Nashville is the home of country music, from the Grand Ole Opry to the Bluebird Cafe to the noisy honky-tonks of Lower Broadway. Those venues are an obligatory part of every visit, but while you’re here, why not check out the city’s emerging fashion scene or explore an off-the-beaten path neighbourhood?
A new small downtown museum pays homage to country music legend Johnny Cash. Exhibits include the amp used to record “Folsom Prison Blues,” his custom Gibson J-200 acoustic guitar, and his Future Farmers of America membership card. The gift shop carries all things Cash and the cafe features locally roasted coffee with blends named for Cash songs like A Brew Named Sue.
Nearby, the George Jones Museum’s gift shop sells White Lightning moonshine, named after Jones’ first No. 1 hit. The museum has a section dedicated to the song that includes Jones’ “White Lightning” stage costume with gold embroidered moonshine jugs and rhinestones. Housed in an old warehouse, the complex has a downstairs restaurant and rooftop bar, both overlooking the Cumberland River.
But Nashville isn’t only about country music. The city’s emerging fashion scene includes designers of jeans, fine leather goods and jewelry. Many of the artisans, like tie- and cap-maker Otis James or weaver Allison Volek Shelton, have retail spaces right in their studios where visitors can see goods being produced. Check out Nashville Fashion Alliance.
The weekly Grand Ole Opry live concert is spending the winter at its longtime former home, the Ryman Auditorium. Known as the “mother church of country music,” the Ryman opened a $14 million expansion last summer that includes new exhibits telling the story of the famed music venue from its 1892 founding as the Union Gospel Tabernacle.
Also downtown is the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Be sure to check out Hatch Show Print, located in the same building. The shop has been producing letterpress posters since 1879. And it’s worth spending the extra money to tour RCA Studio B. The squat, concrete-block building may look shabby, but it’s where Elvis recorded more than 260 songs.
A few miles east of downtown is The Hermitage, the home of America’s seventh president, Andrew Jackson. A preservation group took over the home more than 125 years ago, when Jackson’s grandson still lived there, so its original furnishings, wallpaper, clothing and even a carriage have been meticulously preserved. An introductory exhibit explores Jackson’s celebrity as a war hero, populist and rock star of his day.
One of the few distinctly Nashville foods is hot chicken, and nobody does it better than the original: Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. It’s worth the drive. Just ask the people who have come there from Australia. The proprietors won’t divulge their recipe, but it’s basically really, really spicy fried chicken, served with white bread and pickles.
The Germantown neighbourhood offers several acclaimed new restaurants with upscale cuisine, but if you want to feel like you’re in Nashville and not Brooklyn, Monell’s offers traditional Southern food family-style, where you share heaping plates of fried chicken, green beans and biscuits with other guests.
Yes, you can get around Nashville without a car, and considering the many street closings from construction, you might want to. Uber and Lyft both pick up from the airport. Free electric city buses run on a downtown circuit. (Nashville MTA)
Public bicycles can be rented around downtown and surrounding neighbourhoods. (Nashville Bicycle)
The honky-tonks of lower Broadway are a go-to for live music. Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge is the original, but Robert’s Western World is also a perennial favourite. If there’s a line out the front door, try going around the back. Or branch out and go see a show in another part of town. The free Nashville live music app lets you plug in your location to find music in your area.
The hip 12 South neighbourhood is a good bet for a few hours of shopping and dining. The commercial area encompasses a half-mile stretch along a single street and includes boutiques like the local designer jeans store imogene + willie. The restaurants here are mostly casual and include Burger Up, which features locally raised beef and vegetables with a good selection of beer and cocktails.
Or head across the river to East Nashville where you can catch live music of the non-country variety at clubs like The 5 Spot, The Basement East or The East Room. The pedestrian-friendly Five Points neighbourhood is a good place to start. Boutiques at The Idea Hatchery and the Shoppes on Fatherland are within walking distance, and good food abounds from the casual Five Points Pizza to the rustic French and Italian cuisine of Cafe Margot.