1. Where to Stay
Downtown’s Beaux-Arts beauty, the Hermitage Hotel (from $260), recently spiffed up its Italian sienna-marble entryway and overhauled its plush, traditionally furnished guest rooms. After a drink or two at the downstairs Oak Bar, mosey over to the Capital Grille for a hearty Tennessee black angus steak.
Also downtown, the newly revamped Union Station Hotel (from $179) is housed in a turn-of-last-century railroad station. Each of the aqua- and chocolate-hued rooms (formerly railroad offices) vary in size and shape; ask for something on the sixth or seventh floors where twenty-foot windows offer sweeping skyline views.
The recently modernized Top o’ Woodland (from $150) bed-and-breakfast is ideally located in the once bedraggled, now hippified district of East Nashville.
With quirky details like lava lamps, rubber duckies, and bowls of goldfish (the swimming kind, not the snack) upon request, the Hotel Preston (from $109) is a boutique hotel that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
2. Where to Eat
The fried-chicken baskets at the Loveless Motel & Cafe in Bellevue are a southern breakfast treasure. A typical morning meal includes slabs of country-cured ham and bacon, buttery biscuits, and homemade preserves. Post-feast, duck into the gift shop, where you can grab a whole ham as a souvenir.
Housed in a former brick gas station in the Five Points section of East Nashville, demure and pretty Margot Café offers Italian and French country-inspired fare. Chef-owner Margot McCormack opened the more casual Marché Artisan Foods last November; the European-style café and bakery turns out fresh pastries, house-cured salumi, and delicious, rib-sticking takeout dinners.
Nashville native Julia Helton’s Family Wash—located in a former Laundromat in East Nashville—is the kind of casual neighborhood place that makes you jealous of the regulars. Go in for a ploughman’s plate of seasonal cheeses followed by the shepherd’s pie or Guinness-braised lamb shank with white beans.
3. What to Do
For an only-in-Nashville experience, head over to the south part of Twelfth Avenue, where you can ogle an acoustic Rickenbacker guitar at Corner Music or pound on an African djembe at Fork’s Drum Closet, all while sucking on a chile-spiked chocolate popsicle. That’s just one of the exotic sweets at Las Paletas, an Art Deco–style popsicle shop that hawks Mexican-style iced goodies made from fresh ingredients like rose petals, hibiscus, and tamarind.
Farther up the street, stop in for a house-roasted coffee at Portland Brew and hang out with Vanderbilt students on the outdoor patio. Finish the day’s wanderings at Rumours Wine and Art Bar where you can grab a glass of Four Graces Pinot Gris and a bowl of fragrant bouillabaisse crammed with rock shrimp, lobster, and bacon.
4. Insider’s Tip
No visitor to Nashville should miss tasting some tangy, sticky, hand-pulled Tennessee barbecue. Some of the best stuff in town comes out a back window of a rickety ranch house known as Cantrell’s (829 Lischey Ave.; 615-226-3995). If you’re of particularly strong stock, hit up Dee’s Q (1000 Riverside Dr.; 615-227-0024) and challenge owner Reginald Crowder (Dee is his daughter) to give you a hit of his hottest stuff: the truly unbearable Drop Dead sauce.
5. An Oddball Day
Just a short drive away in sleepy Cascade Hollow you’ll find the George A. Dickel Distillery, one of only two whiskey makers in the state (the other being Jack Daniel’s in Lynchburg). After roaming around the bucolic, 600-acre estate, stop inside the main house to check out framed newspaper ads proclaiming Dickel to be both medicinal and “mellow as moonlight.”
Next, get on Route 55 and head about twenty miles southwest to the perennially booked Miss Mary Bobo’s Boarding House. The house lunch of fried okra, salty country ham, corn pudding, and cornbread has a large and loyal following, making seats inside the flowery-wallpapered dining room hard to come by. Be sure to phone in a reservation a few weeks ahead so they save you a seat.
6. Related Links
Check out Nashville Scene for concert listings plus insider perspectives on the local food and art circuits.
The Nashville Farmers’ Market site lists special weekend events and highlights things to eat and stuff to buy at one of the country’s oldest 365-day-a-year farmers’ markets.
Updated sporadically throughout the month, the Future of Food in Nashville details farm-to-table events you won’t find in the local paper.