Issue #19 May 2006

Nashville by day or night


Nobody knows Nashville like the locals. In this case, Red Hat Magazine dug up an experienced Southerner to give us the scoop on Nashville, Tennessee, home of this year's Red Hat Summit.

Born and raised in North Carolina, with a college-era turn in Lafayette, LA, and now settled just a stone's throw from bustling Music City, this local lady gave us an exhaustive list of the hottest hangouts. Check her suggestions if you want to hear the sound the town's famous for, get a feel for the local culture, or simply get a bite to eat with a great cup of coffee.


"I like this town, it's really great. They've put me in The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. This town is about music. It's about the kind of music I like."

Otis Blackwell

Wherever you turn in Nashville, there is music. Walking off the airplane at Nashville International; driving up Broadway in the downtown area; at the tiny pizza joint where you stopped in to get a slice. Country music may be the bread, but the butter is all over the map. Fans of folk, blues, hip-hop, techno, R&B, jazz, rock and bluegrass can fill their musical plate with many tasty dishes.

The EXIT/IN at 2208 Elliston Place (615-321-3340) has been around since 1971 and has hosted everyone from Steve Martin and Bill Monroe to Chick Corea and They Might Be Giants. Music here nowadays is most likely alternative rock, with local scene darlings Ghostfinger and How I Became the Bomb frequently performing. During the Summit (on June 1st), the jam band Herring/Rodgers/Sipe will be at the EXIT/IN, bringing their groovey tunes, good times, and extensive experience in the music world. Full bar; some table seating available.

Blues fans can choose from several excellent clubs. If you are feeling adventurous, head down to 114 N. Church Street in Murfreesboro (about 20 minutes from downtown) to BLUESBORO (615-907-1115), where national and regional blues acts come to smoke up the stage. Full bar and restaurant; drink specials and happy hour.

THE BASEMENT (615.254.8006, 1604 8th Ave S.) is an intimate venue featuring mostly local acts in a smoke-free environment. Writer's nights and New Faces open mic nights are the best time to go - you can see up to 10 acts in one night! Located directly underneath Grimey's. Full bar, cover ranges from free to $12.

One of the larger club venues for rock and alternative music is the MERCY LOUNGE (615-251-3020, One Cannery Row). Home to Everybody's a Rock Star live band karaoke (featuring the wicked talents of Big Jim Slade), the Mercy has seen musical revues, burlesque acts and national touring bands come through its doors. Full bar; cover ranges from free to $15. An expansive back room area is available with pool tables and a second bar, and an outside deck provides a great view of the Nashville skyline.

The famed lower Broadway area in downtown Nashville is an excellent place to get your party on and to see music celebrities out on the town. The density of clubs and bars in this area make it the perfect bar hopping destination. Many of the honky-tonks on lower Broadway don't charge covers so put that cash towards tipping the band.

BB KING'S (152 2nd Ave N, 615-256-2727) - Blues club owned by the king of the blues himself. Music events nightly with cover from $5-10. Full bar and restaurant.

"Burgers, boots, beers, and booze" is the mantra at ROBERT'S WESTERN WORLD (416 Broadway, 615-244-9552), where local favourites BR-549 got their start. Live music from 10AM - 3AM; no cover. Full bar and grill (nosh on a pork chop sandwich and sip a cold one). Try on some boots, if you are so inclined. Staff and fellow patrons are friendly and open.

The Mother Ship of honky tonks on lower Broadway, TOOTSIES ORCHID LOUNGE (422 Broadway, 615-726-0463) is a Nashville institution dating back to the 1960s. Scores of singers and songwriters have haunted its dusky walls. If you want a true Nashville experience, try going in on a Saturday night just before last call. You'll see anybody and everybody there (and have new respect for bartending staff). Two floors of music and dancing. Live music from 10AM - 3AM; no cover. Full bar.

Eating and drinking

"In Nashville, as in every other city, there's no substitute for hard work."

Bill Anderson

Hard eating--and hard drinking--are activities well-suited to Nashville. There is no typical "local cuisine" aside from the ubiquitous "meat and three" places (a main meat with three side dishes), but there is a wide ranging variety of regional and international flavours to choose from all across town. A great place to ask opinions about particular restaurants is the Chowhound's South message board.

In East Nashville, there are a plethora of dining and drinking options. At the ROSEPEPPER CANTINA (615-227-4777, 1907 Eastland Ave) your tongue will be tantalized by Mexican food and nourished by what is arguably the best margarita in Nashville. The RED DOOR EAST (615-226-7660, 1010 Forrest Ave) has drink specials, an eclectic clientele, and flying skeletons adorned with lingerie soaring overhead. Saunter over to BEYOND THE EDGE (615-226-EDGE, 112 S 11th St.) for a full menu of salads, sandwiches and burgers (until 2:30AM) as well as a wide array of specialty cocktails and the widest beer-on-tap options in East Nashville. Warmer weather will make you a fan of all three places, as they also feature outside dining and drinking areas - perfect for people watching on a mild evening.

Also in East Nashville is BONGO JAVA (615-777-BJRC, 107 S. 11th St.), a neighborhood coffeehouse and roastery with artwork on display from local artists, a sandwich menu, and a full line of coffee and frozen drinks. A good spot for an early lunch or coffee, get there before going out - they close at 6PM. (You can opt to caffeinate later into the night at the original BONGO JAVA in Hillsboro Village on 2007 Belmont Blvd. - they don't close until 11PM.)

Back in the downtown area, the BEER SELLAR (615-254-9464, 107 Church Street) has an impressive array of beers ("over 99 flavors") both on draught and bottled. Located in a cavernous basement near 2nd Ave.

Heading over towards Vanderbilt/West End, enjoy a meal at SITAR (615-321-8889, 116 21st Ave N), which boasts some of the best Northern Indian food in Nashville. After you have gorged yourself on some naan or tandoori specialities, step right next door to TARBOOSH (615-320-5909, 120 21st Ave N) for a flaky baklava dessert, mint tea, and a bowl of flavored tobacco smoked out of a traditional water pipe called a narguila.

RUMBA (615-321-1350, 3009 W End Ave) bills itself as a rum bar with a fusion-inspired menu. Cleverly paired tastes are delightful, whether it is a specialty cocktail, sandwich or entree.

For early risers, the PANCAKE PANTRY (615-383-9333, 1796 21st Ave S) is the place to go. Open from 6AM to 3PM, the Pantry serves pancakes--lots of them--but is an extremely popular spot. The outside lines may seem long as the morning wears on, but the wait is well worth it for the syrupy reward on your plate.

Two cafes that could not be more opposite are worth a trek out to the fringes of Nashville: SIAM CAFE (615-834-3181, 316 Mccall St) and the LOVELESS CAFE (615-646-9700, 8400 Hwy 100). The more famous of the two, the Loveless has been dishing up fried chicken, biscuits and hashbrown casserole since 1951. Also featured on the property (a converted motel) are the Loveless Motel Shops, where you can browse pottery, jams and jellies, jewelry, art and more. Siam Cafe is a jewel tucked away off of Nolensville Pike in southeast Nashville. Serving both Chinese and Thai food, your tongue will draw you salivating back for more. Especially delicious are the Thai beef salad (known as Tiger Tear here) and the "Disco Shrimp".


"Y'all take it easy now. This isn't Dallas, it's Nashville! They can't do this to us here in Nashville! Let's show them what we're made of. Come on everybody, sing! Somebody, sing!"

Henry Gibson in the movie Nashville (1975)

Get your fill of a broad selection of punk, rock, funk, folk and bluegrass (and all the latest releases) at GRIMEY'S NEW AND PRE-LOVED MUSIC (615-254-4801, 1604 8th Ave. S.). Lots of "pre-loved" CDs abound - and you can also catch free in-store appearances by touring bands (see website for details). Bonus: free beer for 21+ during in-store performances.

If pure country is the music you're jonesing for, head over to ERNEST TUBB RECORD SHOP (615-255-750, 417 Broadway) for new country releases as well as the old standards. Quirky bumper stickers, t-shirts and other "tourist items" are also for sale. (A second, larger store is out near Opry Mills at 2416 Music Valley Drive, Suite 110 and features memorabilia from Ernest Tubb's lengthy career.)

One of the oldest known letterpress poster shops in the US, HATCH SHOW PRINT (615-256-2805, 316 Broadway) conjures up some of the most inventive and creative posters - for big-name music stars as well as companies, local music venues, and more. They have posters for sale in their shop; linger a little longer and watch the process of designing the posters take place. A really unique way to remember your Nashville trip.

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Looking for the perfect funky ensemble to bring home? KELLY'S WESTERN WEAR (615-742-8092, 211 Broadway) is a small, family-run store with fair prices and no-pressure staff. For a broader selection, check out the TRAIL WEST store next door (615-255-7030, 219 Broadway).

THE ART AND INVENTION GALLERY (615-226-2070, 1106 Woodland St.) is a great place to browse through local and regional artwork from sculptors, woodworkers, painters and jewelers. Rotating exhibits and an open, sunlight space make this gallery an inviting place to visit. Nearby is the PLOWHAUS GALLERY (615-262-2224, 211 South 17th St. between Fatherland and Russell), an artist-run cooperative with rotating non-juried group exhibits. On occasion, special solo artist shows are also on view. Check the website for details.

This is but a small sampling of the venues in town; you can peruse a more detailed listing at the Nashville Scene website.

About the author

Kelly Jo Garner is a writer and photographer who lives in Nashville, Tennessee. You can check out her work at