This capital is more than just a mecca for country music fans.
Nashville prides itself on its forward-looking cosmopolitanism, its rep as a seat of power in both politics (it’s the Tennessee state capital) and the entertainment industry. But if you’re visiting, you’re probably looking for the old-fashioned Nashville, the one soaked in Southern hospitality, country music history, and red-eye gravy.
WHERE TO STAY
Visitors rave about the Hermitage, citing its we-think-of-everything customer service, its lavish bathrooms (which feature flat-screen TVs and, upon request, rose-petal baths), and its location, within walking distance of most downtown attractions. Also conveniently located is the recently renovated Union Station Hotel, an ornate hotel in a converted Romanesque train station.
WHERE TO EAT
In Nashville, “Meat and Three” (that is, Southern-style eateries specializing in meat entrees with three vegetable side dishes, plus cornbread and sweet tea) is as common a dining option as Italian or sushi. One of the classic meat-and-threes is Monell’s, a restaurant in a Victorian house, and a contender for Nashville’s best fried chicken. (Other fried chicken fans swear by Southern Bred, a meat-and-three that also serves nouvelle cuisine, or Bailey and Cato Family Restaurant, a soul food meat-and-three that’s also famed for its barbecue.) The Loveless Motel and Café (a warm and friendly place that is neither loveless nor a motel) has won praise for its biscuits and gravy from patrons ranging from George Jones to Martha Stewart.
For dining that’s less down-home and more downtown, there’s the Palm steakhouse, a branch of the New York chain known for its mammoth steaks and lobsters, where you’ll not only spot Nashville music and sports celebrities in caricatures on the wall, but also at the next table, striking deals. And there’ll be bargain-price fine dining throughout the city during Restaurant Week (from June 29 to July 5).
WHAT TO DO
Pilgrims will want to pay homage at Nashville’s many shrines to country music history. There’s the Grand Ole Opry, of course, where you can see top stars every weekend or take a backstage tour during off hours. There’s the Ryman Auditorium, the Opry’s legendary pre-1974 home, still a top venue for country acts, pop stars, and comedians, and which also offers daytime tours. Music Row, the district that’s still home to the commercial heart of the country industry, isn’t what it once was, with many individual performers’ vanity museums having disappeared a decade ago along with the shuttered Opryland theme park and the relocation of the Country Music Hall of Fame ten blocks away, but you can still visit historic spots like RCA Studio B, where many of country’s most beloved tunes were recorded. If your definition of classic is Greek statuary, not Hank Williams, then visit the Parthenon art museum in Centennial Park, a life-size replica of the ancient Athenian temple.WHERE TO SHOP
Nashville’s prime shopping and nightlife area, known as the District, emanates from the T formed by Second Avenue and Broadway. At Hatch Show Print, a Nashville institution for more than a century, you can buy vintage or new posters, hand-cranked for you on a letterpress. If money is no object, go further down Broadway to Manuel Exclusive Clothier, where you can see classic custom rhinestone jackets of the sort Manuel Martinez has designed for country and rock royalty for decades, and even have Manuel design one for you. It’ll cost several thousand and take three to four weeks, but you can still get the Manuel look from his newer, modestly-priced ready-to-wear line.
WHERE TO WIND DOWN
Make reservations at the Bluebird Café, launching pad of many a country career, where songwriters try out new material before a hushed, appreciative audience.