I couldn’t help but wince as your nifty little Nashville travel guide fired off one bad take after another. In the interest of setting the record straight, here are some annotations.
Music City is actually all cowboy boots and big hair. Sorry. If you’re not at least marginally interested in that look, you won’t have a good time.
Jack White and the Black Stripes Keys aren’t from here and don’t contribute to the culture as much as they whine about each other. Neither of them are Americana artists.
We do have an eclectic food and bar scene. One of the best anywhere—not just in the South. You go on to mention virtually none of our best spots, probably because you don’t want to have to fight a sea of tourists next time you’re in town. I get it. But I’m going to mention them.
Locals don’t go to Barista Parlor. Los Angeles-fleeing, tight plaid shirt-wearing, wax-coiffed mustache-flaunting, skinny jean-packing, we-put-the-barf-in-barficionados go there. We go to Bongo Java, or Frothy Monkey, or Cafe Coco. How in the hell can you write 1,500 words about Nashville dining and not mention Cafe Coco? It’s a coffee shop, it’s a bar, it’s a music venue, it’s a restaurant, AND it’s open 24 hours. It’s the entirety of Nashville crammed into one old badass house. It has character and beer and all the best/weirdest people go there.
P.S.—We don’t have locals. No one is from here.
Third Man is fine, but it’s not Nashville. Grimey’s is Nashville. Phonoluxe and Fond Object are Nashville. Those three record stores are genuine institutions. (Fond Object has a petting zoo. A PETTING ZOO!)
You’re right. Hot chicken is the local delicacy, and we’re damn proud of it. If you want the real thing, go to Prince’s—but you probably don’t want the real thing. You think you do. You’re the one who loves to splash extra hot sauce on wings, who mocks others that wince at jalapeños, who dominates any wasabi-infused challenges put to them. Don’t kid yourself. This is the big leagues. Prince’s (which is in East Nashville, by the way) will make you cry like John Boehner reminiscing about the episode of Friends he just watched.
But—if you’re that much of a sado-masochist to be willing to hurt yourself and everyone around you, and to quite possibly vomit and/or shit yourself in a restaurant full of strangers who will not hesitate to laugh at your ass—then go for it. Here’s a tip: call your order in. Not only will it be ready when you get there, but this also means they can’t see how much of a tourist you are and dial down the heat in an effort to spare you. (This is an unconfirmed rumor, but why take chances?)
If, after weighing the pros and cons, you decide you don’t need to prove to anyone how much of a badass you are, just go to Hattie B’s. It’s closer and the stakes are much lower.
Go downtown to the Ryman, yes. Take the tour. Walk over to Hatch Show Print, because that place is unbelievable. They’ve been printing stuff for a hundred million years. They made handbills for dinosaurs. Buy things from them. Anything in that shop is a better gift than the crap you find on Broadway.
Fuck Rolf and Daughter’s. Fuuuuuuck that place. First of all, don’t eat seafood in Nashville. Don’t do it. Do you know how far from the ocean we are? Sometimes I’ll break down and have sushi—at Koi or Sushiyobi or wherever—but it’s never great. It’s just enough to beat down my appetite for it. Don’t do this.
If you want a traditional meat-and-three style dinner, go to Monell’s. They’ll sit you with a bunch of strangers and you’ll all be friends by the time the banana pudding comes out. If you want steak, go to Jimmy Kelly’s. A little pricey, but they’ve been open since 1934. It’s like eating history. Pizza? Pizza Perfect for sure, and do not under any circumstances listen to anyone who says otherwise, because every other pizza joint in this town blows. Greek? There’s a Greek restaurant right above Pizza Perfect. Classy lounge atmosphere? Sportsman’s Grille is right across the street, and their food is excellent.
You might not believe this, but Nashville excels at Thai food, and Thai Phooket is the best of the best. For Japanese steakhouses, there’s the excellent Goten. Taj is not just the best Indian place in Nashville, but on the very planet, and the best goddamned meal I’ve had anywhere in my life. We also have a million Mexican restaurants: La Hacienda—next to Phonoluxe and a Mexican bakery which I highly recommend—Los Arcos, Las Maracas (get a pitcher of skinny margaritas), Fogatas, and my personal favorite, Las Cazuelas, where more often than not they’ll have live music (a mariachi band, fiddle, accordion, whatever) and a soccer game playing on the huge TV. The clientele is mostly older Mexican men in straw hats and neatly pressed seersucker shirts, which means no obnoxious Vandy students or go-getter middle managers talking loudly through a lunch meeting.
By all means, plan a night to go out on Lower Broadway, but forget about Tootsie’s and what the hell ever. Go straight to Robert’s Western World and be prepared for some excellent Western swing. Once you get tired of that, wander around for a while and look at all the gaudy crap. That’s pretty much it. If you get thirsty, hit up Broadway Brewhouse—they have excellent food, too, and on Sunday nights most of their beers are 2-for-1. Or get some ice cream at Mike’s, because that place rules.
Oh, Pinewood Social. A brunch and entertainment complex? It’s a bar with a bowling alley in the back. Wait, I’m sorry. It has a swimming pool, too. As if anyone in their christing right mind would want to swim at a damn bar. Go to Athens or Nashville Biscuit House if you want a real authentic-ass breakfast. If you’re more of a fancy brunch person—no judgment here—there’s Marché, there’s Mad Donna’s, there’s blvd. Take your pick.
Crema is delicious and no one ever goes there because the only thing close to it is Pinewood Social. If you’re out that way, do it. If not, I already told you where the good coffee is.
Go to the Shoppes on Fatherland. Explore the heck out of those quirky shops. Get some Pied Piper Ice Cream while you’re over there. Take a stroll down Woodland. It’s a nice neighborhood with a lot of antique/curio shops. Stop by Olive & Sinclair for some mind-blowing chocolate. Go to Old Made Good. Enjoy the gold freaking floor. Ted Danson buys shit there.
You’re over on the east side and you have plenty of options. Prince’s is a short jaunt up the road, but assuming you want less incendiary fare, there’s Edley’s BBQ, Far East Nashville (Vietnamese, and an excellent pun), Five Points Pizza (remember what I said about pizza?), and The Wild Cow (vegetarian & vegan). Beyond the Edge is a sports bar with great food and more often than not they’ll be running 2-for-1 on beer, with a coupon you can bring back if you don’t want your freebie right away.
Dive bars are an important part of Nashville, and Dino’s is the greatest dive bar on the planet. Cash only, cheap beer, a jukebox guaranteed to be blasting classic country, and one of the best burgers in town. You might even catch some standup comedy or a band crammed into one of the corners, playing entirely too loud for a 400 sq. foot venue. Deal with it. (Did I mention that you should carry earplugs wherever you go here? Because you should.)
Afterwards, have a drink at Village Pub. They serve a variety of mules with house made ginger beer. Or wind down your trip with another visit to Cafe Coco and enjoy some people-watching with a Rice Krispies treat the size of a brick.
I’m gonna trust that you know how to do this.
RENT A CAR. Do not think about traipsing through our fair city without a self-contained mode of transportation that 1) has air-conditioning and 2) is okay with moving at interstate speed. Otherwise, you will die a hot and boring death. Nashville is enormous and nothing is in the same place. Just be prepared for that.
Let’s face it, if you can afford the Hermitage Hotel, you’re not looking for travel tips on the internet. You’re ambling down from your room at 7:30 AM after reading the Wall Street Journal and you’re gonna make that concierge earn their keep.
For the rest of us plebes, it’s hard to find a good place to stay. The hotels are either super-expensive or disgusting, one rare exception being the Best Western Music Row, which is centrally located and only slightly super-expensive. Or just Airbnb the goddamned east side, it’s all gentrified to hell anyway. I swear to God, these L.A. assholes.