If you’ve navigated the shoulder-to-shoulder crowds inside Nashville International Airport lately, you won’t be surprised that a whopping 16.1 million travelers passed through Music City last year. And between the honky-tonks, concerts, professional sports games, and bucket-list meals, all those visitors have to sleep somewhere, which means the hotel business is booming—in particular, thoughtful, design-forward boutique hotels. Creativity has always thrived here, after all. Here are four of our favorite new properties to check-in to this winter.
101 20th Avenue N; Midtown
Ten years ago, Ben Weprin pulled into a Checkers parking lot just off West End Avenue in Nashville to take the linchpin phone call that allowed him launch Graduate Hotels, a growing chain of boutique lodgings located in dynamic college towns across the country. On January 5, 2020, he opened Graduate Nashville, his twenty-second property, on the very same site of that auspicious phone call. The Checkers and the adjacent Taco Bell are long gone—though a taco truck, which will sit outside the hotel’s West End entrance, is forthcoming—and in their place sits a chic new 205-room boutique hotel.
No two Graduate hotels are the same—each has been carefully designed to reflect the spirit of the surrounding university-anchored community. “There’s thoughtful intention behind every unique piece that goes into any of our common spaces or guest rooms,” says Graduate Nashville general manager Greg Bradley. To prep for the Nashville project, Graduate’s in-house design team even sat in on freshman orientation at nearby Vanderbilt University. There, they learned that Vanderbilt is a registered arboretum and home to 190 types of trees. As a result, the lobby’s showstopping, floor-to-ceiling gallery wall features 190 watercolor botanicals inked by the local artist Matt Reasor.
The nearby front desk is made to resemble a vintage stereo cabinet; a hook-rug portrait of the Grand Ole Opry legend Minnie Pearl, by Margaret Timbrell, hangs above it. And the artistic, amphitheater-style arrangement of colorful couches is already a favorite spot for guests to catch up on work or to enjoy a cup of coffee and a meal-on-the-go from Poindexter, the lobby’s all-day café.
Upstairs, residence-like guest rooms, done up in preppy stripes and Southern florals, flirt with camp without going full Dolly. Downstairs, though, you’re invited to channel the country queen in all her sequined glory and belt out your best rendition of “Jolene” at Critters, the hotel’s one-of-a-kind animatronic karaoke bar, where the trio of barnyard backup singers resembles the robotic characters that graced the stage at the Chuck E. Cheese of your childhood. It’s less terrifying than it sounds—like Ms. Parton, the new hotel is fun and funky with a decidedly Nashville sense of humor.
1414 Dickerson Pike; East Nashville
Lyon Porter and Jersey Banks already own one hugely successful East Nashville boutique hotel, Urban Cowboy, but in 2019, they transformed a rundown midcentury motel into the Dive, a modern masterpiece complete with twenty-three one-of-a-kind rooms, an all-day dive bar and grill (open until 2:00 a.m.), and a retro swim club, which is open to both guests and locals. For $20, Nashville residents can purchase a day pass to lounge by the sixty-foot pool located in the motel’s central courtyard or pony up the equivalent of $1.25 a day for an annual membership.
819 Russell Street; East Nashville
Housed in the shell of the old Cumberland Presbyterian Church in East Nashville, which languished empty after a 1998 tornado blew the steeple off and ripped a hole in the roof, the Russell, a new twenty-three room boutique hotel, restored many of the building’s original details, including the stained glass windows, exposed brick walls, and soaring forty-foot vaulted ceiling. The old church pews were even upcycled into contemporary headboards. Most importantly, the hotel continues to give back to the community the church supported for so many years by donating a portion of proceeds to local charities fighting homelessness: A typical stay at the Russell will provide sixteen nights in a bed at an area shelter.
121 30th Avenue N; Midtown
Boutique hotel meets stylish AirBnB at the three-story pied-a-terre-esque 121 Hotel, just off of West End Avenue in Midtown, which welcomed its first guests last November. The contemporary white-brick building is cleverly configured to allow visitors to rent a single room, a suite, a full floor, or the entire property, depending on their needs. If you’re coming with a large group, the second and third floors have five bedrooms each and sleep up to eighteen people apiece. The full kitchen, spacious living room with a gas fireplace, and the façade-spanning balcony will make you feel right at home.