spawned a spin-off, the Basement East.
Nashville’s music crowd is breathing a sigh of relief that The Family Wash kept its quirky character – a funky fusion of songs, suds and shepherd pies – following a move from a former laundromat to a larger space on Main Street in East Nashville.
8) If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got the Time: Best Nashville Shopping
Banish the Big Box retailers and dive into Nashville’s vibrant alternative shopping scene. For hillbilly hand-me-downs, head to the monthly Nashville Flea Market at the State Fair Grounds. If the Nashville Flea Market is not in session, you can find equally eccentric cast offs at Cool Stuff Weird Things or OMG (Old Made Good). At the other end of the economic scale, Lucchese Boots can fit you in a pair of hand crafted alligator-skin stompers for $12,000.
In many Nashville retail establishments, the trappings are as entertaining as the trade. Antique Archaeology displays the curious finds of television’s ‘American Pickers’ and offers performances by local musicians. Go figure, you’ve got Pickers, and Pickers and Grinners, all in one stop. Third Man Records vends the vinyl of rocker Jack White’s label, positioned among an odd collection of novelties, including a fully functional coin operated recording booth.
If you harbor an infantile ego, King Baby Studio caters to your every whim with star quality custom jewelry, eyewear and clothing displayed in a creatively curated showroom. King Baby is the spot where you are most likely to stumble into Kid Rock, Taylor Swift or Luke Bryan browsing for something they don’t need but must have.
10) Feels So Right: Best Nashville Hotel
Finally, Music City has a hotel with a style quotient that’s in tune with the new Nashville. Hiding in plain sight in the glitzy Gulch neighborhood, the five-room 404 Hotel and Kitchen is a haven of design-centric sophistication. Housed in a former auto garage, the 404 Hotel’s hip lofts feature original art, concrete floors, soaring ceilings, sprawling baths, fragrant Malin + Goetz amenities and decadent Sferra linens.
It doesn’t hurt a bit that the adjoining 404 Kitchen is one of the city’s hottest dining destinations. Even better, the 404 Hotel is stumbling distance from the Station Inn, one of Nashville’s most enduring, and endearing, live music venues.