Despite what ABC’s Nashville would lead you to believe, Music City is not all cowboy boots and big hair. Sure, country music heritage is around every corner, but the city is also home to blues, rock and Americana artists such as members of the Black Keys and White Stripes leading man Jack White. Aside from the diverse music, you may be surprised to find that Nashville’s eclectic food and cocktail bar scene—one of the best in the South—ranges from rustic and charming in that American-flag-on-the-wall way to experimental takes on what Southern cuisine even means. Here’s how to spend two great days in Nashvegas.
Get acquainted with the locals at Barista Parlor, a roasting room and coffee bar in the Gulch neighborhood. The former recording studio-turned-café is sizable yet cozy with its long, communal wooden tables and exposed light bulbs hanging overhead. Try one of the bar’s signature mocktails like the Lady Victory, a chilled espresso drink flavored with jasmine, served in a fancy coupe and garnished with an edible flower. Pair your drink with a flakey strawberry-lemon Pop’s Tart (their homemade version of a frosted Pop-Tart).
Head around the corner to Third Man Records, musician Jack White’s vinyl shop. His studio is next door to the store, so you may even spot him while flipping through White Stripes and Dead Weather records. Feeling inspired? Third Man has its own recording booth—a refurbished, 1947 Voice-o-Graph machine—that lets you record up to two minutes of low-fi audio onto a commemorative six-inch disc.
Third Man Records
Photo: Brent Moore, CC-BY
You can’t visit Nashville without eating the local delicacy: hot chicken served with pickles and white bread. Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack, located in a strip mall in north Nashville, is one of the best and sells juicy fried chicken quarters spiced from plain to XXX-hot. Even if you love heat, start with an order of mild or medium. Prince’s is legendary; expect to wait at least an hour for your bird.
Go downtown and take a backstage tour of the Ryman Auditorium, home to the Grand Ole Opry radio show from 1943 to 1974. Built as a tabernacle in 1892, the downtown venue has hosted rowdy crowds clamoring to see stars such as Elvis Presley, Patsy Cline and Johnny Cash for over a century. On the backstage and on-stage tour, you can sit in the no-frills green rooms, which are themed to honor music legends such as Hank Williams and are still used by artists who take the Ryman stage today.
Photo: Cliff, CC-BY
Walk down the street to Hatch Show Print, the renowned letterpress printer that has been designing handbills since the 19th Century. Watch the printing process take place and then browse the shop’s Haley Gallery, which sells restrikes of Hatch’s classic posters alongside modern-day monoprints made in the historic wood block style.
Go early to get a seat at the marble bar at Rolf and Daughters, a modern Mediterranean restaurant favorited by adventurous seafood lovers. Start with the sourdough bread served with salty seaweed butter. Then order the squid ink canestri, a black macaroni tossed with shrimp, squid, pork sausage and basil. Pair it with agretti, Italian greens which look like pine needles, sautéed with currants, capers and anchovies. The bar menu also serves a heavy pour of creativity: the Flat Cap cocktail includes Irish whiskey, orange cream soda syrup and bitters.
Rolf and Daughters
Photo: Andrea Behrends
Lower Broadway is the reason why Nashville gets the nickname Nashvegas. On this Bourbon Street-esque strip, a dozen honky-tonk bars pack in bachelorette parties and bachelorette party hangers-on all night long. The most famous of the bars, such as Tootsie’s Orchard Lounge or The Stage, may have surprise celebrity acts, but for the most part, expect to be squeezed in like a Miller-sipping sardine and listening to pop-country cover bands. When you’re ready for a break from the country, walk to Acme Feed & Seed for non-country indie tunes and delightfully country Mule Kickers cocktails: frozen lemonade mixed with moonshine.