Cheskin Travels: Nashville

19 Mar 2009|tommy

At Cheskin, most of us spend quite a bit of time on the road. This gives us a unique opportunity – the pleasure, really – of seeing widely varying and disparate parts of the world from an insider’s perspective. I’ve recently been more intentional about seeking out unusual or unique things to see and do while on the road, and some of us have agreed to begin sharing the things we uncover with one another. I thought I’d open the discussion with highlights from a recent trip to Nashville, TN.

Nashville’s traditionally been associated with country music (it’s known as “Music City” in most places I’ve asked). But in recent years the town seems to have grown beyond the stereotypes to become a major metropolitan area in the American Southeast. Recent census data places the Nashville area’s population at around 1.5 million people. Major companies have made Nashville a home, including Nissan North America, Dell, and AT&T (whose “bat building” is the most unique aspect of Nashville’s downtown skyline). The town is also a major university center, housing Vanderbilt University, Middle Tennessee State University, and Belmont University (the site of the second presidential debate of 2008).

In contrast to the traditional image of “Music City”, the cultural scene in Nashville these days is more Americana than country. Jazz, blues, and hip-hop have gained really significant ground in the past 20 years, and Nashville’s recently-completed Schermerhorn Symphony Center is an architectural marvel. However, Nashville is still a southern city, and an “authentic” Nashville experience is bound to include traditionally southern flavors to music, food, and activities.

I’ve highlighted a few below as recommendations for things to see and try if you ever find yourself in Nashville.

1. Loveless Cafe. This is a regionally famous place for country breakfasts and biscuits. They have a nationally-prominent mail order business, and have entertained presidents, movie stars, and local celebrities. Located about 15 min west of Nashville near the historic Natchez Trace, the restaurant is unassuming but delicious.

2. Rotier’s. This is a traditional university hangout, located just around the corner from Vanderbilt University. Don’t try it on a game night, but any other night you’ll find great bugers, terrific milkshakes, and traditional fried chicken in an environment that avoids the annoying college bar cliches. Look for the neon “Rotier’s” sign.

3. Sportsman’s Grille / The Gerst Haus. Both of these places are family-friendly comfort food spots. Sportsman’s Grille has two locations – one in West Nashville and one in the Vanderbilt area, and the Gerst Haus is located in East Nashville just around the corner from the Tennessee Titans stadium. They’re all owned by the same family and provide great authentic food that “sticks to your ribs”. Try the fried pickle slices with ranch dressing. Gerst Amber is the house beer servied in mugs so cold that ice forms across the top.

Most people I know who travel for work don’t have time to check out concerts or see local sights, but rather look for good neighborhoods to walk and find places to have a drink, good local food, and experience the feel for the city. In that spirit, I offer the following neighborhoods as good – safe for walking at night – and reflective of the “insider” Nashville.

1. Hillsboro Village. Home to a ton of upscale but casual restaurants and bars, this is a locals hangout near Vanderbilt. Home to the famous Pancake Pantry as well as coffee roastery Fido, local eatery Sunset Grille, and the terrific McDougal’s Coop.

2. Elliston Place. Also not too far from Vanderbilt, this is a slightly less pedestrian area better known for bookshops, concert venues, and the occasional restaurant.

3. East Nashville. An upcoming area of Nashville, growing quickly as the population grows. This neighborhood is definitely young, diverse, and hip – not as focused on the university crowd, but rather more on young couples and young adults. Be sure to check out Bongo Java East coffeehouse.

It’s clear that Nashville’s becoming less and less of a provincial “one trick” country music town, and growing into a major metropolitan area with diversity, growth, and culture. If you find yourself there, take advantage of the evolution of this great southern city.

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