Nashville, Tennessee- Midnight Movies, Speakeasies, and Hot Chicken

In Travel Guides, United States
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The Bluebird, tucked away in a plain shopping center in Green Hills.

The main drag- Broadway and all it's brilliant neon signage

The main drag, Broadway and all it’s brilliant neon signage.

Not a huge Country music fan? I have good news for you- Nashville is no longer just about honky-tonks and cowboy hats. With major artists like Jack White and the Black Keys moving to town and fostering up-and-coming alternative musicians, and an unbeatable food and drink scene, there is something here to please every taste.

I was lucky enough to live here for 2 years, and I was constantly blown away by all of the amazing places I discovered. Here is my guide to the best (and most unexpected) restaurants, bars, and attractions that will show you a whole new side of Nashville. And I’m just scratching the surface.

MUSIC & ENTERTAINMENT

There are plenty of bars featuring live music downtown- Country musicians from all over the United States trying their best to “make it,” playing the standard songs (ask any bartender, they all absolutely hate “Wagon Wheel”). To get a more authentic and interesting Country experience, try:

  • The Bluebird Cafe– A legendary yet small and intimate venue, the Bluebird has been around (and mostly unchanged) for decades and features acoustic performances from the writers who are responsible for all the big hits. Make sure to make a reservation!
  • The Ryman Auditorium–  Known as the “Mother Church of Country Music,” the Ryman hosts all types of Country artists as well as many from other genres. It is actually an old church (think incredible acoustics) and was the original home of the Grand Ole Opry.

To experience the diverse music scene that has been blooming wildly in Music City, head to one of these alternative gems:

  • The Basement/Basement East– The original venue is actually in the basement of a building on the south side of Nashville. Head to the original or the newer East Nashville location to check out some of the grungier bands about to make it big.
  • The 5 Spot– If you’re looking for a variety of music AND killer dancing, look no further. They feature live bands from Americana to punk, and are infamous for their “Motown Mondays.”
  • Marathon Music Works– A big venue for the local indie radio station, Lightning 100.1, the space is located in the old Marathon Auto factory, which has been renovated to include several cool shops (including the Nashville location of Antique Archaeology).

Looking for more unique non-musical entertainment? Bonus adventures:

  • Nashville Ghost Tours– See Broadway and downtown in a whole new light; the company offers a Haunted Tavern Tour, combining the history of several popular bars with ghost stories and trivia games.
  • The Belcourt Theater– This little arthouse theater in Hillsboro Village regularly features indie films and documentaries, but the real fun is had when you grab a signature cocktail with your popcorn and catch a classic film at their midnight showings (think Rocky Horror and Gremlins).

FOOD

The Nashville food scene is truly glorious. It has everything from high-class eateries (try the Catbird Seat) to a thriving food truck culture (The Grilled Cheeserie will leave you addicted) and everything in between. One of the toughest things I’ve done this week is whittle this list down to just 5 places.

  • The Nashville Specialty- Hattie B’s serves up hot chicken, a staple of Music City and an absolute must-try. Pick your heat level and classic sides and enjoy the true flavor of Nashville.
  • Street Food- Mas Tacos Por Favor is one of the most authentic Mexican joints I have ever been to- and I grew up in San Diego. Tucked away in a little shack of a building on the East side, they serve up killer tacos (please try the fried avocado) as well as fried plantains and their off-the-chain elote (corn on the cob with cheese and spices).
  • Throwback- Conveniently across the street from Mas Tacos sits The Pharmacy, a burger joint that also happens to serve a large selection of beers (complete with beer garden) and incredible home-made sodas and floats.
  • Brunch- Pinewood Social Club is hidden away in an old warehouse building along the Cumberland River. They not only have insanely good brunch dishes, they serve up an amazing selection of cocktails and have board games for you to play. Oh, and also a bowling alley, pool, and karaoke rooms to rent.
  • Quirky- I Dream of Weenie has got to be the most unique spot on the East side- maybe all of Nashville. An old converted hippie bus in Five Points serves up creatively-topped hot dogs, and they even have “brunch weenies” on Sundays (try the hash brown casserole weenie) for those who want something more laid-back for brunch. While you’re there, wander across the street for some home-made ice cream at Pied Piper Creamery.

ALCOHOL

Now for the important stuff- drinking! Nashville doesn’t make it’s love of booze a secret- it ranks #2 in the nation for bachelorette parties, right behind Las Vegas. You could always just stick to Broadway for your drinking needs (and you should at least give it a try), or you could step off the beaten path and have a truly fabulous night.

  • Dive- For a good time in my old neighborhood, head over to Fran’s. It’s about as divey as it gets, and features live music, karaoke, a pool table, and all the lovable hooligans from down the street.
  • Speakeasy- The Patternson House keeps their presence very low key. Their website is kept very simple, and there is no significant signage out front. Step inside and step back through time as you enjoy some of the most well-crafted cocktails Nashville has to offer. Conveniently located next to the Catbird Seat, for an easy and incredibly classy night out.
  • Unique- The Greenhouse, located in Green Hills behind the mall, is literally inside a greenhouse. Serving up drinks and snacks, they’ll help you relax for the afternoon in this one-of-a-kind atmosphere.
  • Printer’s Alley- This historic alleyway just outside the downtown strip is home to Bourbon Street Boogie and Blues, a bar bringing you the music and beverages of New Orleans. Try to go on a night when the Stacey Mitchum Band is playing. Groove to “The Mother-in-Law Song.”
  • Happy Hour- Head to the Rosepepper Cantina on the East side and prepare to get loco. Their happy hour special margaritas are ridiculously strong yet delicious- be ready to knock back a whole bowl of queso dip and not remember why you punched your neighbor when you wake up the next day.

COFFEE

We may like our alcohol, but we also love our coffee. It helps us face the morning light after a night at any of the above locations, and we take it seriously. Some suggestions:

  • Classic- You haven’t lived until you’ve had a latte from Crema, just outside of downtown.
  • Fancy- At the Barista Parlor, you can choose between three different types of espresso. I got confused very fast, but it was delicious and I’m very aware that I know nothing about how coffee is made. It is a hipster’s dream.
  • Unique- Portland Brew’s East side location features comfy seating areas and a very relaxed atmosphere, but I always went for the Rainforest Mocha. Try it. You’re welcome.

And last but not least…

HISTORY

When it comes to learning about Nashville’s colorful (I’m talking really colorful) past, there are a whole bunch of ways you can go about it. These are three of my favorite stops, and as per Nashville rules I made sure at least one of them includes alcohol.

  • Belle Mead Plantation– Check out this gorgeous old mansion in the heart of the richest part of town. The original owners raised racehorses instead of the traditional field crops, and you can see reminders of their prize-winning horses as well as bullet scars on the facade from the Civil War. At the end of your tour, enjoy a complimentary tasting session of their artisan wines.
  • The Johnny Cash Museum– see the legendary performer’s life in incredible detail in this small but packed museum just off Broadway. A true icon of Country music.
  • The Parthenon– Built in 1897 for the Centennial Exposition, Nashville’s Parthenon is a replica of the original in Greece. Inside, you can find historical information, an art gallery, and my personal favorite- the 30 foot tall statue of Athena.

My point- Nashville has enough unique and interesting spots to keep you occupied on your visit long after you get sick of all the neon lights on Broadway. I hope you enjoy them all as much as I did!

 

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