Nashville, Tennessee, is, of course, legendary for its role in nurturing America’s country-music scene for close to a century. Certainly, the whole cowboy-boots-and-honky-tonk-live-music reputation keeps the city fun, in the spotlight and the reason the city is the bachelorette party capital of the world. Increasingly though, there’s another side of Nashville that’s been quietly building as more and more young people gravitate to this historic city. Something sophisticated and culturally rich is brewing in neighborhoods not always visited by the weekend tourist—new art galleries, gourmet restaurants and high-end shops are popping up all over the place. Yet old-fashioned Southern hospitality permeates the entire city—traditional and cutting-edges alike.
Since the 1920s the city has been attracting musicians who have transformed the country genre from the “hillbilly music” of the early 20th century through the slick “Nashville Sound” of the ’60s to the punk-tinged alt-country of the 1990s. The Country Music Hall of Fame in downtown Nashville traces the history of country music, while museums dedicated to Johnny Cash, George Jones and Willie Nelson delve into their personal stories. The weekly country-music show the Grand Ole Opry, first broadcast on a Nashville radio station, celebrated its 90th birthday in 2015. Try to book a tour of The Ryman, the historic site of the original Grand Ole Opry, and one of the best live-music venues in the country.
Art ‘n’ Stuff
The first Saturday of every month marks downtown Nashville’s First Saturday Art Crawl, which involves more than 20 galleries and creates a festive atmosphere centering around Fifth Avenue of the Arts and in the historic Arcade. It’s a free night on the town May 6 from 6-9 p.m. in Nashville’s burgeoning Arts District.
In the area, Tinney Contemporary, 237 5th Ave. N., offers a selection of current paintings and photography featuring the work of Adam Shulman through May 6. Another contemporary gallery which has a large following, The Rymer Gallery, 233 5th Ave. N., is dedicated to showcasing art and artists from a varied array of media and experience.
The Hatch Show Print, 224 5th Ave. South, is the oldest wood-block print shop in America. The prints are authentically and distinctively Nashville. Just about every major musical show in town will get its own print and the shop sells off the extras. It’s a great place to find a unique souvenir.
Another reason Nashville is hot? A half-dozen burgeoning neighborhoods packed with unique shops, indie coffeehouses, innovative bakeries, new breweries and distilleries, and a surprising number of bright murals ready to backdrop your selfie. East Nashville is home to the city’s artisan scene while 12th Ave. South brings the shoppers with its stylish boutiques, vintage collections and gift shops. A worldly array of restaurants fills The Gulch while people-watchers fill patios in Hillsboro Village. Each neighborhood has a distinct personality, but they’re all linked by a common commitment to Southern hospitality.
The honky-tonks on and around Broadway are classic, just as corny and twangy, loud and boozy as one might expect. Many charge no cover, but drinking is expected. You can do a little planning and check nowplayingnashville.com in advance, or you can just squeeze into Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge, 422 Broadway, to see who’s standing and singing on the bar, or hit Robert’s Western World, 416B Broadway, for some traditional country heartbreak—it’ll be all right. The Ernest Tubb Record Shop, 417 Broadway, is open 24 hours a day for all your C&W listening needs.
The Shopping Scene
Just a quick walk around 12th Ave. South turns into a slower walk because you might not be able to resist the fashion-forward clothing available at Emerson Grace, 2304 12th Ave. South, where you can get a synopsis of the latest trends before you buy.
For the perfectly studied “unstudied” casual/denim look, look no further than Imogene + Willie, 2601 12th Ave. South, where women and men alike now flock.
Unique gift items fill the showcases at Cadeau Nashville, 2310 12th Ave. South, with emphasis on the “rustic luxe” look, including lighting, bedding and linens, coffee table books, specialty foods, candles and seasonal gifts.
Over in East Nashville, Sisters of Nature, 521 Gallatin Ave., is known for unique finds, including this season’s collection of flowing maxi dresses, all made in the USA. While in the neighborhood be sure to drop into Kitty, also at 521 Gallatin, where the motto is “That we, as women, can be it all and have it all.”
Down the Natchez Trace
If Nashville is all about “country”, you might as well take a drive and see some of the surrounding area. Take a leisurely drive down the Natchez Trace Parkway. The scenery is lovely in the springtime. About 20 minutes into your drive, take the exit for Leiper’s Fork, a charming little village of art galleries, crafts and restaurants at the edge of horse country. You’ll also find the original Puckett’s Grocery, a landmark and good place to eat.
Where to Stay
12 South Inn Suites
This B&B is within walking distance of the shops and restaurants on 12th Ave. South. Located in a cozy neighborhood with four suites available. From $185/night.
918 Knox Ave.
Contemporary amenities abound in this historic home in the quaint Germantown neighborhood. Convenient for pleasure and business travelers. Rooms from $249/night. 1218 6th Ave. N.
This downtown grande dame opened in 1910 as an answer to the Plaza in New York. It’s still in competition as the most cosmopolitan scene in the city. Rooms from $299/night. 231 6th Ave. N.
With its convenient downtown location, this converted bank in Printer’s Alley is a comfortable boutique hotel with rooms from $281/night.
301 Union St.
A stylish modern alternative with Molton Brown toiletries and the latest issue of American Songwriter in every room. From $289/night.
1808 W. End Ave.
Where to Dine
Make reservations weeks in advance to be among the 22 lucky diners on any one night. Chef Ryan Poli will serve a ten-course meal and explain it all step by step.
1711 Division St., 615-810-8200
Southern cuisine is taken to new heights in a Victorian mansion located on Rutledge Hill downtown. Chef Sean Brock is a James Beard-Award winner.
Rutledge St., 615-256-6565
Two restaurants in one—there’s the lower-level bistro with great cocktails and casual dining, and the formal dining room upstairs with more refined dishes and excellent steaks. 401 Broadway, 615-254-1892
If you’re longing for a traditional New York delicatessen, this is it, located in Green Hills. The owners cherry-picked the best features of delis all over the country and created one of their own. 4014 Hillsboro Circle, 615-269-3535
This is a Nashville institution downtown; the place for down-home cooking, where the vegetable of the day is sometimes mac & cheese. Save room for the cobbler, maybe the best you’ll ever have. 500 Church St., 615-770-2772