Country music might coax tourists to Music City like a moth to a neon beer sign, but those who venture beyond the honky-tonks get to sample the city’s rich collaborations across art and business. With a booming food scene and growing diversity, this friendly city walks the line between a slick new Nashville and old-school soul.
WHY WE LOVE IT
It’s hard to resist a city that draws a dreamer. And indeed, Nashville has serenaded many newcomers bringing their own songs to sing. Located along the Cumberland River with rural farmland along its edges, the city possesses the soulfulness of a place that’s been a part of music history as well as the electricity of new growth, from an influx of residents at the rate of about a hundred a day to nationally renowned restaurants helped by both local chefs and those drawn to the scene from Chicago and New York.
NEIGHBORHOODS TO KNOW
Back before country was cool, Nashville neighborhoods weren’t quite trendy enough to warrant hip monikers. Not so anymore. Newly named areas like WeHo (Wedgewood-Houston), which offers artists co-working spaces and the white-hot Bastion restaurant, and downtown’s SoBro (South of Broadway) join classics like Hillsboro Village, near Vanderbilt University; posh Belle Meade; and the international corridor along Nolensville Pike. Get a bigger picture of town in these areas:
Named for the nineteenth-century immigrants who settled in the area, this neighborhood now has some of the best eating in Nashville with restaurants like City House and Rolf and Daughters as well as the Nashville Farmers’ Market, a community gathering space since the early 1800s. Sample some of the city’s sports scene at the new Nashville Sounds baseball stadium. And for culture, pop over to nearby Jefferson Street for the art crawl near the old haunts of Jimi Hendrix and other musical greats.
In the blocks between this area’s beloved bungalows, you’ll find a stretch of storefronts to keep you entertained for hours. Restaurants range from Josephine and Edley’s Bar-B-Que to Jeni’s and Las Paletas for desserts. Shop for jeans at Imogene + Willie, dresses at Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James, and gifts at Holly Williams’s White’s Mercantile. At institutions like Corner Music, you can pick up a Telecaster.
This district’s boho spirit draws all kinds to its funky shops, art galleries, and restaurants, including classics such as Margot Café & Bar, neighborhood favorites such as Lockeland Table, and newer guard spots Urban Cowboy, the Treehouse, and Two Ten Jack. The live music on this side of the river leans more Americana or rock at venues such as the 5 Spot, the Basement East, and the Family Wash.
Go High and Low
With its jeans-and-rhinestone vibes, Nashville has a special knack for celebrating both ends of the culture spectrum—often in the course of one evening. With the Schermerhorn Symphony Center and its Grammy-winning orchestra near Lower Broadway’s honky-tonks, for example, it’s easy to go from violin to fiddle in less than two blocks. Tour the Parthenon, a replica of the Greek original in this “Athens of the South” followed by an outdoor music festival in Centennial Park or a visit to dive bars like Dino’s, which hosts events such as Burgers & Beaujolais.
Seek Live Tunes
They call it Music City, after all. But the nickname that often brings the country genre to mind was coined by a disc jockey on WSM radio in 1950 when he noted the diversity of the music scene. Even now, folks flock here to make their names in alternative, Americana, and jazz. Start at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum for some background, and then head to nearby Lower Broadway to see stellar players rock honky-tonks such as Robert’s Western World and Layla’s. Check listings at Acme Feed & Seed, also on Broadway, for shows that range from R&B at the Soul Brunch to covers of jam bands on Grateful Mondays.
From Nashville-style hot chicken at Prince’s and Hattie B’s to meat-and-three lunches at Arnold’s Country Kitchen, Nashville honors the working class while also welcoming the sophisticated tastes at lauded restaurants such as the Catbird Seat. Nationally recognized chefs from elsewhere have also been setting up shop here, including Sean Brock of Husk, John Besh of Marsh House, and Top Chef’s Dale Levitski at Fin & Pearl.
WHEN TO GO
Though the cooler months draw visitors to holiday and New Year’s Eve bashes, there’s plenty of action when Nashville’s hottest, including a bevy of festivals and outdoor music events.