There’s nothing like heading south and experiencing a little southern charm and the lights of Broadway street in Nashville. If peddle pubs and countless bachelorette parties are not your idea of a great weekend, don’t discount Nashville just yet. There are so many exciting neighborhoods in this town, each with their own identity. Nashville isn’t only Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and Tequila Cowboy, there is so much more.
Having been to Nashville a few times and visited lower Broadway, I would definitely say it is an experience I think everyone should have at least once. It’s would be like going to New York City and not seeing Time Square. Beyond the neon signs, country cover songs and droves of women wearing “bride tribe” t-shirts, there is a world of Nashville unpenetrated by the cities many tourists. The neighborhoods where locals mingle with locals and where country music legends have been discovered. Another great thing about Nashville is that it is a city full of new transplants. I was told by my local friends that you are considered a Nashville native if you have lived there at least five years because of its recent population boom. I talked to people living there from Texas, Wisconsin, Michigan and New York. I like to compare it to the Denver of the South. It is a town booming with young people looking to start there new life in one of the hottest towns in the U.S.
If you want to feel like a local, then I would stick to some of the neighborhoods outside of the downtown areas. One of my favorite is East Nashville. To compare it to other cities I would say it is like Brooklyn in New York or Logan Square in Chicago. It is full of young, artistic people with great trendy food options and cheap beer. And speaking of food, Nashville has some really great options whether you like the heavy fried food known in the south or are looking for lighter fares.
Let me take you on a journey of food and fun from my most recent trip to the music city. After arriving from a long day of driving we met our friends at Dino’s, Nashville’s oldest dive bar. I suggest getting something horrible for you, like the fried chicken sandwich or the spicy fries, they are delicious. Pair it with a local brew or an underpriced cocktail and enjoy the Dolly Parton décor along with the jukebox music playing overhead. Bars in Nashville are open until 3 am so you can finish out the night there and get started fresh the next morning.
If you are looking for something a little trendier with healthier food options, then you are going to love Café Roze. This chic little brunch spot is actually a favorite of former Chicago Bear’s quarterback Jay Cutler and his wife Kristin Cavallari, who now reside in Nashville. I know the chef at this restaurant and he told me they come in every Friday when the restaurant opens at 8 am because no one else is in there at the time. I was also told celebrity sightings are frequent there and you often see bloggers and influencers in there with their cameras trying to get the perfect shot of their avocado toast. I had the egg bowl which consisted of a pouched egg, quinoa, cucumber, feta and other greens. It was delicious and a nice change from my heavy meal the night before.
Nashville is a city full of sights from one side to the other, and it’s easily drivable. You can get anywhere in the city within 20 minutes, even with traffic. Coming from Chicago that was a nice change of pace. We decided to hit up as many Nashville tourist spots as we could throughout the day seeing places like the Blue Bird Café, the Nashville Parthenon, Belle Meade Plantation and some of Nashville’s iconic murals. We later met up with our friends to experience a real Nashville treat—hot chicken. According to locals the best spot to do this at is Prince’s Hot Chicken. This hole in the wall restaurant located in a strip mall may not look like the crown of the Nashville food scene, but one bite of that deliciously spicy bird and you will understand why. Order the quarter breast and a side of fries for the ultimate Nashville experience. This place is full of locals, and not overrun by tourists like many other famous food spots throughout the city. Make sure to eat in for the full experience.
Now, if you are avoiding lower Broadway but are still looking for great nighttime entertainment East Nashville is the neighborhood for you. There is a section of the neighborhood called Five Points where you can find any type of bar you are interested in. They have dive bars, touristy type watering holes and upscale speak easies in former craftsman style homes. One of my favorites is called Rosemary’s. Here they have transformed a vintage home into a bar with an experience that they describe as, “a low-key hang ‘where it feels like you’re at a nice dinner party at your friends’ cool old house in East Nashville,’”. When you walk in you are transformed by the distinct smell of bitters and the cool eclectic bunch of patrons. Plus all cocktails are priced at $10. Not a bad price.
If something a little rougher around the edges is your scene then I would suggest Dukes. Still in the Five Points area of East Nashville, this dive bar serves up great cocktails and DJ music ranging from oldies to Indy bands of today. One interesting fact about Nashville is that every bar must serve food. This can range from Doritos in a bag all the way up to dinner options. Duke’s is one of the special locations that has amazing food. If the night is coming to a close and you are looking for a late-night option Duke’s is your place. There is a deli inside the bar that serves Boar’s head meat on premade or build it yourself sandwich options. The bread is excellent too.
If you still want that downtown vibe, but are looking to stay clear of Broadway there is an area of downtown called Midtown that offers a lot of great restaurants and bars and still gives that city feel. I had brunch at a restaurant called Le Sel. I actually found it on Instagram prior to our visit and was drawn in by the pink décor and delicious menu offerings. This is a little higher end brunch and dinner spot so if you want to do a fancy brunch with friends or a romantic date this is a great location. Le Sel is a French restaurant with classic French fair mixed with American items. I love French onion soup and I can honestly say this was the best I’ve ever had. I also tried the avocado toast and it was enough to feed two!
If you are looking to eat and drink your way through Nashville, there is no shortage of great restaurants and watering holes. A lot of a city’s best kept secrets lay just beyond the downtown area so get out, explore and talk to people to find out about locally famous restaurants, hole in the walls and favorites from the people that live there.