Delicious treats and historical and tuneful treasures in Music City
Tennessee's capital has been on something of a roll in recent years. A southern, cosmopolitan city smack in the middle of the Volunteer State, Nashville has recently been dubbed a US' hotspot by several revered publications, and it even now serves as the backdrop for a popular TV drama about its musically-inclined inhabitants. The broader attention—and the more well-rounded praise—isn't undeserved. Nashville's always been known for country music, and you'll still catch some of the world's best providers of that sound recording and writing on Music Row, performing on Lower Broadway, at the Station Inn or at The Grand Ole Opry. But the world has been getting a better—and overdue—view of Nashville's breadth. The historic city is home to James Beard-honored chefs and restaurants, a Google Tech Hub, a blossoming fashion scene and a weirdly alluring replica of The Parthenon—among many other draws. But beyond the style and food inspiration, Nashville's longstanding nickname—Music City—always has, and always will be, a perfect fit.
Loveless Cafe cannot be mentioned without calling out the biscuits. The down-home eatery—tucked away about 30 minutes west of downtown—has been serving southern staples for more than 60 years. And it's revered the world over for those fluffy, buttery biscuits—which are still prepared with a secret recipe Annie Loveless developed back in the '50s. Despite the roadside joint changing hands several times over the years, Loveless' biscuits have remained the same ever since she began serving the travelers passing through on Highway 100. All the while, tourists and locals alike flocked to the family-friendly cafe for classic southern flavors: fried chicken, country-fried steak, pork barbecue. (We suggest the rich and hearty ilk.) In 2009, the Loveless Barn joined the compound, turning the Loveless into as much of a music destination as a place for dependable grub.
The moniker Third Man Records is a slight oversimplification of what visitors find in this downtown compound, which was launched, designed and spearheaded by rock'n'roll's Jack White (who earned his country stripes when he produced veteran Loretta Lynn's award-winning album in 2004). You will find records here; the small storefront stocks singles and LPs issued by the label part of Third Man, including many of White's own work. Inside there are also plenty of novelties, including the Monkey Band (animatronic monkeys wriggling, usually, to a TMR-artist soundtrack) and Record Booth, which allows visitors to cut six-inch phonographic discs. After searching through all the treasures, head around the way to the Blue Room, a live venue complete with adornment that's another world away from the average beer-soaked rock club. Third Man Records cuts Blue Room performances straight to vinyl and offers up copies as captures and keepsakes. Ultimately, Third Man feels like something of a musical museum, gallery and creative playground—and, like the man who built it, is wildly unique.
Driving by imogene + willie's storefront in the bustling 12South neighborhood, visitors would be forgiven for thinking it's a gas station. Decades ago, it was in fact a gas station, and when Carrie and Matt Eddmenson refurbished the place to house their designer denim line, they did so with a visible restraint and respect for history—leaving the antique overhang and adding little signage. The Eddmensons use the same sensibilities when designing their jeans, which feature classic materials, methods and cuts with subtle updates. The brand’s Willie men’s jeans were inspired by the Levi’s 1947 design, though updated touches make a big difference. Women’s cuts opt for a more womanly rise that lengthens and flatters. The shop doesn't just focus on jeans though, they also peddle a stylish collection of shirts, jackets and some carefully selected homewares too. The draw truly is the denim though, and the Eddmensons work with hand-sewn details and prized raw, selvage denim—which, naturally, is tough during the first few wears, but settles in to envelop the wearer like a full-hearted hug from a southern granny. Fitting, since the business is named for Carrie's maternal grandparents—Imogene and Willie—who inspired the shop's welcoming, cross-generational vibe.
Owner of Barista Parlor—located in artsy, inclusive East Nashville—Andy Mumma took an unassuming concrete space on Gallatin Pike (which is almost ruined with fast food and title loan storefronts) and turned it into a stylish, quality-focused caffeine paradise. Baristas sling handcrafted, by-the-cup brews from an across-the-map crop of quality purveyors (Portland's Stumptown, Chicago's Intelligentsia, LA's Handsome Coffee Roasters and San Francisco’s Sightglass), and the menu always features creative hot and cold specials. If you're not a certified coffee nerd, the friendly baristas will help you navigate the goods to find something that’s just right. The beverages are certainly a reason to visit, but there's much more to praise, from the eye-grabbing art from local design studio, Isle of Printing, to handcrafted furniture from HollerDesign and heaps of vinyl. We suggest not leaving until you’ve tasted the BP sausage biscuits—made with meats and cheese from neighbors Porter Road Butcher and The Bloomy Rind. These biscuits encapsulate the entire Nashville vibe right now: Comforting but complex and incredibly easy to fall for.
Founder of Grimey’s, Mike Grimes, is something of a local musical hero: He played with The Bis-Quits and Bare Jr., helped spur the dicey-to-trendy East Nashville renaissance with his much-missed venue Slow Bar and has served crate diggers at his namesake shop, since 1999. Grimes and co-owner Doyle Davis can quickly disavow that notion that vinyl is dead, since their business has grown steady over the years while the modern music industry struggles. First was the move from a tiny Berry Hill room to a handsome Victorian, then Grimes took over The Basement and turned it into one of Nashville's best cozy music venues. In 2013, Grimes and Davis added Grimey's Too just two doors down, selling "Tangible Musical Artyfacts” and housing independent bookstore Howlin’ Books and a Frothy Monkey coffee bar. The growth surely reflects the duo’s consistent focus on over-delivering. Grimey’s shelves are always smartly stocked with both obscure and popular favorites, plus visitors could catch the likes of Elvis Costello or Brian Wilson signing records, or an in-store performance from The Black Keys or Feist—maybe even an invite-only Basement set from Emmylou Harris or Metallica. It’s a music enthusiast’s paradise, designed and maintained by fellow music lovers, which is probably why Grimey’s is recognized as one of the best record stores in the country.
Hot chicken is almost officially Nashville's official food: it’s a take on fried chicken that's generously slathered with a tastebuds-scorching mix of cayenne and spices, served atop a slice of white bread and simply appointed with pickles. Trendsetter Prince's—on the East side—has more or less cornered the "best hot chicken in town" market. But newcomer Hattie B's, in slicker Midtown, has managed to get Music City citizens talking; since the family restaurant opened in mid-2012, local mumbles have roared steadily. Order anything above mild flavoring and you’re in for a little pain, but the flavor is so irresistibly rich and has such a bite that it’s well worth it. While Hattie B's is spicy, diners will certainly notice it’s more about the flavor than the heat. (That said, beginners probably should steer clear of the "Shut the Cluck Up.”) The space is stylish without pretention; fire engine-red chairs, pendant lights and stained concrete floors make for a fun, relaxed setting for diners to abuse their tastebuds—in the best way possible.
About 20 years ago, East Nashville—just over the Cumberland River—was far from the thriving neighborhood it is today, but a steady and determined rebirth in recent years has turned it into a vibrantly creative testament to the independent spirit. And Five Points—at the intersection of Woodland, 11th and Clearview—is East Nashville's beating heart. Local businesses, and supporting those businesses, form a huge part of the area’s culture, which means on any given afternoon or evening, you'll find Five Points buzzing with drinkers, diners and shoppers—some visitors, many locals. While in the area, visit some of the east side’s most established players: The rustic yet upscale Margot Cafe & Bar, community fixture Cumberland Hardware and local live music go-to The 5 Spot. Newer venue, Five Points Pizza became a neighborhood staple shortly after its 2011 opening and running gear shop Nashville Running Company was almost immediately adopted by the tight-knit, hundreds-strong East Nasty running group. The area gets picked on locally for being a hipster hotbed, but 5 Points just tends to draw like-minded folks who like creativity, culinary experiments and an alternative lifestyle.
There isn't anything medicinal about The Pharmacy Burger Parlor, but a trip to the East Nashville eatery can certainly make diners feel better. The restaurant's focus is on local ingredients and house-made treats—a variety of frankfurter wurstchen, an array of tasty condiments and a broad menu of sodas and phosphates. We suggest the Ginger Phosphate for some bite and the Egg Cream Soda for a classic charmer. In traditional southern fashion, the fare is anything but light: The Farm Burger—complete with local beef, bacon and ham, plus a local over-easy egg and maple mustard—is fantastically meaty and hearty. The Stroganoff Burger—topped with caramelized onion, swiss and a mushroom stroganoff béchamel—is absolutely decadent and not for the faint-hearted. Finish off your meal with a shake or malt made with ice cream from East Nashville's Pied Piper Creamery and you’re sure to be more than satisfied. The Pharmacy also boasts a beer garden, with ample picnic tables and arcs of twinkling string lights overhead, which is one of the best outdoor hangouts in the city. And the lengthy beer list—heavy on craft beers and German drafts—is selected to cure the ails of even the most demanding beer aficionado.
Crumb de la Crumb owner and cake artist Lorie Burcham aims to create sweet treats that look as special as they taste. From fire trucks to snowmen, pirate ships and princess tiaras, these cakes are artworks to behold. Burcham uses fresh ingredients for basic flavors like vanilla and red velvet, but also plays with gluten-free options as well as infusions—southern peach, creme brulee, Chambord, Kahlua, and fillings like chocolate hazelnut truffle, cannoli and much more. For a look at and a taste of the Crumb de la Crumb team’s sweet (and savory) skills without actually commissioning a cake, visit their quaint Cottage Café—southwest of downtown in the tidy suburb of Bellevue—where sweet and savory snacks are on offer.
While The Man In Black has always been a Nashville treasure, Johnny Cash's namesake museum is a fresh point of pride for Music City. Cash’s longtime friend Bill Miller started with his extensive personal collection of memorabilia, merged it with contributions from Cash family members, friends and professional partners, and opened the stately monument in April of 2013. Located in a busy downtown area, the Johnny Cash Museum is situated next to some of the most compelling musical landmarks; from the Ryman Auditorium to famed honky-tonk Tootsie's and the Country Music Hall of Fame. The museum’s collection spans decades of Cash’s legendary life, starting with his childhood and through to the twists and turns of a storied career. Highlights include Luther Perkins' amp with a handwritten note from Cash, noting its contributions to "Folsom Prison Blues," "I Walk The Line" and other timeless songs, and the recording console used on the American Recordings near the end of Cash's life. The space is even home to a wall excavated from Cash's lake house in Hendersonville. In its first few months, the museum has already earned high praise and is a must-see for any Johnny Cash fan.
One of the best things about being in a rural-adjacent city like Nashville is that driving just 30 minutes and you will be surrounded by lush, wide-open spaces. Drive a little further (about two hours) to visit Pikeville’s picturesque Fall Creek Falls State Park—anchored by its beautiful waterfall. Whether you're an experienced hiker or more timid, you can easily enjoy some of the 60-odd waterfalls found within a 40-mile radius. Six inside the park itself are easily accessible, including the 256-foot Fall Creek Falls, which has close, paved access by car, then a breeze of a hike. You can also hike up the awe-inspiring oak and hickory forest, boat along Fall Creek Lake and go on guided horse-rides. If that all sounds a little too outdoorsy for your taste, head to Fall Creek Falls golf club, which boasts one of the most challenging 18-hole courses in the country. And if you're not in a hurry to get back to Nashville, any number of cabins at the lakeside Fall Creek Falls Inn offers a charming woodlands respite.