Want to know the best way to enjoy Nashville today?
Forget everything you know about Nashville.
If you’re old enough to place a face with such pairings as Johnny and June, George and Tammy, Dolly and Porter or Conway and Loretta, or can name any two performers from TV’s Hee Haw, you have an historic appreciation but absolutely no clue of what awaits you upon touchdown at Nashville International.
For starters, no one without a financial stake in it calls this Music City anymore – and even if they did, chances are they wouldn’t be referring to country music. Today’s Nashville has been discovered, nee invaded, by hipster transplants from both coasts looking for new pastures and porches on which to pick and text. Little wonder that today’s leading musical Nashville cats are transplants, including Detroit alt-rocker Jack White and Ohio expats the Black Keys.
The sub-30 cognoscenti, and frankly most other residents, have surrendered iconic Music Row to the bountiful busloads of tourists, preferring to hang in the emerging local arts and club scenes in intimate neighborhoods with exotic names like SoBro, 12 South, The Nation and Gulch.
While its tune may have changed, here are 10 unforgettable flavors to savor while in Nashville:
Robert’s Western World: This former boot store on Lower Broadway features the best pickers in town performing a nightly playlist that’s strictly vintage country. BYOB (bring your own boots).
Ryman Auditorium: Long known as the “high church of country music,” this former 1890s tabernacle, longtime home to the Grand Ole Opry radio program, still inspires with its near-perfect acoustics. You can even record your own country classic in the Ryman’s tourist studio.
Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum: Film screenings, inventive exhibits, songwriter sessions, instrument demonstrations; there’s always something happening at the Hall of Fame. Don’t miss the bus tour to nearby historic RCA Studio B, where Elvis and other Hall of Famers shaped musical history.
Arnold’s Country Kitchen: Nashville’s humble, heavenly, James Beard Award-winning diner is the place in town to order a Southern “meat-and-three” you’ll never forget.
Third Man Records: Founded by eclectic Nashville newcomer Jack White of the White Stripes, this ultra-hip record store/photo studio/boutique/lounge is the epicenter of the new Nashville.
Gaylord Opryland Resort: The resort’s Antebellum-style village under glass, which features shops, restaurants and even a Delta Flatboat river cruise meandering through it, turns into a magical winter wonderland at holiday time.
The Stone Fox: Located west of town in The Nation, this funky, retro-hip watering hole is the best place in town to catch the next wave of Nashville hit-makers in an intimate setting.
Honky Tonk Row: Just follow the neon lights south of downtown from hotel row to discover the birthplace of country music at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge and neighboring saloons.
Santa’s Pub: Strictly for the crush-it crowd, this cash-only karaoke bar is the after-hours hang where Ryman headliners take their bows. The proprietor, nicknamed Santa for obvious reasons, lives onsite, where music plays into the wee hours.
Photo credits: Nashville skyline, Shutterstock; top, clockwise, street scene f11photo / Shutterstock.com, Ryman auditorium, KennStilger47 / Shutterstock.com; Big Time Boots: Joseph Sohm / Shutterstock.com; Gaylord Opryland Resort; Shutterstock