If Nashville is not on your radar as a dynamic travel destination, it really should be. Young creatives, inventive chefs and musicians of all stripes, not just country enthusiasts, are remaking Music City into of the most pulsating places in the US. The transformation is most apparent in a handful of emerging downtown neighbourhoods, including Germantown, The Gulch and 12 South, a stretch of 12th Avenue peppered with compelling retailers.
Is it any wonder that famous Nashvillians include Nicole Kidman, Taylor Swift, Jack White, and Reese Witherspoon, who opened her lifestyle store, Draper James, in her hometown? These days, Nashville is humming a new tune.
Breakfast & Brunch
It's the south, so start your day with buttermilk-laced biscuits. Biscuit Love (316 11th Ave South, biscuitlove.com) has a zealous following for dishes like the "Princess", spicy chicken anointed with honey and served between two flaky layers. They also offer "bonuts", a decadent biscuit and doughnut hybrid. Head to The Southern Steak & Oyster (150 3rd Ave South, thesouthernnashville.com) for first-rate chicken and waffles, omelettes with braised pork and skillet-sized pancakes. For late risers, Sky Blue Café (700 Fatherland Street, skybluecoffee.com) offers all-day breakfast options, such as salmon benedict, in cosy surroundings. On weekends, head to Tavern (1904 Broadway, mstreetnashville.com) for blood orange mimosas, bacon scramble, and white-trash hash, a mix of potato and melted cheese that is surprisingly addictive.
Nashville is known for its spicy fried chicken, available in various incendiary levels from mild to extreme, and the debate is equally heated as to who turns out the best version. Prince's Hot Chicken Shack (123 Ewing Drive, princeshotchicken.com) has long reigned as the leading practitioner of the fiery bird, but the queues here can be interminable. Instead, check out Hattie B's (112 19th Ave South, hattieb.com) and Bolton's Spicy Chicken & Fish (624 Main Street, boltonsspicy.com), for crisp, juicy renditions just as tasty as Prince's, if not better. A warning: Stick with the mild versions, since the others are doused in tear-inducing, tongue-numbing cayenne pepper.
If you're not a fan of fried chook, head to The Pharmacy Burger Parlor And Beer Garden (731 McFerrin Avenue, thepharmacynashville.com), a buzzy burger joint where you can dine outside in a grassy enclosure. Or to Mas Tacos Por Favor (732 McFerrin Avenue, facebook.com/mastacos) for sensational Mexican street food including tacos, tamales and tortilla soup.
At Husk (37 Rutledge Street, husknashville.com), one of Nashville's most revered restaurants, Sean Brock reinvents Southern cuisine with ingredient-driven dishes, in-house pickling and top-notch charcuterie. The menus change daily but a recent one included aged beef tartare with dried tomato and sunflower, and blackened catfish with Cajun-style prawns and gold rice. Rolf and Daughters (700 Taylor Street, rolfanddaughters.com) has attracted national acclaim for its Italian-skewed menus, such as green wheat spaghetti with cheese and pepper, served in a fine-looking historic building with high ceilings and iron windows.
Similarly, 404 Kitchen (404 12th Ave South, the404nashville.com), a restaurant in a former shipping container, draws crowds for chef Matt Bolus' stunning seasonal fare, like peach and pork ragout. Sisters Alexis Soler and Britt Soler recently opened Old Glory (1200 Villa Pl #103, facebook.com/oldglorynashville), a spectacular bar and restaurant in an old boiler room. Pair your root vegetable salad with a beet-flavoured mezcal cocktail.
It might be located on a gritty strip but you can't miss Barista Parlor's (519B Gallatin Ave, baristaparlor.com) electric blue and bright orange facade. Inside, the sprawling room tempts with soaring ceilings, elaborate coffee machines, and local artwork. East Nashville locals gravitate here for its excellent java, relaxed ambiance and inviting vibe. Elsewhere, Crèma (15 Hermitage Avenue, crema-coffee.com) is both a roastery and a café, with an extensive menu offering everything from cortados to iced Cuban lattes. Fido 1812 21st Ave South, bongojava.com) has arguably the most eclectic caffeinated beverages; their "Grasshopper" blends basil, lemongrass, coconut, espresso and milk. Or for something a little different to get your motor started, try a Slingshot at Garage Coffee (1200 Clinton Street #25, garagecoffeecompanynashville.com). It's a zinging macchiato with a dash of caramel and smoked bourbon salt.
Newcomer Bar Sovereign (514 5th Ave South, barsovereign.com) is a petite, moody bar behind a strip club in SoBro-look for the brass sign-with unusual drinks like a rum-fuelled Donkey Punch. Butcher & Bee (902 Main St, butcherandbee.com) is a restaurant with a slightly obscured second-floor bar with mescal- and pisco-based libations. The Patterson House (1711 Division Street, thepattersonnashville.com) is a modern-day speakeasy where knowledgeable mixologists prepare delicate drinks including Yes, Always!, with rose-infused Hayman's, vermouth, lemon, egg white and rose water.
For tangy frozen cocktails, prime people-watching and seafood dishes, head to The Hook (2222 8th Ave South, thehooknashville.com). The Crying Wolf (823 Woodland Street, thecryingwolf.com) has taxidermy, Shepard Fairey art work, a waterslide (in summer), as well as hipsters drinking old-school brew Pabst Blue Ribbon and whiskey cocktails.
No longer exclusively about country music, Nashville is a repository of every genre, from electro-pop to hip-hop. Headlining acts as well as notable locals perform at The Mercy Lounge (1 Cannery Row, mercylounge.com). One of the latter is Alanna Royale, a soul act fronted by powerhouse vocalist Alanna Quinn-Broadus. At Exit/In (2208 Elliston Place, exitin.com) you might see the Japanese pop singer Aiko one night and rapper Danny Brown on another.
3rd & Lindsley (818 3rd Avenue South, 3rdandlindsley.com) plays hosts to well-known acts such as Esperanza Spalding and Lady Antebellum. One of the liveliest dance parties unfolds on a Monday night at 5 Spot (1006 Forrest Avenue, the5spotlive.com). "Keep on Movin!" is an infectious shindig where deejays play fifties, sixties, rock, garage, and old-school R&B. If you are seeking some legit country, head to the Ryman Auditorium (116 5th Avenue, ryman.com), which is housed in a Victorian Gothic revival building from 1892, and Bluebird Café (4104 Hillsboro Road, bluebirdcafe.com), made famous by the TV series, Nashville.
The Frist Center For The Visual Arts (919 Broadway, 615 244 3340, fristcenter.org) is an excellent starting point for any artistic foray. Housed in an arresting Art Déco building, it's a cultural centre for the city with a jam-packed schedule of local and international exhibits. The Arts Company (215 5th Ave North, theartscompany.com) has been exhibiting contemporary work for over 20 years.
The First Saturday Art Crawl is a wise way to explore a spate of downtown galleries, including The Rymer Gallery (233 5th Avenue North, therymergallery.com), which celebrates young multimedia artists. More conceptual work and performance-based pieces can be discovered at Seed Space (1201 4th Ave South, seedspace.org). Situated in a warehouse on the outskirts of West Nashville, OZ Nashville (6172 Cockrill Bend Circle, ozartsnashville.org) is a performing arts centre for unique artists like tap choreographer Michelle Dorrance.
Reese Witherspoon's Southern-inspired lifestyle brand Draper James (2608 12th Ave South, draperjames.com) sells cocktail dresses, printed totes and quirky homewares like magnolia paperweights. At Peter Nappi (1308 Adams Street, Germantown, peternappi.com) discover stylish boots hand-made in Italy as well as leather goods crafted on-site by owner Phillip Nappi and his artisans. One of the coolest local stores is Imogene + Willie (2601 12th Avenue South, imogeneandwillie.com), a denim purveyor in a 1950s service station.
The boutique combines their authentic selvedge jeans with vintage tees and Navajo jewellery. For vintage cowboy boots, fringed jackets and denim rompers, head to High Class Hillbilly (4604 Gallatin Pike, highclasshillbilly.com). Pick up rare vinyl at Third Man Records (623 7th Avenue South, thirdmanrecords.com), the record store owned by Jack White. If you're in the market for an affordable poster, head to Hatch Show Print (316 Broadway, store.countrymusichalloffame.com), which has a history of making posters for music, vaudeville, and circus acts across the country.
THE INN CROWD
With a slew of brand new lodgings expected from Virgin Hotels, 21c and the Thompson group among others, Nashville is fast gaining hotel rooms. But one of our favourite inns is not part of any multinational organisation. Brooklyn-based hotelier Lyon Porter has converted a Victorian mansion for his Urban Cowboy in East Nashville (1603 Woodland Street, urbancowboybnb.com).
It's a B&B with eight rakish suites. Each room has custom wallpaper, a clawfoot tub, decorative headboards, with splashes of metallic hues. As with the Brooklyn original, most of the magic takes place in the inn's communal areas, fitted out with a piano, double bass and drum kit for guests who might like to jam. "Arrive as strangers. Leave as friends," is the hotel's motto. It's conveniently located near a spate of cafes, stores and restaurants, and not far from downtown.