North America

Honky Tonks, World-Class Whiskey, And So Much More: Why You Need To Visit Music City

By Rick Stephens

For many outside of the USA, the drawcard to Nashville will likely be several things: some might be set-jetting to explore the city so heavily featured in the show of the same name, others might have hopes of spotting Keith and Nicole, and more than a few are hankering for a night out on the famed Honky Tonk Highway—and while it can be all of those things, Nashville is also so much more. The city’s rich and storied heritage plays one part, while the influence from southern and northern states play another in what truly is a choose-your-own-adventure destination.

For the food forward to the sports fans, country music die-hards to music nerds all ‘round, Nashville’s got the chops to fill out a week-long itinerary and then some, just as it does a short, sharp and very full weekend. Together with Visit Music City, don’t miss a beat while you’re there with Urban List’s guide to Nashville. 

Eat...And Drink

Nashville’s food and beverage scene truly is of world-class, and thanks to its position on the map—and plenty of people relocating from the likes of LA and NYC—what’s on offer is a cross-section of cuisines and cultures. Along with a healthy dollop of Southern Hospitality, of course. 

For a true Nashville experience, you’d be remiss not to make your first pit stop at Evelyn’s. The all-day and evening diner, and more specifically its menu, is a love letter to Americana, where you’ll find just the right amount of nostalgia in each dish. The bacon-wrapped sea bass is a sight to behold, but it’s the chunk of confit bacon glazed in an apple butter and served with marcona almond that’s become (one of many) stars on the menu. 


Image credit: Evelyn's | Supplied

Those leaning into the theme should beeline straight to breakfast spot Biscuit Love in The Gulch, a spiffy neighbourhood brimming with great bars, cafes, restaurants and boutiques. You may have put two and two together, but Biscuit Love is all about championing the American-style biscuit—essentially a flaky, usually savoury, buttermilk scone for those not familiar. There are more than a few variations of the good stuff at Biscuit Love, and you can’t go wrong no matter your selection, though if there's one quintessential breakfast you can't miss in Nashville—it's likely the Southern Benny biscuit complete with sausage gravy, two over easy eggs and shaved country ham.

And if it’s more Americana you want? It’s more Americana you’ll get. Just out of central is Elliston Place Soda Shop, where the origins can be traced back to 1939. In a time where soda machines were the next best thing, founder Lynn Chandler bought the soda fountain business from Elliston Pharmacy and the rest was history. A lot has changed since then, but you can still score classic American sandwiches or order up on the meat and three veg of the day—a popular dish in Nashville that does exactly what it says on the label. And, of course, a soda from the vintage soda machine—for a zing, don’t forget to add phosphate just like they did back in the day.


Image credit: Elliston Place Soda Shop | Supplied

While you could and should explore Nashville’s history dish by dish, there are more than a few locales putting Nashville on the map as one of America’s must-dine destinations. Just out of the CBD you’ll find the charming Rolf & Daughters, a modern American restaurant that focuses on seasonal cooking alongside an ever-evolving and always-considered wine list. Meanwhile, at the base of Broadway, you’ll find the Justin Timberlake-backed Twelve Thirty Club. It’s big, it’s bold, and it’s an experience that’s executed with sheer gusto—from the venue right down to the menu. We suggest starting with something from the central seafood bar before making your way into steak territory. It’ll set you back a pretty penny, but The Twelve Thirty Supper Club is undoubtedly serving up some of the best cuts and biggest vibes in Nashville. 


Image credit: Twelve Thirty Supper Club | Supplied

The city also happens to have a little New York nuance thanks to Pelato, a Brooklyn-based Italian diner that’s recently set up a Nashville outpost. Through the doors, it’s ordered chaos in all the right ways, where the sounds of the waitstaff hurrying at the kitchen pass blend seamlessly with conversations from the table across the dining hall. It’s a good times experience where one diner encourages the other, and that translates too the menu, too. Plenty of red sauce, hefty meatballs and plenty of pasta. It’s all designed to share, to dig into with your tablemates. Just reconsider wearing white before arriving. 


Image credit: Pelato | Supplied

Stay

That healthy serve of southern hospitality is just as evident in Nashville’s accommodation offering. And, like the city’s culinary scene, you can lean into the theme as much as you like thanks to several locales paying homage to the city and its history, while not forgetting the necessary—and sometimes luxurious—accoutrements that even the most discerning traveller has come to expect.

First up is the Hutton Hotel, which brings in all the best bits of Nashville under one roof. The Hutton is an unapologetic ode to Music City, and you’ll see it in every inch of this stunner. Downstairs in the lobby, local singer-songwriters strum, pluck and belt out originals and classics; all the while one of the bartenders at Evelyn’s pouring a damn fine drop of Tennessee whiskey; and in the suites, you’ll find guitars of Nashville legends lining the walls while granite bathrooms and city-wide vistas offer a little Music City glamour to your stay. You’re also just a 15-minute walk from Honky Tonk Highway one way, and a short stroll to Music Row the other—perfect for those wanting to explore the city’s musical legacy.

There are several more unique stays dotted around Nashville, too, and Union Station Hotel should be at the top of your list if you’re after something different. Once a grand multi-level train station, this charming dame of the city has been operating as a boutique hotel since 1986. Architecturally, it’s a thing of beauty, with each room making full use of the unique curves and corners of the bones of the space—The 18-foot high ceilings in the Boutique King rooms are a nice touch, just as the towering arched window frames. We also recommend parking up at ERGO, a big-vibe lobby bar that’s loaded with local beers and whiskeys, soundtracked by the clatter of a days-gone-by train timetable board displaying seasonal cocktails on offer.


Image credit: Union Station Hotel | Nashville

Out in East Nashville, an up-and-coming neighbourhood that’s considered the capital of cool, sits The Russell. A church many moons ago, The Russell is now a 23-room boutique hotel nestled between some of the cities coolest bars, restaurants and galleries. Do yourself a favour and book the suite in the ex-church’s tower.


Image credit: The Russell | Supplied

Those looking for a little luxury should make tracks to The Thompson, a light and bright hotel situated in the heart of The Gulch, another up-and-coming neighbourhood—not to mention one of Nashville’s newest—where boutiques, bars and restaurants are primed for a few days of exploration. That is, of course, once you’re done in The Thompson. There’s something innately inviting about every aspect of this spot: it might be the rooftop bar LA Jackson, it could be the fact that the rooms come standard with a rainfall shower, DM Durger toiletries, and views for days, or perhaps it's the lobby restaurant where you could and should order at least a dozen oysters, Marsh House.


Image credit: The Thompson | supplied

Play

While Nashville isn’t exclusive to country music, the city’s influence on the genre is undeniable, and it's worth exploring to its fullest. Dive deep into the many facets of the scene at The Country Music Hall of Fame, where everything from Elvis’ custom Cadillac to Taylor Swift’s country music origins is on display. And from there, visitors can tour to the Historic RCA Studio B just around town in Music Row. If the studio’s name sounds familiar, that’s because it’s where The King recorded around 70% of his discography—and walking through the space, and standing right where Elvis once did, is as fulfilling as you think it’d be.


Image credit: Historic RCA Studio B | supplied

And if museums are your thing, then you’re spoiled for choice in Nashville. A visit to the Musician’s Hall of Fame and Museum is a must for music fans young and old, where John Lennon’s guitar is just one of many drawcards. The Jimi Hendrix exhibit should also be at the top of your hit list when visiting the Musician’s Hall of Fame and Museum, where guitars, outfits and even a stage that Hendrix performed on has been carved out from the Jolly Rodger bar in Nashville and placed right there to see.

One of the city’s newer museums, and perhaps the most progressive, is a state-of-the-art experience exploring, preserving and celebrating the music and genres created by African Americans at the National Museum of African American Music. You can’t go wrong with all of the exhibits here, though hip-hop fans will be particularly fond of The Message, an exhibition which dives deep into the origins and influence of hip-hop, rap and hip-hop culture. 


Image credit: National Museum of African American Music | supplied

While we’re all for a history lesson, we’re also all for catching plenty of live music across Nashville, and there are options a plenty. Along the famed Honky Tonk Highway, and within one of the many honk tonks, you’ll find local performers at it with a guitar and mic in hand from around 11am to very, very late in the evening every day of the week—start your night, or day at Robert’s Western World and go from there. 


Image credit: Visit Music City | supplied

Or, for a more grand experience, take a look at the Ryman Auditorium’s program where everyone from the likes of Kurt Vile to greats such as Johnny Cash has performed. The Ryman is full of musical heritage, with not only the world’s best performing there over the past 130 or so years, but it also being the home to the longest-running radio show The Grand Ole Opry for a solid 30-year stint. Die-hards can take a tour of The Ryman Auditorium—keep an eye out for Johnny Cash’s green room.

In the 70s, The Grand Ole Opry made tracks to a new home, Opryland, which is just a short drive outside of Nashville CBD. The show takes place anywhere from two to five nights per week with a new lineup every night; names like Dolly Parton and Keith Urban have taken the stage, but some of the best performances are often country up-and-comers who are to-be classics.

Sports fans are also catered to with the home rink of Smashville, aka the Nashville Predators, being smack bang in the middle of Nashville. A true spectacle that’s rich in entertainment, in truth you don’t even need to be a sports fan to catch a game at Bridgestone Arena. The midgame band and cheerleaders keep the crowd on their toes when the players are off the ice, meanwhile, the anticipation for the unofficial tradition of a catfish being launched onto the ice is very, very real—and perhaps considered the Predators' lucky charm.

The city truly is a choose-your-own-adventure destination, and those who want to sub out sport for shopping can do exactly that. Just south of Nashville city sits a neighbourhood called 12 South which is primed for this; local clothing labels like Buck Mason brings Americana and streetwear together, while White’s Mercantile, housed in an ex-gas station, offers local wares you wouldn’t find anywhere else. On the western side of the street, you’ll also find Ranger Station, a boutique perfumery that brings in a local flare to their scents while holding up to major players like Le Labo. Get there on the right day and you might even catch founders Steve and Jordan Soderholm who are always open for conversation around Nashville, perfume and everything in between. 

A little further out of town, and you’ll find several whiskey distilleries operating at the top of their game, Uncle Nearest and Jack Daniels. International visitors will likely have only heard of the latter, but anyone with a penchant for whiskey—and history for that matter—needs to know that both play an integral role in each distillery’s origin story. 

Both distilleries offer tours, and you’d be remiss not to make a day of it, making sure you start at Nearest Green Distillery. It’s here where the story unfolds of Nathan ‘Nearest’ Green—more affectionately known as Uncle Nearest, once a slave working on a preacher’s farm in the mid-1800s, Uncle Nearest became a skilled distiller, the first black master distiller on record in fact, who employed a unique process that gave his whiskey a smoothness like no other. His whiskey quickly became the talk of the town, so much so that a young boy who worked on the same farm took quite an interest in Nearest’s area of expertise—honing his skills and learning from Nearest, that young boy named Jasper Newton would grow to be known in his home town of Lynchburg as Uncle Jack, or as we know him, Jack Daniels. And the rest, of course, is history.

Plenty has happened between now and then, though touring both distilleries paints a very full picture of Tennessee’s history and how both whiskey labels play an integral part in it. You’ll also taste some of Tennessee’s finest drops on both.

Hot tip: ask for Terrell Johnson when taking the tour at Nearest Green, a book of knowledge when it comes to whiskey and a downright legend that’s widely known as one of Tennessee’s highest-rated tour guides.

Check out more accommodation options in Nashville here.

Hero image credit: Visit Music City | supplied

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