Official languages: English
Land mass: 497mi²
Major industries: Music, health care, publishing and tourism
Notes: The 42-foot-tall Athena sculpture in Nashville’s Parthenon is, in part, a portrait of Elvis Presley. Nashville sculptor Alan LeQuire was inspired by the singer’s “perfect fifth-century-BC classical features.”
Before Nashville was dubbed an “It” city, it was known as the home of a) the Grand Ole Opry, and b) Southerners, creating a flavorful mélange. Newcomers have added edgy music, James Beard Award nominations, contemporary art, escalating tastes and a burgeoning Nashville Fashion Alliance. Says Matt Eddmenson, cofounder of local jeans brand Imogene + Willie, “It’s all moving so fast.”
Here, a guide to Nashville for the first-time explorer.
THE MUSIC INSIDER
Eat: Union Common, a restaurant wedged narrowly between Broadway and Division streets, is an easy stroll from Music Row, making it the new wine-and-dine spot for country stars and music insiders. The menu ranges from small plates to the decadent Nashville Tower, an iced array of shellfish.
Drink: The 5 Spot bills itself as “the musician’s hangout:” Wanda Jackson, Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow have all played at this dance party venue.
Stay: The Hutton Hotel is a music industry favorite located a few blocks from Music Row. The contemporary-style lobby includes local artwork, and the hotel is filled with sustainable furniture, bamboo flooring and energy-efficient EcoDisc elevators, all part of its eco-friendly commitment.
See: At the Schermerhorn Symphony Center, musicians watch fellow musicians perform against the grand canvas of the Nashville Symphony. In the last decade the symphony has gained listeners — beyond blue bloods — by backing country artists, including Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Wynonna Judd and LeAnn Rimes.
Shop: Manuel Cuevas, “The King of Cowboy Couture,” creates bespoke embroidered and rhinestone-studded garments at his atelier, Manuel’s, and has made suits for singers from Elvis to Jack White. Holly Williams, a country singer (and granddaughter of Hank Williams), sells high-end fashion at H. Audrey.
Events: Bluegrass, classic country, blues and Western swing keep The Station Inn hopping, as have Reba McEntire, Norah Jones, Robert Plant and
Eat: Husk’s menu — directed by James Beard Award-winning chef Sean Brock — changes daily and features only Southern ingredients. Nearby farms supply grass-fed, grain-finished Angus beef, country hams and sustainably grown produce. Here, Southern flavors find a gastronomic temple, figuratively and literally; Husk is in a beautiful mansion from the 1870s.
Drink: The Oak Bar’s dark wood-paneled walls ooze clubby sophistication. Located in the Hermitage Hotel, it features a wide selection of expensive whiskeys, along with a menu from the esteemed Capitol Grille.
Stay: Opened in 1910, the five-star Hermitage Hotel has welcomed Bette Davis, Greta Garbo and six American presidents. Italian sienna marble and Russian walnut are among the materials that decorate the building; Persian rugs are also in the mix.
See: Adelicia Acklen, the 19th-century owner of
the Belmont Mansion, had great taste — and major money. Completed in 1853, her villa is now a museum that showcases many aesthetic gems. One is in Adelicia’s bedroom: hand-blocked wallpaper made by the fabled Dufour of Paris.
Shop: Hit Billy Reid for luxe preppy fashion, and Hatch Show Print for hand-screened posters like those that touted vaudevillians and Opry stars.
Events: Robert’s Western World downtown is the ultimate honky-tonk, where live bands lure both hipsters and white-haired sweethearts onto the dance floor. With its boot-lined walls and top-notch musical lineup, it imbues its tourist-addled street with authenticity.
Eat: Hot spots have popped up as fast as chefs’ James Beard Award nominations. Rolf and Daughters is the Germantown brainchild of Philip Krajeck, who has garnered multiple nominations. The menu of rustic Italian fare emphasizes house-made doughs, seasonal produce and whole-animal butchery.
Drink: No. 308 pairs mixology with what many Nashvillians crave: a chill vibe. And Pinewood Social adds six reclaimed wood bowling lanes to its ambience.
Stay: Architect Nick Dryden coaxed the 404 Hotel’s five rooms out of a mechanic’s garage to create this cozy downtown nest, which offers Sferra linens and Malin + Goetz toiletries.
See: Galleries in the Wedgewood-Houston Arts District, including Sherrick & Paul and David Lusk, are the latest in the ever-growing art scene.
Shop: Imogene + Willie is the go-to for custom-fitted jeans. At Wilder, one finds Electra Eggleston home fabrics, inspired by photographer William Eggleston’s drawings. And a guy can’t get the Nashville look without a handmade Otis James bow tie.
Events: For the lucky few, the hot ticket is a live show at Jack White’s Third Man Records, one of dozens of recording studios in the hip enclave of East Nashville. Various acts from White’s label have played on its stage, including Alabama Shakes, Flat Duo Jets and The Kills.
RETAIL AND BUSINESS SCENE
A decade ago The Mall at Green Hills — Nashville’s largest upscale retail development — was lacking in luxury. Then Tiffany & Co. and Louis Vuitton opened in 2006, followed by Nordstrom in 2011. The 868,000-square-foot store has amassed enough brands to make it a true shopping destination. These include Burberry, Jimmy Choo, Kate Spade, Tory Burch, Seven For All Mankind, Tumi, Michael Kors, Coach, Omega and David Yurman. Nearby is Hill Center Green Hills, a 225,000-square-foot mixed-use development that launched in 2007. Anchored by Anthropologie and Whole Foods, it is a blend of national and independent retailers, the latter including Billy Reid, the fashion line designed by a Louisiana native.
Another indie is H. Audrey, a high-end fashion boutique from country singer Holly Williams, who opened it in 2007 “because we didn’t have very much.”
Other shops are scattered about: jeans store Imogene + Willie, in the 12 South area, was among the first to gain national interest. Now, the newly founded Nashville Fashion Alliance wants to buoy area designers. Van Tucker, chief executive officer, says it is creating a sewing training academy for underserved populations through a partnership with the Catholic Charities of Tennessee and The Housing Fund. “This is so that we can not only help those people learn a trade, but supply our industry with a skilled workforce,” she says. Nashville brands supporting the alliance include Imogene + Willie, Billy Reid, Otis James, Manuel, Valentine Valentine (by “Project Runway” alumna Amanda Valentine), Emil Erwin, Elizabeth Suzann, NISOLO and Kayce Hughes (niece of Lilly Pulitzer).