Capital Thrill: Nashville
Discovering Nashville’s lesser-known treasures.
photograph by Dreamstime
It’s just a few hours by car from Memphis, but our sister city to the east sometimes seems a thousand miles away, with its hills, its NFL Titans, and its country-music heritage. And while most of us think we know everything that Nashville has to offer — from The Parthenon and The Hermitage to the Grand Ole Opry and Tootsie’s — the Music City is home to scores of lesser-known treasures that not many Memphians are familiar with.
In the March 7, 2014, issue of Time magazine, Jon Meacham says, “The story of Nashville’s current prosperity is a case study in how to make the most out of organic advantages. The specific factors behind its rise aren’t readily transferable, but the larger lessons about what works are. Chief among the takeaways from the Music City’s revival: culture is commerce.” Meacham’s correct. Nashville is ripe with opportunity, booming with new business adventures, a Mecca for foodies, and infused with a cultural twang all its own.
So, whether you’re passing through, taking a long weekend, or making a full destination stop in Nashville, here are a few urban pleasures we think are worth your while, no matter where you call home.
Those looking for their activities to be a little more spirited should head to 3 Crow Bar for a “happy hour” that lasts all day and night; Red Door East or Bar 308 also attract serious cocktail fans. If you’re looking for a little local brew, you’re in luck — there are plenty to choose from. Tennessee Brew Works, located in SoBro (South of Broadway, for those not down with the lingo), is one of the newest breweries, and offers patrons a sampling from its five ales in the Tennessee Taproom. Other breweries taking advantage of the craft-brew scene are Yazoo, Jackalope, Fat Bottom, Black Abbey, Turtle Anarchy, Rock Bottom, and Little Harpeth.
Where to begin? Hangover cures like “The Ultimate Platter” over breakfast at the Nashville Biscuit House? The dynamic duo of ownership that unites the “Woodstock” at Burger Up and the “Sorghum molasses crumb tart” at Josephine 125 South? Arguably the best fried chicken in town at Bailey & Cato’s? The trifecta of perfection of food, drinks, and coffee at Pinewood Social? I think you get the idea. Much like eating your way through Europe, you could spend an entire lifetime trying all of the delicacies.
Nashville is known more for its music than anything else, and it’s hard to go wrong when you go out for an evening. One country-music experience that’s not quite on the radar of the average tourist is Monday nights at 3rd & Lindsley to see the Western swing of the Time Jumpers — Vince Gill is often in the band. At The Listening Room are songwriters’ nights, new artist showcases, and live radio shows. Also check out two bars on Division Street in Midtown: Winner’s and its next-door neighbor, that’s right, Loser’s. Both bars have live music most nights, and each is frequented by locals and music industry insiders, sometimes including music and TV celebrities.
There’s no better way to lose track of time than flipping through stack after stack of used vinyl trying to find that hidden gem that’s been just waiting for someone like you to come along! If that sounds like your kind of thing — or even if you’re just a thrifty sort looking to fill out your CD collection with pre-owned disks — check out Grimey’s New & Preloved Music or the store’s second location, Grimey’s Too, a stone’s throw away. Grimey’s supplements its great selection with in-store live performances — including cameos from the likes of the Black Keys, Drive-By Truckers, and Pete Yorn.
One of the Nashville storylines of the last decade has been the in-migration of music and movie talent and celebrity to the city. Among this vanguard was Jack White, late of the White Stripes but these days the guitar-teur behind the Dead Weather and the Raconteurs and producer for Wanda Jackson and the Black Belles on his Third Man Records label. White has set up a brick and mortar store near downtown Nashville, and at Third Man you can find all kinds of White-related vinyl, CDs, novelties, and other paraphernalia. Third Man crams you into a tight space — a literalizing of the White Stripes’ “little room” — but if you’re a fan, it’ll take a Seven Nation Army to get you out of there.
For a colorful look back at some of the most legendary concerts to hit Nashville over the years, be sure to check out Hatch Show Print in their new and expanded location downtown. This historic print shop is still turning out full-color posters of everyone from Duke Ellington and Johnny Cash to Bob Dylan from its working in-house letterpresses, putting Nashville in print since 1879.
Remember that shopping is a marathon, not a sprint. You’ll need to bring your A-game for these stores, and don’t forget to hydrate. The Mall at Green Hills is a beloved destination for Memphians looking to snag a piece from their favorite designer brands like Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, Tory Burch, and Burberry. It’s also the only home to the pretty blue boxes from Tiffany & Co. in the entire state of Tennessee. But let’s not forget the Opry Mills Mall that gives us the unbeatable experience of The Rainforest Cafe, Dave & Buster’s, and the likes of Michael Kors and Polo by Ralph Lauren.
Bestselling author Ann Patchett (Bel Canto) co-owns the immensely well-curated bookstore, Parnassus Books. She opened it after Nashville’s Davis-Kidd location closed, leaving the city without an independent bookstore. (Memphis’ Davis-Kidd closed too, but soon became home to The Booksellers at Laurelwood.) If your tastes run to used and antiquarian, you can’t go wrong at Elder’s Bookstore. Elder’s is one of the oldest bookstores in Tennessee, and it boasts an impressive array of history books, especially about the Civil War, Southern lit, and first editions. Though the store is moving to a new location this summer, we hope the proprietors of the family-run business maintain the eccentric, rare-tome aesthetic. If you want used books but more along the lines of James Patterson than James McPherson, check out McKay Books, located conveniently off I-40 on the Memphis side of Nashville. This used-book superstore even has music and movies and more.
Walk the line right on over to the new Johnny Cash Museum and take a peek at the Man in Black’s high school yearbook, concert outfits, cowboy boots, and the like. Miss this one, and you’ll likely cry, cry, cry. Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines and head to Lane Motor Museum. Its collection of antique cars, motorcycles, and modern-day marvels is impressive, to say the least. If television show trivia is your game, you’ve come to the right place. Reserve your spot to get a behind-the-scenes look of ABC’s Nashville including the homes of Rayna, Deacon, and Scarlett as well as other filming locations. If you’re a little more old school when it comes to TV, head on over to Cooter’s Place. Ben Jones (Cooter, himself) is your guide as you see everything from props and pictures to Daisy’s Jeep and Rosco’s patrol car.
Your kiddos like the CMOM? They’ll love Nashville’s Adventure Science Center. Simulating astronaut training? Check. Planetarium theatre? Check. Educationally fun memories for the whole fam? Check. When the sun is shining, stroll through Cheekwood Garden’s 55 acres of lush landscaping, or take a ride on the Tennessee walking and saddle horses at A Cowboy Town. For industrial-size fun, ride Thomas the Tank Engine or take an excursion at the Tennessee Central Railway Museum. All aboard!
Pack a picnic lunch or dinner, and enjoy the wide selection of wine at Arrington Vineyards. The scenic 75 acres make a perfect backdrop for a DIY-date night or for sipping samples in the tasting or cellar rooms. For biking, boating, hiking, fishing, birding, and camping enthusiasts, look no farther than the 904 acres of Radnor Lake State Park. And sugarcoated Southern charm doesn’t get much better than in Leiper’s Fork. Soak up a summer night with lawn-chair movies and concerts or follow along one of their historic trails peppered with shops, landmarks, and Southern cuisine.
Just because you can shop like a celebrity doesn’t mean you have to spend like one. When the crowds and hype of mainstream malls make you cower in fear, neighborhood boutiques and swanky storefronts have your back (and your front). The distinctive styles of LEONA, co-based in Nashville and New York City, have been sported by musicians and actresses alike. White’s Mercantile is known as “a general store for the modern-day taste-maker,” with offerings including coffee table books, home accents, and accessories. A shop with a cause, The Thistle Stop Cafe is run by the Magdalene graduates and residents, women who have survived prostitution, trafficking, and addiction. It sells Nashville-based and fair-trade coffees, teas, and healthy catered foods as well as bath and body-care items.
Additional reporting by Greg Akers and Katherine Barnett.