I wrote this post over a year ago for a travel site and never got around to posting it on here. And, since the hubs and I don’t actually live in Nashville anymore (we moved to LA last year), it hasn’t seemed completely relevant. But Nashville has become an “It” city these days, and truth be told I’ve come to miss it. Whether you’re considering a vacation there or you want to go out of the box and do an inexpensive honeymoon, below are some fun tips on how to live like a local.
City Guide: Nashville
As New York transplants, my husband and I have spent the last two years exploring the ins and outs of Nashville. Our mission (if we chose to accept it) was to not only get used to our new Southern way of life—like learning to drive again after 10 years of riding the subway—but to appreciate all that Music City had to offer. While it was easy to find activities that involved country music and cowboy boots, we wanted to really sink our teeth into the “real” nashville. And so far, we’ve been able to find more than just a country groove: we found a city we now call home.
Saturday in Nashville
Saturday means no alarm clocks. We roll out of bed at 9 a.m., and so long as we didn’t have too much wine the night before, we put on our running shoes and drive over to West Nashville’s Centennial Park. We drag our still sleepy bodies out of the car and do a quick stretch before we start our *hopefully* three mile jog (sometimes we jog 2 and just say we did). The 132-acre park houses an exact replica of Greece’s Parthenon, which is kind of weird and awesome at the same time. On a sunny day, you’ll see lots of kids feeding ducks in the park’s man-made Lake Watauga, as well as the occasional Nicole Kidman/Keith Urban sighting.
After we’re a sweaty mess, we’ll get back into the car and if the weather is good we’ll hit up the West Nashville Farmer’s Market. There are more than a dozen local vendors who sell everything from fresh produce to local honey. One of our favorites is the grass-fed beef from Peaceful Pastures. The market runs April-November, and is a fun spot to run into new friends or start a conversation with a local farmer. If we actually jogged the three miles, we might even pick up a peach pie from Papa C Pies. There’s something about living in the south that makes me want to eat (and dream about baking) pies.
By this time, I need some coffee ASAP. We head back downtown (about a 15 minute drive) to Crema, which is hands-down Nashville’s best coffee shop. Owner-operated, Crema takes a page from the artisinal coffee shops we’d frequent in Brooklyn, and is inevitably full of scruffy Nashville hipsters perusing MacBooks or discussing last night’s show at The Basement. They serve up regional favorites like Drew’s Brews hand-roasted coffee and eats from Sweet 16th Bakery, and always have some sort of cool artwork for sale on the walls. We both order a cappuccino and head back to our apartment, which is only a few minutes drive away.
I should get this out in the open. I LOVE our apartment. Our loft is in an old converted factory, with 25-foot ceilings and wooden columns throughout. When we first started looking at apartments, my husband basically had to revive me when I found out that we could get double the square footage we had in NYC for less money AND with no roaches. Bonus? We have a soaking tub, too. Needless to say, when we get home after our morning outing, I like to prop my feet up and enjoy my insect-free, cheap apartment as much as I can.
When the hunger kicks in I finally have to motivate myself to get dressed. Depending on our mood, we’ll get brunch at Marché, a european-style cafe in East Nashville that serves up some amazing seasonal dishes such as a Corn, Roasted Red Pepper, and Ricotta Tart or classic bistro items like Steak and Eggs with roasted red potatoes. Marché is the sister restaurant to Margot Cafe & Bar right down the street, which is one of our favorite restaurants for dinner. If we’re feeling worldly, we’ll go ethnic. I am addicted to a restaurant called Kien Giang, which is a hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese restaurant that will feed us amazing, fresh food for under $18 for the two of us. We always get the same thing: two Vegetable Pho’s and two orders of spring rolls with shrimp only. If we don’t go there for lunch, we’ll undoubtedly order takeout from them on Sunday night. I can’t get enough.
After we fill our bellies, I like to bribe Cory into going shopping with the promise of a cocktail after (ladies, if you don’t know this trick yet…it works). Personally, I’m not a big clothes shopper. My weakness is home goods, and I located my favorite spots within weeks of moving to Nashville. Our first stop is the Downtown Antique Mall, one of the most eclectically cool places in Nashville. It’s located right beside the active train tracks up a stone driveway on 8th avenue. The building is an old warehouse (I seem to be drawn to these), and inside are aisles and aisles of lost treasures from various decades, such as old metal signs, industrial bar carts, and life-size Bruce Lee statues (pictured). The place feels as if you just discovered a vintage mecca, and manages to not be too overwhelming. When we first moved into our loft, I spent most weekends there, buying vintage metal cabinets, deco vases and candelabras (all under $100) and anything else I could get my antique-loving hands on. Getting lost in there and wandering around is my favorite Nashville pastime.
Once I see that glazed look in Cory’s eyes, I know it’s time to leave the bygone eras inside. A deal’s a deal, and usually at this point even I’m thirsty for a yummy cocktail. We bring ourselves and our wallet to Patterson House, a 5 minute drive from the antique mall. The old-timey theme is definitely continued inside this old house, and no matter how sunny it is outside, you would never know it. You enter the bar via a thick velvet curtain into a dark room that looks like you’ve just entered a rich old man’s study. Complete with law books and chandeliers, the “no-standing” bar is a polar opposite to Lower Broadway’s touristy Honky Tonk row (not that that isn’t awesome from time to time). Patterson House’s menu is broken down by spirits: Gin, Vodka, Tequila, Bourbon, and Whisky. If I’m feeling adventurous, I’ll order a bacon-infused old fashioned, or stick with my usual Manhattan. Cory goes for the El Diablo, which has tequila, freshly-squeezed lemon juice, creme de cassis, ginger syrup, and club soda. Drinks are pricey ($12/each), so we swear we’re only going to have one. This plan doesn’t always work.
Inevitably we have the same conversation that every couple has on a Saturday night: Where do you want to eat? If we want to treat ourselves, we’ll head out to Miel in Sylvan Park. It’s a little off the beaten path, but once you get there you’re instantly treated to some of the best food in Nashville. Seema, the restaurant’s owner, is very focused on organic farming and brings in fresh vegetables and produce from the restaurant’s Cumberland River farm just 10 minutes away. They always have a delicious special on the menu, in addition to french-focused regulars such as bouillabaisse and duck and chestnut ravioli with seared diver scallops. Yum! P.S.: They can also cater weddings at Wolf Den Farm and other locations.
Admittedly, there are times when a delicious meal will prompt us to drive home, get in our PJ’s, and watch Saturday Night Live. But, one of us will kindly remind the other that we have no children (yet), and we’re not an elderly couple who just finished an early bird special (yet). If the pep talk works, we’ll check out what Nashville does best: country music. One of our favorite places to catch a live show is at the famed BlueBird Cafe, home to the amazingly talented bluesman Mike Henderson, who plays every Monday night, as well as hundreds of aspiring songwriters who show up every year for the cafe’s open mic night (Taylor Swift was apparently discovered there when she was 15-years-old). Located in Green Hills, the BlueBird Cafe has as much ambience as a place located in a strip mall can have, but that doesn’t matter. You’re there for a chance to listen to Nashville’s next big thing. If there’s a line out the door (which there tends to be), and we forgot to make a reservation, we’ll head over to the Station Inn, in the Gulch.
The Gulch, with it’s high-rise condos dotted amongst a row of bars and restaurants, is Nashville’s answer to an urban neighborhood. The Station Inn, a small stone building that looks like it could’ve been Davey Crockett’s boyhood home, sticks out like a sore (but awesome) thumb there, but is one of the most authentic Nashville experiences you can have. We head up the ramp into the cozy room, grab one of few remaining empty chairs and listen to some legendary bluegrass musicians who are so close you could throw a banjo at them. As the smell of popcorn and frozen pizzas cooked to order waft through the room, you can’t help but appreciate just how varied Nashville life can be.
After the last song is sung, we make our way back to the loft. We realize we’re no longer New Yorkers as we drift to sleep with the sounds of fiddles ringing in our ears, rather than ambulances.