Nashville may have a replica of the Parthenon declaring it the “Athens of the South,” but I’ve got 5 drunk bachelorettes and their high-heel wearing, short-skirt-sporting entourage, click clacking up and down Broadway that say this town is more akin to the likes of Las Vegas. That’s right, welcome to Nash-Vegas, Baby!
About 6 years ago Tom and I stopped by Nashville on a road trip to my see my grandparents. We like to think we discovered this little gem, as it was just then budding into the “Vegas of the South” it is today.
We reveled in the cheap drinks, free live music, and the anyone-can-make-it, “what’s your dream?” vibe. Last month we returned to Nashville to find it a little larger, a little louder, a little more fun, and a whole lot tastier. The city has grown tremendously and it is not expected to slow any time soon.
And the food scene blew up while we were away. Now, premium cocktails shaken by top mixologists and menus that read like Hipster food porn are as accessible as fried chicken and a bud light. But before you think that Nashville just sold out to a bunch of lumber-sexuals, think again. The girl taking your order still has a Southern drawl and she still sings and plays guitar at the local honky-tonk on her nights off, hoping to get discovered.
But chances are, she’s not really from Nashville. In fact, nobody in Nashville seems to actually be from Nashville. It’s a mecca of transplants; people on their way to somewhere, but in no hurry to leave.
So if you can’t tell by now, we are fans. We highly recommend a trip to Nashville, and we are living proof that you can go there (twice), never visit the Grand Ole’ Opry and still walk away satisfied. Below are a few recommendations and highlights to help you plan your trip; so read it and then book your ticket to Nash-Vegas, baby!
What We Did:
You can’t come to Nashville, the Music City, and not listen to some tunes. Look up any guide and you are sure to see The Grand Ole Opry and the Ryman Auditorium. We did neither, a sin, I know. But we still had a blast and we got our fill of good music elsewhere:
The Listening Room Cafe
For just $5 and walking distance from our hotel, we saw a great live band at The Listening Room Café over a couple glasses of Jack Daniel’s (hey, “when in Tennessee…”). Pass on the food, but their cocktails are pretty decent.
The Station Inn
This place was a repeat for us. We came here 6 years ago on a Sunday night for their open bluegrass jam session. When we walked in again, everything was exactly the same, from the red and white-checkered tablecloths to the smell of buttered popcorn, gooey pizza, and pitchers of PBR. This time we came on a Friday night for a proper show. We sat at a table with the wife and kids of the banjo player and the chelloist’ family hooted and hollered from behind us all night long.
Although it is touristy, we just couldn’t resist the charm of Broadway, a street lined with old honky-tonks, and relentlessly hopeful musicians strumming for attention. Don’t even worry about figuring out which place to go on Broadway, just start from one end and work your way to the other. Hop from bar to bar till you find a band you like; most places do not charge covers.
Where To Day Drink:
Nashville isn't just about nightlife. If you have a free afternoon, check out these spots.
It's a small gourmet burger shop with a backyard, beer garden terrace. Sit at picnic tables with friends or strangers-turned-friends. Don’t be intimidated by the loooooong line out front, the place is bigger than it looks from the outside and you can always grab a brewski out in the beer garden while you wait on your table. The food is excellent as well as the beer.
I don’t even know what to call this place. It’s located in a renovated complex on the outskirts of downtown in what looks like an old warehouse district along the river. From the front doors you have a view of the river, the Tennessee Titans stadium, and the downtown skyline.
When you step in, you find a weird hodgepodge of ideas seamlessly mashed together. It’s a gourmet coffee shop, meets speakeasy cocktail lounge, meets Don Draper’s living room, meets hipster restaurant, meets bowling lanes, meets pool deck and lawn games. Oh and they serve up the best damn broccoli I have ever tasted. It’s a little out of the way, but worth the effort and its open from morning till night so you have no excuse not to stop in. I even spent an afternoon working from their “living room.”
The Patterson House
Like most big cities these days, a good cocktail is not terribly hard to find in Nashville. But when we came 6 years ago, mixologist was not a mainstream term and few people knew the meaning of Sazarac. At that time, our hotel shuttle driver turned us on to this newly opened speakeasy at the forefront of a new trend.
There was no sign, just a front door that looked as though it led to a small unassuming house. But inside we found a swanky 1920's style bar with incredible bartenders mixing up drinks with ingredients and tinctures we had never heard of. This was the night we fell in love with craft cocktails (before it was cool). So before we even arrived back to Nashville, we knew a visit to The Patterson House was a must.
So what has become of that little Speakeasy? Their drinks are as good as ever, but they aren’t such a secret anymore. I recently saw it listed as one of the top 10 speakeasy bars in America and it is currently a semifinalist for a James Beard award. An hour or longer wait is not uncommon. Is it worth the wait? Yes, yes it is.
Oh and by the way, we like to think we discovered this little gem, so…you’re welcome.
Where To Eat:
Acme Feed & Seed
Nashville’s food scene is blowing up, so there is no shortage of good food, from traditional Southern BBQ to modern cuisine. But Acme surprised us the most.
Acme looks like just another honky-tonk at the end of the Broadway strip, but it is truly unique. The first floor houses a live band and a modern take on Southern food (definitely order the The Hatchery and the Griot with Ti Malice & Pikliz). The second floor houses TV’s, couches, and sushi. Yup, you heard that right, there’s sushi in Nashville. Third floor is for private events, and the fourth floor is a rooftop with a view of the football stadium, downtown skyscrapers, and the Broadway strip...oh and more music.
Where The Locals Go:
We thrive on finding local hotspots. Our Uber drivers proved to be the best source of information here. These are the recommendations we got:
East Nashville and the 5 Points Area
Home of Opera Winfry, her dad still has an operating barbershop there today. Check out The 5 Points area, an artsy, up-and-coming district full of non-chain bars and restaurants.
A newly renovated neighborhood between downtown and Midtown with a cluster of hip new restaurants, including the very popular Whiskey Kitchen and Kayne Prime (steak house). We ate at Moto, the Italian restaurant and were not disappointed. Try their brussels sprouts and their black spaghetti. By the way, The Station Inn is near The Gulch area, so dinner at The Gulch and then music at the Station Inn makes for a really great evening.
There is a string of party bars with large upstairs patios near Vanderbilt University. Think big patios, even bigger TV's, loud music, and late nights.
Where We Stayed:
The Union Station Hotel
The historic Union train station has been converted to a hotel. If you like history and old buildings, then this is the hotel for you. It’s a great location as well, walking distance to downtown, Broadway, and the hockey arena. If you are on a budget, you might want to stay elsewhere and just stop by this hotel to take a look at the lobby. Anywhere in downtown or midtown will do. There is a cluster of budget hotels near Vanderbilt. The Hutton is another more pricey, but great hotel with a little known secret...they serve the best burger in town at their bar.
So there you have it...Nashville in a nutshell. If you know of any other great spots in this fabulous town, share them below.
I'm Jaime. My husband is Tom. Suburbanites, backpackers, and expats...we've been them all!