A visitors' guide to Nashville, written by visitors
We were somewhere near the Parthenon when Adam, one half of your regular Axios Nashville newsletter duo, started adding personal details to our driving tour.
- "That's the hospital where I was born," he said. Then he drove up a quarter-mile and said, "and that's where my grandmother was cremated."
Why it matters: The drive-about-town was a fitting kickoff to our two-night swing through your great city earlier this month, where dualities exist on every block …
- … where tourists blend with locals, where an old football stadium may soon give way to a new football stadium, where the joy of hot chicken often comes with a side of stomach pains, and where scooters and cars struggle to share the road.
State of play: Nate and Adam asked you for recommendations on where to take us during our trip, and did you ever deliver! Two days weren't enough to make it through the list.
- Watching them choose from it was part of the fun. They seemed to agonize when deciding between spots that longtime Nashville residents love and those that fit the visitors' checklist.
- This was telling, because it strikes us that part of Nashville's soul is that it's difficult to distinguish between what's authentic and what's for tourists, in part because tourism is one of Nashville's most authentic traits.
So here's how it went.
What we ate
Visiting from the Carolinas, Tennessee's cuisine wasn't exactly foreign to us, but the approaches were new. We made sure to hit the four Bs:
Barbecue: Our first stop was Tennessee-based Martin's Bar-B-Que, where we ordered a generous sampling for the table.
- Tender, flavorful meats served with down-home sides (how 'bout that cornbread hoecake?) and stacks of plain white bread.
- We split one of these boozy chocolate milkshakes four ways, and could've had another, but had places to be.
Beard: Ice cream headaches be damned, we walked up the slope to the James Beard-nominated speakeasy Attaboy. Famously, there's no drink menu. The bar squad simply asks your preferred spirit and what kind of mood you're in, and they make one for the moment.
- Reality check: Jen tried to order vodka and struck out. A bartender explained that Attaboy doesn't serve it in part because vodka doesn't add much flavor to a cocktail.
- Biscuit Love in the Gulch exceeded expectations. We both ordered the East Nasty — a flaky, buttery biscuit (good) sandwiching fried chicken (better) and topped with a generous pour of sausage gravy (best). Get there early if you hate lines.
Also: Shoutout to Lockeland Table, where we shared dinner on night one: top-quality food without an intimidating menu or overbearing atmosphere. Don't miss the pommes frites — or the dipping sauce that comes with them.
- Night two at Sixty Vines was also a winner. Italian food with wine on tap, and a huge window overlooking the Ryman? Say less.
What we did
Our arrival in Nashville coincided with a cold front. A bench at Centennial Park, surrounded by fall foliage, was the optimal setting for taking in the cooler temps.
The intrigue: We didn't go inside the Parthenon to see the giant sculpture of Athena, but Adam did tell us the story of when, one cold Nashville winter, freezing geese were rescued from the park's pond by a parks employee with a mallet.
- That's a story you can only get with a local.
How it ended: On the eve of our departure, we found ourselves atop the W hotel. The pricey cocktails at its rooftop bar, PROOF, were offset by a glorious view.
- Hanging out on a rooftop watching the city sparkle lets you see all of Nashville even when you can't really see it all.
A night at the Ryman
We needed music, of course.
- And since Michael is a diehard fan of Jason Isbell ("40-year-old dad music," as he calls it), and Jen had never been to Ryman Auditorium, we emphatically checked the live music box with Isbell on night four of his eight-night residency at the iconic venue.
- The Axios Nashville playlist features the night's set.
💭 Jen's thought bubble: Seeing Isbell was no doubt a treat, but the thrill was just being at the Ryman, experiencing an institution that will outlast any one show, artist or audience member.
- That sentiment was underscored by the statue of Loretta Lynn outside, still covered in fresh flowers and tributes.
💭 Michael's thought bubble: Isbell's work matters to me mostly because of the words he writes, and the Ryman's gift is that it delivers every lyric to the letter.
- I've seen him a dozen or so times now, and from a 2016 night in Austin with the woman who'd become my wife, to this show with terrific co-workers, I can tell you his music is best when you're with the right people in the right place at the right time.
We talk to Nate and Adam every day on Zoom and Slack. But being together at the Ryman, watching Isbell and his band all play their parts, we were reminded how neat it is when pieces of a whole come together.
The bottom line: From a driving tour to the Mother Church, our journey followed a wonderful arc, and by the end we'd found the true magic of Nashville — something beyond the must-eat-hot-chicken-and-go-to-Broadway-honky-tonks, to the real place where people live and die and drink and put it all in a country song.
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