An Austinite's guide to Nashville
Where to eat, drink and two-step, according to this honky tonkin' foodie
In recent weeks, I’ve been telling you about where to learn the history of country music and the personal connections that many of us have to this place, and now I want to share my list of places I’d recommend you visit if you have a few more days in Nashville.
Pullman Standard, Chauhan and more places to eat 🥂🍽🥃
There’s no shortage of good food in Nashville. Restaurant reservations are a little easier to snag than in Austin, but always have a backup plan. The line for Biscuit Love can be as long as the line at Austin’s Bird Bird Biscuit.
There’s no better place to enjoy (and be part of) the Nashville skyline than Proof, an upscale bar on top of the W Hotel with sweeping views of downtown.
There’s also the Pullman Standard, an upscale gastrobar housed in an old brick building near the railyard and is an homage to the fancy cocktail days of the Pullman Standard train car.
We also had excellent meals at Chauhan Ale and Masala House, run by Food Network star Maneet Chauhan, and at Butcher and Bee, a sandwich shop that has become so much more and has locations in Nashville and Charleston.
Don’t forget Prince’s Hot Chicken, which I wrote about last week.
In Austin: Fans of Chauhan would love Vixen’s Wedding and Canje, and if you’ve ever enjoyed Butcher and Bee, you’ll want to check out Aba or Olamaie. For an upscale cocktail in a cool old building, check out Firehouse Lounge, housed in the city’s oldest still-standing fire station
Get dressed up and go to Mimo
Mimo (Italian for “mockingbird,” the Tennessee state bird) is the restaurant inside the newly opened Four Seasons hotel, an immaculately designed place where you can stop by for a bite to eat and a Bloody Mary, along with Nashville’s movers and shakers. We were there for lunch, and this yuzu dessert was one of the best things I had during the four days I was there.
This was where I got to chat with their director of PR, a live music-loving Brit who knows more about Dale Watson than most Austinites. (Dale, a fixture of the Austin honky tonk scene, spends most of his time in Memphis these days.) I found out that, as part of the hotel’s experience offerings, guests book a meet-and-greet and personal performance with the songwriters and performers of their favorite songs.
In Austin: For an upscale downtown hotel experience, I’d recommend The Line Hotel, with its eye-catching design and Top Chef-worthy food. It’s just a few blocks from our Four Seasons, which is another place to see and be seen while sipping on something delicious with a nice view. (I can’t think of a comparable experience to the songwriter sessions in Austin, but someone should do that.)
Browse the vinyl at Grimey’s, shop from local makers
In East Nashville, you’ll find the city’s up-and-coming East Nashville arts district, with locally owned restaurants and retail shops, including a little cluster in the Fatherland district, a specialty makeup shop (that was way more fun than I thought it would be) and a record store (and live music venue) with a bookstore in the basement.
In Austin: Waterloo Records. This Austin staple also hosts in-store performances and is right across the street from BookPeople, which is the biggest indie bookstore in the city. (But I think my favorite bookstores in town are BookWoman and Reverie.)
I wish I would have had a chance to check out Marathon Village, home to the American Pickers’ store, Antique Archaeology, and several distilleries and breweries, not unlike Austin’s once industrial St. Elmo District or East Sixth Street.
Check out the sculptures at LeQuire Gallery
Throughout Nashville, you’ll see Alan LeQuire’s sculptures and statues. The working artist, now 68, has a small gallery and studio near a neighborhood called The Nations. Sometimes, he and his wife often host visitors in the workshop in the back, and it was another highlight of the trip. (I didn’t get to see the Frist Art Museum, which will certainly be at the top of my list on my next visit.)
That’s where you’ll see the many miniatures and casts he’s used over the years to make some remarkable pieces, like the 40-ft tall statue of nine naked dancers at the north end of Music Row that is the largest bronze figure group in the country.
In coming years, the sculpture, which was completed in 2003, will get fountain-ified by the same design team that did the Bellagio fountain in Las Vegas.
In Austin: Austin’s most famous sculptor, Charles Umlauf, died in 1994, but the sculpture garden that bears his name offers classes and workshops for artists and visitors alike. For a visit to a working studio, check out Roadhouse Relics, where Todd Sanders makes neon art found all over the city. Our most famous fountain is probably the one on the UT campus named after a Confederate officer.
Visit Sean Brock’s fast food playground
Sean Brock, one of the best chefs in the South, and Davis Reese, who came with him from his former restaurant Husk, run a buzzing fast food restaurant called Joyland in East Nashville that couldn’t be more different than the fine dining at his other restaurants.
Here, the team takes fast food up a few notches with “crustburgers” (like smashburgers, but with an upside-down bun), fried chicken sandwiches and hand pies. They also make honeysuckle tea and serve beef and chicken raised by nearby farmers. All the staff have access to a wellness room with massage, yoga and reiki. It’s good stuff.
I didn’t get to try Brock’s other restaurants, but put them on your list, too: The Continental, Audrey and the newly opened June, a tasting menu-style restaurant that “curiously explores the possibilities of products indigenous to the American South alongside the best ingredients in the world.”
In Austin: Comedor chef Philip Speer is also notably sober and driven to change the industry’s wellness standards. (See also, James Robert: Fixe.) Speer and Robert coordinate a run club that encourages a shift to a healthier lifestyle, and Brock ensures that his staff get access to yoga classes and even massages.
Nashville has this, Austin has that
It’s easy to see why Austin and Nashville are compared so often. Lower Broadway is the big older brother to Austin’s Sixth Street, but here are some other things you might check out when you go:
Nashville has the Grand Ole Opry, a radio show that has aired every Saturday night since 1925 and now has its own venue.
Austin has Austin City Limits, a TV show that has aired every year since 1976 and now has its own venue. And music festival.
Nashville has the Ryman Auditorium, a church that is now a venerated live music venue. Spend half an hour marveling at its beauty after you visit the National Museum of African American Music across the street.
Austin has the Broken Spoke, a live music venue that has become like a church. Our most sacred performance places, including Liberty Lunch and Threadgill’s, have closed. Stubb’s is pretty great, though.
Nashville has Robert’s Western World, you’ll find the tiniest, most happenin’ two-stepping dance floor on the strip in the heart of Lower Broadway. The locals also love Acme Feed and Seed, which I’ll surely visit on my next trip.
Austin has Little Longhorn Saloon, the birthplace of Austin’s chicken shit bingo crave that is also home to the tiniest dance floor in the city. See also: The Continental Club.
Nashville has a life-sized Parthenon that is cool to look at from the outside but isn’t really worth going inside. (IMHO.)
Austin has an over-sized State Capitol that is also cool to look at from the outside, but for a “wow” experience inside, I’d send you to the library downtown.
Nashville has the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, the Musicians Hall of Fame and, my favorite, the National Museum of African American Music.
Austin is hosting this year’s Country Music Television Awards.
Nashville has GEODIS Park.
Austin has Q2.
The list could go on, but I want to point out one last similarity that will set things up for next week’s post.
Nashville has Belle Meade Historic Site and Winery, a mansion just outside Nashville’s city limits that was once a 5400 acre-plantation and home to more than 135 enslaved people and is now a wedding venue and winery.
Austin has Woodlawn, the once sprawling plantation home of a former governor who owned 10 slaves, who later created the town of Clarksville — just outside what was then Austin’s city limits — after Emancipation. Today, the Pease Mansion is closed to the public, but a park still bears his name.
More next week.
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