A Local’s Guide to Nashville 2013
I happened to get carried away recently writing this up for an acquaintance coming to town. Thought I would spread it around instead of letting it go stale in my sent items.
If I had four nights to spend in Nashville, I would hit the following. Naturally I don’t know what you guys are into, so hopefully some of these will fit.
Where to Stay
Take a Drive
Things to See and Shopping
Where to Stay
I like this place. It’s easy to get in and out of and about as centrally located in Nashville as you can get. Midtown is just a couple of blocks, downtown is a bit farther, but an easy cab ride, and you can easily jump over to East Nashville or head west to Belle Meade if you’d like. It’s modern, relatively new (just a few years) and has a good bar and dining option downstairs.
Union Station Hotel
You can always go 5 star and stay in the Hermitage Hotel. Very cool and right downtown. However, I think the Union Station Hotel is pretty cool. Although I haven’t been in the rooms in a while, the location is right next door to the Frist Center for Visual Arts and you can easily walk downtown.
While not exactly local, this luxury resort sits at the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. If you wanted to have an overnight stay in luxury near the mountains, I’d say go for it. There are lots of great things about this spot but S-E-R-V-I-C-E is second to no place in the world I’ve ever stayed.
You can have just about anything you ask for. If they don’t have it, they will arrange to get it right away. Hand shaved truffles on grits, one-on-one fly fishing lessons, a hot air balloon ride – all on a moments notice. You can even hit the private sporting clay range while your significant other is at the spa. After dinner, roast marshmallows for s’mores at the fire pit. First class.
My house is pretty good but service and availability is very limited.
If you like pancakes (get the sweet potato variety) with a side of eggs and toast, then standing in line at this Nashville institution is a must. It’s in the Hillsboro Village neighborhood in Nashville between the campuses of Vanderbilt and Belmont and you can check out some of the shops while you are there such as Bookmanbookwoman.
European style breakfast here. Good stuff.
This is the coffee shop that all of the baristas who work at other coffee shops go to for a fantastic pull of joe. It’s in an old transmission repair shop and pours the most flavorful coffees I’ve ever had from around the world. So if you are a coffee connoisseur, don’t miss this joint. It also happens that they serve a mean buttermilk biscuit, made fresh daily, with your choice of egg, sausage, bacon or jelly. Fantastic.
New York Delicatessen. Been around a long time and is a hopping place for breakfast in midtown.
Sunday brunch? An absolute must. Great food, lively place.
Have to throw this one in. Great place. Lots of people meeting/networking and jittering while staring at their computer. Good breakfast here – that comes out way faster than your drink.
Burger Up or The Pharmacy
While I cannot argue that either of these is better for a burger than the Nashville shrine Rotier’s or hard hitting Gabby’s (giant, melt-in-your-mouth burgers), they are both new, really good options. While Rotier’s is one of Nashville’s oldest most authentic joints, these two also serve up great burgers. All three have bars while The Pharmacy is the only one with a killer beer garden.
If you happen to hit Burger Up, go right next door afterward for homemade and unique popsicles at Las Paletas. Mexican Caramel is BAM!
If you happen to hit The Pharmacy in East Nashville for just a beer, across the street you will find Mas Tacos – a can’t miss for made-fresh-daily tacos. The owner Teresa started out with one of the first gourmet food trucks in Nashville when that craze hit a few years ago. She has since grown into a cool location and continues to make super-fresh, cheap tacos.
If you are feeling the meat and three option (aka soul food, aka country cookin’), Arnold’s is one of the most popular in town. At lunch the line will stretch to the door and beyond but it’s cafeteria style and moves quickly. If you want to be assured a table, just go a little early or after peak hours to beat the mixed crowd of suits and ties, blue collar workers, and college kids alike.
Vegetarian? This is the place to go. Food is delicious.
Great mediterranean on your mind? Look no further. This is it.
Hot Diggity Dog
Simply the best hot dogs in town in a fun little old house. Done and done.
If you do the NashTrash tour, you’ll find yourself at the Nashville Farmers Market. Depending on timing, you can grab some authentic Neapolitan-style pizza at Bella (Did I mention that I LOVE PIZZA!). Or, if you are looking for something a little more spicy, Nashville, and Guy Fiery, rave about the Curried Goat at Jamaica Way - also located inside the farmers market.
Simply a must if you are visiting and want to go for something different. It’s family style so you’ll meet new people and the food is great. You won’t regret it. There are lots of locations but the original is in my neighborhood (Germantown). It’s the best.
Far East Nashville
There are several good places for Vietnamese in town (Kien Giang probably being the best) but I usually end up at Far East for my bowl of traditional Pho. Service could be a little better but the food is good and location is convenient to a bunch of new little artisan shops next door.
Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack
Another Nashville institution and food that is a Nashville original. This place is slow and molasses during peak lunch hours but if you get to the door first, or go later in the afternoon, you’ll enjoy an unusual Nashville favorite.
Nashville’s home for the giant rolled burrito. Unlike the chains though, it’s REALLY good.
Don’t let the strip mall setting throw you off. This place is great for lunch or dinner. They have a nice Turkish red wine I get when I’m there having the lamb chops. Ask to “just walk them through the kitchen” to get them nice and rare. The hummus is also really great to start and you have to wrap up with a Turkish coffee.
Did I mention that I love PIZZA!?! Different take on authentic traditional pizza. Dig it.
I go here all the time for lunch. While I’m sure they have other fantastic menu items, I cannot stop eating the Turkey Avacado and Bacon sandwich long enough to try anything else.
Just as many cities have seen a food renaissance, Nashville has had one of its own. While nothing is new under the sun, these newly-on-their-own, yet experienced chefs, have hit the ground running with good simple food. So, if you want to take a turn at some of Nashville’s latest dining experiences, here are my top picks. Good people putting new spins on old classics in a laid back and cool atmosphere.
I’ll start off with what I consider our current crown jewel of the dining scene. The Catbird seat is that sort of latest foray into fine, interactive, dining where there isn’t so much of a menu but rather chef’s Josh and Erik preparing a creative meal each evening made up of several delicious dishes.
While still a casual setting, the price is not. I guarantee that you will be knocked out by the food and wine pairings but the price might sting a little as well. Although around $400 for a couple, you’ll still need to make reservations well in advance.
Written up recently in Conde Naste among many others, it’s a pretty hot thing right now.
Rolf and Daughters
This restaurant is just down the block from my home in the Germantown neighborhood. Although there isn’t much to see in Germantown as a visitor (sort of a gritty reviving neighborhood of homes), there are several great restaurants. R&D is the newest of those and does very simple yet fantastic dishes. It is located in the ground floor of the old power plant building of the Werthan Mills property (now a condo conversion).
Also in my neighborhood and just up the block is City House. So much has been written up about this place in the past 2-3 years that I cannot cover it all. Easy place to eat, great food and probably the best Neapolitan-style pizza in town. Simple, Italian farm style food. Highly recommended – ESPECIALLY the Sunday evening menu that is completely different than the regular daily menu and is fantastic.
Yet another newby in my neighborhood, Silo is all about the farm-to-table movement. Good food and offers a really nice brunch on Sunday.
To wrap up this particular style of dining options, Lockland Table is in East Nashville – just across the river from my neighborhood and downtown. Really good scene, similar food to those above and really good.
The Silly Goose
Know that the position in this list has nothing to do with the quality of food and dining experience! I believe The Silly Goose to be the best restaurant in Nashville right now. Period.
The Goose is small and also located in East Nashville. It’s not “fine” dining but rather VERY fresh, healthy food that is made with care from local, organic produce by the chef and owner, Roderick (aka Roscoe).
I watched this guy start out just trying to catch a break a couple of years ago and have supported him and this restaurant 100%. Although great for dinner, lunch is an easy option too. Don’t miss it if you are into their menu.
And while dessert at the Goose shouldn’t be missed (seriously), next door is Jenni’s Ice Cream. I don’t know what to tell you here about solving the dessert dilemma but even if you have dessert at the goose, you still need some from Jenni’s. In the summertime, the Goat Cheese with Cherries is insane.
Five Points Pizza
Neighborhood pizza joint with beer options? I love pizza and eat here often. When I’m not in the mood for traditional Neapolitan pizza, this is my go to place.
While I hate to say a chain is our best steak option, the facts are the facts.
Into beer? You can visit local brew joints Fat Bottom Brewery, Jackalope, or Yazoo. These are new ones and little more cool. Some older versions are Blackstone, Boscos, and Big River. Beyond the breweries you can get good beer selections, and good food for that matter, at 12 South Tap Room.
The Tap room is located in a neighborhood called 12 South so, while you are there, you might take a walk down the street. It’s mostly restaurants that are all good such as Edley’s BBQ, Burger Up and etcetera.
Wanna go for a deep dive? Hit Springwater for an old-school Nashville working man’s bar. Now it’s a bit hip with the young crowd but they haven’t ruined it just yet. Beware – in Nashville you can still smoke in bars designated as 21+ but if they serve food and allow under 21, no smoking.
I haven’t even been to Santa’s Pub yet, but it’s rumored to be one of the more interesting joints around – in a trailer – if you feel like exploring!
The speakeasy-style Patterson House in midtown is nice. Certainly cannot go wrong there. Great drinks – ask for a Bacon Old Fashioned. Cool atmosphere and just downstairs from The Catbird Seat I mentioned for food. However, if you want to get the same quality drink for less, in a place that was voted Nashville’s best new bar in 2011, visit 308. You can even talk to people standing up!
Almost as much I love pizza, I love the Barbarella – a slightly different take on the Old Fashioned. Get it.
Speaking of “Best of”, you might want to check out the list at the Nashville Scene. It’s the go-to source for who’s playing where and what’s fresh and good.
This place moved to a new location a while back and it’s pretty cool. For a long time it’s been one of the places to see and be seen (if you are into that). Drinks and food are good (especially Sushi) but they aren’t giving either of them away for cheap.
Just across the street and owned by the same guy. Cool place with lots of people on certain nights.
The 5 Spot
Sort of a musicians hangout of sorts. I’ve yet to go actually but I hear good things.
Great neighborhood pub with good burgers.
Take a Drive
Cyclemo’s Motorcycle Museum
As an avid motorcyclist, I have to say Nashville, and Tennessee in general, have some great roads. You don’t need a motorcycle to enjoy them but let’s be honest – isn’t everything better on a bike?
For a nice little trip, with a destination at the end, is one to Cyclemo’s located in Red Boiling Springs, TN. (Yes, Red Boiling Springs. Cool name but Bucksnort might have it beat… by a nose.) It’s about 75 miles one-way and I encourage you to take the two-lane twisty roads for the full experience - at least on the way there.
Lots of popular stops rolled into a single trip - Loveless Cafe, Natchez Trace, Leiper’s Fork, downtown Franklin, Jack Daniels Distillery
Daytrip alert! If you’re not into bikes, but are still into small towns and curvy roads, a trip to the Jack Daniel’s Distillery with lots of fun stops along the way might be interesting. If you choose to go, get started early and make it a day by heading over to Nashville’s historic Loveless Cafe for breakfast - just yards from the beginning of the Natchez Trace. After that, take the trace for a few miles before jumping off and visiting Leiper’s Fork.
Leiper’s Fork is a very small village but is a big weekend destination for performances, antiques, and art. It’s even known as a spot for celebrity spotting such as Ashley and Wynonna Judd, Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman, Niki Taylor, Mike Wolfe (of American Pickers) and others who come to hang out like everyone else.
There are several little shops and a couple of art galleries there along with the gas station -Puckett’s – that doubles as a spot for “writer’s nights” in the evenings. If you stick around for lunch, don’t miss Joe’s Natural’s if you happen to get hungry after that Loveless Cafe breakfast. My favorite is their killer veggie bowl followed by a homemade cookie.
You can then cruise right on over to downtown Franklin and hit the shops there and grab a mid-morning coffee before moving along to the distillery tour. Or, if you are feeling like checking out a genuine plantation tour, stop by Carnton Plantation - purportedly haunted complete with bullet holes and blood stains. This is probably the best route for the day if you go.
Things to See and Shopping
The Cupcake Collection
Just a few blocks from my home, this family makes delicious cupcakes. Not only are they best in town, they don’t cost $5 each. More importantly, the Francois family is one of the nicest and most genuine families you’ll ever meet.
You know how some places start out humble and great but then they soon replace the people behind the counter with grumpy souls who never get enough sleep and don’t care? Not here. No way. Since my first visit on the first week, they have maintained a pleasant attitude that makes you want to keep coming back.
Third Man Records
The Nashville music scene is diverse. Always has been more so than visitors think. Nevertheless, a few years ago Jack White of the White Stripes relocated to Nashville, along with the Black Keys, and pumped some new blood into our music scene. While artists of all genres have recorded in Nashville for decades, these guys choose to keep a place in town with the likes of Kings of Leon and Robert Plant. Anyway, not a very big place (unless you catch a performance in the back), but you can pick up some new bands on vinyl by stopping by here.
Also in my neighborhood, this small Italian grocery makes fresh pasta and excellent sauce. You can stop by for some cheese and salami but a CANNOT MISS is their tiramisu. It’s the best you’ll ever have. I guarantee it.
The Carl Van Vechten Gallery
Located on the campus of Fisk University The Alfred Stieglitz Collection of Modern American and European Art includes works by Pablo Picasso, Paul Cezanne, Auguste-Pierre Renoir, Henri deToulouse-Lautrec, Georgia O’Keeffe, Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and Arthur Dove. It’s a small but very neat and interesting gallery. Worth a short visit.
I know Phillip and Dana personally and love their story. They make great Italian boots. They also have, by far and away, the coolest studio workspace around and can be found back over in my neighborhood (Germantown).
Their studio is in the mechanical building of an old slaughterhouse along the Cumberland River. It’s a great place to just go browse around at boots and chill but they also have some killer vintage furniture, cool hats, and very nice bags. Don’t miss it.
Cheekwood Botanical Gardens
This is a great place to take a walk around the gardens to see sculptural art.
Imogene and Willie
Looking for some cool, ultra-hip, selvedge blue jeans made in Music City USA? Go here and check out their jeans and other clothing in this small gas-station-turned-jean store. Matt and Carrie are good people and I’m a big fan of what they are doing to bring manufacturing back to the USA.
Seen the show American Pickers? Visit this place. It’s in the old Marathon Motor Works building and is pretty cool. Walk around a bit and then check out the homemade marshmallows from next door at The Bang Candy Company. Flavors change daily but toasted coconut and chocolate chili marshmallow (both chocolate dipped) are my favorites.
While you are there, take a tour of the Corsair Distillery and have a drink then stop by Emil Erwin and Otis James’ shared studio to check out really nice leather bags from Emil and custom hats and ties from Otis. Good guys.
Hatch Show Print
This is right on Broadway just down from the honky tonks. It’s a must see for a souvenir as it is one of the oldest working letterpress print shops in America. Go pick up a really cool poster from some famous performer and you’ll instantly be cooler for it.
But if you want something even a little more edgy and not so common from a local guy doing awesome stuff, go visit Bryce McCloud at Isle of Printing. Bryce is a creative artist and has some really cool stuff I promise you will enjoy. He’s also a really cool guy to talk to.
Country Music Hall of Fame
For obvious reasons.
First Saturday Art Crawl
If you are in town on the first Saturday of the month, this is a blast. Free wine (albeit of the cheap variety), interesting art, and good people in some neat spaces. Be sure to check out The Rymer Gallery and say hello to curator and artist Herb Williams.
Frist Center for the Visual Arts
Depending on what you are into, really good place to check out. Converted from our original Art Deco post office downtown.
Schermerhorn Symphony Center
I have to say that I haven’t seen a bad performance here. Ever. This hall is state-of-the-art new so the acoustics are fantastic. I have never gone just for the symphony but rather performers who are sometimes backed up by the orchestra. If you see something you like here during your visit, ya gotta go.
Radnor Lake Trail
This is a really nice and easy trail that you can do in less than an hour. If you want more, you can take the ridge trail which is a little tougher and takes about 1.5 hours. I and my wife go here all the time. It’s great.
I don’t rock the cowboy boots much (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but if you want some really nice custom cowboy boots not typical of what’s downtown, stop by here for endless options.
The Oak Bar at The Hermitage Hotel
As you know the men’s restroom at the Hermitage Hotel is a big attraction (yes, it’s okay and generally accepted that women check it out while men are there). It adjoins the Oak Bar which is kind of cool in the oldest and nicest hotel (5 star) in Nashville. A neat place to visit if you are around there.
Although I’m sure you are all set on early American history, you can check out the home of Andrew Jackson without wondering too far from downtown Nashville. This is nowhere near the aforementioned Hermitage Hotel.
The Mall at Green Hills
This mall has come a long way since I moved to town. It now has by far the best shopping in town under one roof. Your regular mall stuff like Nordstrom, Tiffany, Louis Vuitton, and Burberry. For less fancy options, maybe the Opry Mills Mall or head over to the Hill Center on a nice day.
The Parthenon has a museum inside and is in Centennial Park right in the middle of town. It’s a full scale copy of the original Greek Parthenon with an awesome gold leaf Athena inside.
The coolest record store in town with great selections and even more interesting performances.
The Grand Ole Opry
Certainly one of Nashville’s best known events, so you will need to check their site and book your tickets ahead of time. Sometimes they know who is coming but often there are surprise guests.
The Ryman Auditorium
As the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, this is literally the church of country music. However, since it’s resurrection and savior from the wrecking ball (all puns intended), this venue has been home to an assortment of acts spanning every musical genre. If someone happens to be playing who you are interested in seeing, and that happens while you are in town, this is a must to put on your calendar. Get your tickets and enjoy.
While I haven’t recommended any of the places in the downtown tourist district, the Ryman shares and alley between some of Nashville’s infamous broadway Honkey Tonks.
I believe Nashville’s best BBQ is found at Jack’s just across the alley. Even if you don’t hit the Ryman, some evening you might want to grab a longneck and listen to a band or two (the later the better) at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, Robert’s Western World (known for the “Recession Special” – a fried bologna sandwich, chips, and a PBR for only $5), and The Stage. You can even head across the street to Paradise Park for a true trailer park themed bar.
Where better to listen to Karaoke than Nashville? If you find yourself downtown a little later in the night and your expectations are low, head over to Printer’s Alley and poke your head into Lonnie’s. You can order a bucket of longnecks and watch people make fools of themselves until you have finished enough longnecks to join them.
If it’s REALLY late, stick your head in next door at Fiddle and Steel to see local studio musicians mixing with aspiring wannabes and trading places on stage playing anything and everything. For some solid blues, head one more door down to Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar. Good stuff there.
If you want to take in some jazz in a cool basement floor of an old factory building in Germantown, go here. Great performances, really cool venue and nice people. Bring your own bottle of wine.
The Station Inn
If you’ve ever wanted to at least sample bluegrass, the best is found right here. The Station Inn always has the best from acts like The Time Jumpers and The Steeldrivers. It’s a simple place in The Gulch where condos have replaced empty railcar fields. They serve cans or longnecks, popcorn, and hotdogs with picnic tables for seating.
Depending on when you come, you might catch a play or comedian at the Tennessee Performing Arts Center. Good spot.
Music City Roots at the Loveless Barn
If you happen to be in town on a Wednesday night, a new take on the Opry broadcast is Music City Roots. It is live from the Loveless Barn right behind the Loveless Cafe. A good venue.
Douglas Corner Cafe
More country music without the tourist Broadway stuff? Take this one in. Just across the street from our comedy club, Zanie’s, where there are lots of good acts passing through regularly.
3rd and Lindsley
Very popular spot for performances of all kinds. Local setting and lots of talented bands.
You have to go here if you are doing “the Nashville thing”.
Believe it or not, that’s not all but these are mostly places for adults and for locals… sometimes. I hope you enjoy your trip and if you get into any trouble, give me a call.