Nashville’s Honky Tonk Row is well known as an all-day entertainment zone populated by live-music clubs and bars, but the city’s eclectic live music scene stretches well beyond this. And music is just part of the draw. As well, downtown and surrounding neighbourhoods are experiencing a sustained cultural boom, attracting both locals and visitors to their intimate music venues, Southern-inspired restaurants, urban distilleries and locally owned designer boutiques.
Where to stay: A luxurious downtown property built in 1910, The Hermitage Hotel features exquisite Renaissance-style architecture, spacious guest rooms and a grand Tennessee and Italian-marble lobby. At its Capitol Grille, dine on traditional Southern dishes like grilled oysters topped with cornbread crumble.
What to do: Sign up for a Walk Eat Nashville tour of East Nashville, a formerly seedy neighbourhood that helped put the city on the culinary map. The tour may include stops at eateries such as van-turned-hot dog stand I Dream of Weenie, late-night hot spot Five Points Pizza and Nashville’s first coffee house, Bongo Java.
Where to eat: Credited with creating the spicy dish in the 1930s, go to Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack for hot chicken, or line up at the more contemporary Hattie B’s. West Tennessee whole-hog barbecue is king at Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint. In the restaurant’s backyard beer garden, enjoy a barbecue baked potato with pulled pork.
Where to stay: For easy access to Nashville’s music attractions, stay at Omni Nashville Hotel, which is attached to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum and within walking distance of Honky Tonk Row and Ryman Auditorium. The hotel features a full-service spa, rooftop pool and bar and grill with a skyline view.
What to do: The Bluebird Café, a small, unassuming strip-mall eatery has presented original, multi-genre acoustic music by young singer-songwriters including Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift. Daily tickets sell out in just a few minutes, so buy early. This is a listening room, so staff aren’t afraid to shush the crowd during performances.
Where to eat: Near RCA Studio B on Music Row, The Patterson House is known for craft cocktails and celebrity patrons, but the speakeasy-style bar maintains a strict no-fangirling policy. Order the Glass Farms with local Chattanooga 1816 American Whiskey and tater tots with dill and horseradish crème fraiche.
Where to stay: In the hip East Nashville neighbourhood, Urban Cowboy B&B is located in a Victorian mansion surrounded by divey bars, record stores and farm-fresh restaurants. The B&B-style hotel’s themed rooms include The Cabin, a stand-alone building outfitted with antler chandeliers and fur bedding.
What to do: Visit the shops of the 12South neighbourhood to browse candles, cocktail shakers and beard oil at White’s Mercantile (owned by the daughter of Hank Williams Jr.) and leather totes, wallets and shoes at Ceri Hoover. Thirsty? Sample whisky and gin on a tour of the Nashville Craft distillery in the Wedgewood-Houston area.
Where to eat: For brunch, head to Barista Parlor in Germantown (think Brooklyn of the South), and don’t even think about ordering an Americano. Here, it’s all raw denim-aproned baristas, locally made furnishings and pour-over brews. Go for espresso with caramel and milk paired with buttermilk waffles and vanilla maple syrup.
Where to stay: Check in at the third-floor lobby of Union Station Hotel Nashville. The former 20th-century railroad station features exquisitely restored architecture with a barrel-vaulted ceiling, clock tower and stained glass. Guest rooms reflect contemporary Nashville with leather furniture and studded cow-hide headboards.
What to do: Tour the stables, carriage house and mansion at the Belle Meade Plantation thoroughbred horse farm. Horses of its equine bloodlines race in the Kentucky Derby. At Andrew Jackson’s Hermitage, tour the seventh U.S. president’s home, gardens and tomb.
Where to eat: Have dinner at Husk Nashville piloted by James Beard Award-winning chef-partner Sean Brock. Beautifully preserved, this circa-1882 heritage site, features a backyard carriage house. The restaurant’s evolving menu of Southern dishes includes classics such as fried chicken and shrimp and grits.
[This story appears in the March 2017 issue of WestJet Magazine and has since been updated.]