The Insider’s Guide to Nashville

With its mouth-burning Thai-Laotian food, burgeoning art scene, and almost 16,000 acres of green space, it’s a whole new Music City.

Kristin Luna
Oct 30, 2018 · 17 min read

Photographs by William Mebane
Illustrations by Rachel Briggs

H Clark Distillery.

THE ICONIC COUNTRY MUSIC CAPITAL has loomed so large in American culture for so long that even people who’ve never set foot here think they know what it’s all about — cowboy boots, the Grand Ole Opry, meat-and-threes, Tay Tay. But what you might not know? It has the single largest Kurdish population in the States, which means you’ll find exceptional blistered flatbreads and savory spiced meats on the menu at Azadi International Food Market & Bakery, a hit with immigrants and locals alike. There’s a thriving street-art scene, where muralists transform the side of buildings into powerful statements on the complex city they love (see: the thousand-square-foot tribute to leaders of the civil rights movement in North Nashville). And in this town built on the music staff, the twang of a banjo is just one of the many sounds you’ll hear coming out of the recording studios and clubs the city is known for.

“We have a reggae scene here, believe it or not,” says Airbnb Experience host and Grammy-award-winning record producer Steve Fishell, ticking off Jack White, the Black Keys, and Kings of Leon as just a few of the other city’s non-country successes. “Now the city’s a music center on so many different levels.”

But when Chakita Patterson arrived three years ago, she was struck by one cliché that the city absolutely lived up to — Southern hospitality. “Everyone here is so welcoming and so open,” says Patterson, who hosts African American history-focused treks with her company, United Street Tours. “Anybody coming in will feel a sense of community.”

Johnny Meyer on banjo at a Full Moon Pickin’ Party.

So head on down to the Full Moon Pickin’ Party, take a sip of that new local beer — almost 20 breweries have popped up in just the past few years — and check out Nashville 2.0.

Meet Music City’s Music Man

Grand Ole Opry

The Bluebird Cafe

Ryman Auditorium

Station Inn

Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar

James “Omelette” Bradley, a regular at Big Al’s.

Do Touristy Things Better

Try a Goo Goo Cluster but also dig into Olive & Sinclair’s dreamy chocolate and sinfully delicious Cherry Bombs.

Cheer on the Predators at Bridgestone Arenaor join the locals at the team-approved TailGate Brewery for a viewing party and a sampling of out-of-the-box beers.

See a show at the Bluebird Cafe… or avoid the hassle of trying to get into the ticket lottery and check out a songwriter round at the divey Douglas Corner Cafe instead.

Eat a meat-and-three at Arnold’s Country Kitchenor avoid the line that wraps around the block each weekday and try a bite of soulful Southern comfort food at Big Al’s Deli & Catering.

The “Silo” mural, with Daddy’s Dogs in the foreground.

Mural Mania

The Silo (51st Avenue and Centennial Boulevard)
Australian artist Guido van Helten painted then-91-year-old Lee Estes onto a 200-foot grain silo, turning him into a symbol of the tension of gentrification.

Stay Tuned Nashville (625 Main Street)
Adrien Saporiti is most known for his iconic I Believe in Nashville murals, but he’s also painted a bold block of vertical stripes with Nashville scrawled in florid script on the side of the Center 615 building.

Jason Woodside (299 11th Avenue South)
The Gulch is brimming with new art, and most striking is the massive whimsy of ribbons in stripes, polka dots, and all colors of the rainbow that Jason Woodside installed in 2017.

Elliston Parking Garage (207 Louise Avenue)
Nashville Walls Project tapped nine artists — including prolific muralists Nathan Brown, Folek, Chris Zidek, and Mobe — to beautify the exterior of a four-story parking structure.

Family Matters (26th Avenue North and Clarksville Pike)
The Norf Art Collective, based in the historically black neighborhood of North Nashville, painted John Lewis, Z. Alexander Looby, and other leaders of the Nashville civil rights movement on an affordable-housing building.

The Beer Boom

“All of this couldn’t have happened without a great community full of thirsty people on board with the flavorful and fanciful world of craft beer,” says Bailey Spaulding (left), who now co-owns Jackalope with Steve Wright. When she’s not working, you’ll find Spaulding frequenting one of her favorite local beer stops.

12 South Taproom and Grill: “They reopened the patio to dogs, and I love to walk my pup there!”

M.L. Rose: “M.L. Rose works really hard on its draft list. Our Bearwalker Maple Brown is always on draft there and is part of the 2-for-1 brunch drink special on Saturdays and Sundays.”

City Tap House: “The roof deck’s got great views, but it’s still fairly new, so a lot of people don’t know it exists yet. Walk through the main restaurant and take the elevator on the left. I feel like I’m giving up a secret, and my friends might be mad at me when they read this.”

Drifters: “My husband and I went there a lot when we were dating, so it has a special place in my heart. The barbecue brisket nachos are my favorite.”

D’Lab dancers after their performance at the Flamingo Cocktail Club.

Neighborhood Deep Dive: Wedgewood-Houston

1. Dozen Bakery

2. Bastion

3. David Lusk Gallery

4. Flamingo Cocktail Club

5. Gabby’s Burgers & Fries

6. Nashville Craft Distillery

7. Zeitgeist Gallery

Live Like a Local in Five Points and Lockeland Springs

9 a.m.: “European-style eatery Marché Artisan Foods tops my list of go-to brunch spots. Breakfast is served seven days a week — don’t miss menu mainstays (and my favorite) croissant French toast, the tartine, or the crepes, savory or sweet.”

10 a.m.: “Stroll up to FLWR Shop, the cutest locale for picking up ­gorgeous, fresh-cut arrangements or ­succulents. Just a few blocks away, the Shoppes on Fatherland is a retail start-up community with shops like Project 615 for your Dolly or Willie tee, Wheat & Co. for the latest in men’s fashion and accessories, and Gift Horse for a funky print to ­commemorate your trip.”

Noon: “Ten years in business and numerous accolades later, Mitchell Delicatessen still serves the finest sandwiches in Nashville. Most of their meats are cured or smoked in-house, and the bread is delicious perfection.”

1 p.m.: “Post-lunch, fuel up for your afternoon activities with a craft beer at Southern Grist Brewing Company Taproom. The menu is ever-changing, featuring options like Peach Upside Down Cake IPA and various sours. Then head to Shops at Porter East, home to my favorite store in town, Apple & Oak. Owner Allison Holley is the queen of fabulous design, and her shop features the best vintage rugs and random finds.”

3 p.m.: “East Nashville is filled with century-old Craftsman, Victorian, and Queen Anne–style homes, and no tour of the east side is complete without a stroll down my favorite street, Eastland Avenue. You’ll find the neighborhood’s best and grandest examples of historic architecture, large trees, and an overall unique and gorgeous vibe.”

5 p.m.:Attaboy is a hip cocktail joint that puts an interesting twist on your typical speakeasy-esque spot. There’s no menu, so step outside of your comfort zone and they’ll introduce you to your new favorite cocktail, likely a riff on one of your normal go-tos.”

Ramen at Two Ten Jack.

6 p.m.: Two Ten Jack, a Japanese-inspired izakaya, is where you’ll find me at least once a week — for good reason. Pull up a seat at the bar and enjoy the best cocktails, small plates, and ramen in town (or anywhere). Don’t miss the №1 draft cocktail, fresh nigiri, Japanese fried chicken, spicy edamame, and, of course, the star of the show: a bowl of tonkotsu ramen.”

9 p.m.: “The hippest bar in Nashville, Urban Cowboy Public House is the perfect locale to wind up the night. In the backyard of a ­historic Victorian home, a bumpin’ soundtrack plays while you cozy up by the fire and enjoy a craft cocktail on the expansive patio.”

The Hottest Chicken in the Land (With a Twist)

Waiting in line at Hattie B’s.

On a biscuit: Biscuit Love

In a glass: Party Fowl

With a seaside twist: Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish

For pig lovers: Lockeland Table

To go: Hattie B’s

Travis Smith, the head distiller at H Clark Distillery.

A Timeline of the Tennessee Whiskey Trail

1861: Confederate government of Tennessee bans production of whiskey because it needs corn to feed the army.

1866: Jasper Daniel’s Jack Daniel Distillery becomes the first to be federally registered in the U.S.

1869: Prohibition Party forms as a political force.

1911: Jasper Daniel dies. According to legend, he kicked a safe in a fit of anger five years earlier, which led to gangrene, amputation, and his eventual demise.

1920: Federal Prohibition begins.

1920s: Bootleggers use hot rods to outrun the cops on twisty mountainous roads; NASCAR is later born as a result.

1932: Mountain Dew — slang for moonshine at the time — is invented in Knoxville as a chaser for moonshine.

1933: 21st Amendment ratified, ending federal Prohibition.

2017: Tennessee Whiskey Trail launches with 26 distilleries.

Nawal Sadat making bread in the bakery at Azadi market.

Around the World in Five Bites

Azadi International Food Market & Bakery

King Market Cafe

Plaza Mariachi

Thai Esane

VN Pho & Deli

Browse and Shop with Drew and Jonathan Scott

Drew and Jonathan Scott

White’s Mercantile is owned by Holly Williams, a granddaughter of Hank and a singer-songwriter herself. It’s stocked with a wide variety of curiosities, from whimsical kitchenware to designer pet clothing.

Kidd Epps Art Shop has simple design and purposeful products, mostly spanning sleek beds, sturdy tables, and stylish industrial lighting.

1767 uses reclaimed wood to create works of art — installed in floors, walls, bars, and beyond — that play to Art Deco connoisseurs’ love of angles and geometry.

Pre to Post Modern is located among a hodgepodge of antiques shops and is home to the best vintage finds in town. It’s heavy on midcentury modern furniture but also has kitschy tabletop decor (think bright-pink rotary phones).

Preservation Station salvages pieces of history, like pendant lights from a defunct hospitals or stained glass from centuries-­old churches. Many a designer culls through the stock here for antique doors, lighting, hardware, and other architectural elements.

Nashville Flea Market is open the fourth weekend of every month on the Fairgrounds. With up to 1,200 vendors from 30 states, it’s a must-stop for shoppers and gawkers alike.

Welcome Home has excellent barware, candles, pottery, coffee-­table books, and numerous other accents you never knew you needed.

Take a Day Trip to Franklin

Gray’s on Main in downtown Franklin.

Breakfast at Merridee’s Breadbasket

See the Civil War sights

Poke around the Factory at Franklin

Soak up the spirit of H Clark Distillery

Dine at Gray’s on Main

A nightcap at O’ Be Joyful

Rural beauty—shown here in Smyrna—is a short drive from Nashville’s downtown.

Nature Worship

For paddling: Harpeth River State Park, a Class I river with nine access sites over 40 river miles that draws kayakers and canoers of all skill levels.

For dancing in the moonlight: Warner Park’s Full Moon Pickin’ Parties, where 2,000 people come out under a full moon to play and listen.

For a run with your pup: Shelby Park and Shelby Bottoms Natural Area, a 1,200-acre natural area popular with runners and dog owners.

For a picnic with friends: Centennial Park, home to a full-scale replica of the Parthenon, as well as ­hiking trails, picnic areas, and activities aplenty.

For flowers galore: Cheekwood Estate & Gardens, a historic estate and art museum located on 55 acres of botanical gardens.

For agrarian paradise: The family-owned and -operated Bloomsbury Farm often hosts community events — like the November 4 “Gather at the Farm” feast — and is equipped with its own Airbnb.

Bring Back: These Boots

The handmade leather footwear at Peter Nappi.

About the author: Kristin Luna is a journalist, photographer, and digital storyteller with more than 15 years of magazine experience, as well as a decade of work in the online space. Kristin has penned more than a dozen guidebooks for Frommer’s and contributed to 50+ print titles, including Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler, AFAR, Southern Living, Real Simple, and USA Today. Through her blog, Camels & Chocolate, she and her business partner, Scott, have produced multimedia campaigns for numerous DMOs, from Visit Britain to Visit Florida, in addition to hospitality brands like Fairmont Hotels, Hilton, Airbnb, and Viator.

Airbnb Magazine

Airbnb Magazine celebrates humanity wherever it exists…

Kristin Luna

Written by

Tennessee-born travel writer, photographer and content creator. Loves mural-hunting, bourbon and AcroYoga.

Airbnb Magazine

Airbnb Magazine celebrates humanity wherever it exists: across borders, time zones, languages, and skin tones.

Kristin Luna

Written by

Tennessee-born travel writer, photographer and content creator. Loves mural-hunting, bourbon and AcroYoga.

Airbnb Magazine

Airbnb Magazine celebrates humanity wherever it exists: across borders, time zones, languages, and skin tones.

Welcome to a place where words matter. On Medium, smart voices and original ideas take center stage - with no ads in sight. Watch
Follow all the topics you care about, and we’ll deliver the best stories for you to your homepage and inbox. Explore
Get unlimited access to the best stories on Medium — and support writers while you’re at it. Just $5/month. Upgrade

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store