One of the things we love most about destinations in our own backyard, is relishing that feeling of being completely transported into another world with a whole new culture. We love Nashville for embodying laid-back charm with a hint of southern spice. SmartFlyer agent and Nashville resident, David Bragg gives us the skinny on the must-hit spots in this honkey-tonk city he calls home.
Nashville City Guide
How did you land in Nashville?
I first came to Nashville in 1998 as a Vanderbilt University freshman. Despite being unable to carry a tune, I decided to stay in Music City and make it my home. Though it’s changed (and grown!) a lot since my first days here, Nashville still retains the casual charm that made me fall in love with the city.
What are your favorite hotels in the city?
One of the biggest changes I’ve seen in the last few years is the influx of charming new hotels. The Thompson, located in the Gulch neighborhood, is a welcome boutique addition to the city. With its clean, modern feel and mid-century touches, The Thompson is a great option for seeing the downtown sites, while still being a little removed from the fray. The brand new 21c Museum Hotel is another unique option that offers a bit of cool factor, and the hotel common spaces house curated art exhibitions. 21c is perfect for downtown action because it’s just a few blocks from lower Broadway. For the more traditional traveler, The Hermitage is Nashville’s oldest hotel and provides a bit of old-world glamour.
What about drinks?
You can’t come to Nashville and not visit the honky-tonks on Broadway – Robert’s is my favorite! OK, you’re not going to get a fancy drink, but the joy of the honky-tonk scene comes from listening to free live music with a cold lite beer. For a more upscale vibe, I really like The Thompson’s rooftop bar, LA Jackson. Patterson House in Midtown or No 308 in East Nashville also have great artisan cocktails.
Another great result of Nashville’s growth has been the emergence of a really wonderful food scene, though true to form, everywhere is relaxed and casual. City House has consistently been my favorite dinner spot since its opening, and the James Beard Foundation must agree, as they awarded Chef Tandy Wilson Best Chef in the Southeast in 2016.
Just down the street is another favorite, Rolf and Daughters, which serves the most comforting pasta dishes in town. For a delicious and fun experience, I love sitting at the chef’s counter at Bastion and for some amazing Indian food, I highly recommend Chauhan Ale & Masala House (it’s the most unique meat-and-three around).
What’s a must do Nashville experience?
Music lovers call the Ryman Auditorium the Mother Church for a reason – it’s iconic! A former church and home to the Grand Ole Opry until the 1970s, this venue has seen so much legendary talent on its stage that many musicians consider playing on it a religious experience. If you get a chance to see a show at the Ryman, don’t hesitate.
Where’s the best place to get a signature Nashville dish?
Nashville Hot Chicken is a staple and it seems like everyone in the city has some version; however, I recommend going to the original source, Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. This isn’t your everyday fried chicken – it’s hot…as in spicy…as in very spicy…as in beware of the spice. I love it! Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish and Hattie B’s are also highly recommended.
Where’s the best place to buy cowboy boots?
For cowboy boots, just take a walk down Broadway and pop into one of the many stores downtown. Chances are you will find something to your liking and may even get a second pair free (it seems like at least one store is always having a generous promotion). For the non-cowboy boot varietal, you should check out Peter Nappi or go full rhinestone cowboy couture with a Manuel design. If you’re looking for something more casually southern, Reese Witherspoon’s Draper James (“Totes Y’all”) and Imogene + Willie are in the 12 South neighborhood.
Any tips for avoiding lines at a good ol’ honky-tonk?
Don’t tell anyone, but there is an alley that runs between the Ryman and the original Broadway honky-tonks with back entrances to some of the best venues. OK, it may not be super-secret since they are official ways in and staffed with bouncers, but I still find it faster when there’s a line out front. To be honest, if you see a line at one bar, you can likely go next door and hear equally good music (and drink the same cheap beer).
What’s the best kept live music secret?
I’m not sure it’s a secret, but the Station Inn springs to mind. It’s a small Bluegrass venue that has managed to withstand the expansion of the Gulch – it kind of feels like a secret to know the history of this tiny, stone building set amongst the new construction. If you’re in town on a Tuesday, you should catch the Doyle and Debbie Show, which is a locally famous parody of old-school country duos. Otherwise, check out their calendar and see who’s playing – they have something going on almost every night!
For a more comprehensive list of David’s Nashville favorite’s, you can visit his blog for his personal city guide.