Music City. Smashville. Nashvegas. Nashville earns all of these names. Quickly becoming the bachelorette party capital of the country, Nashville can be a circus of rowdy revelers in the streets, tractor puled party busses, bar bikes, and even a hot tub trailer I saw going down the street. But even for those not at all interested in that scene, the live music, craft beer scene, and awesome restaurants with modern takes on classic down home southern comfort food make Nashville a great destination.
I visited Nashville this fall for a work trip, but had a chance to see a bit of the city, mostly downtown and a bit of East Nashville. With extra time to check out some of the best spots in town for music, drinks, and of course hot chicken, I was able to get a good taste of Nashville in a short time. If you’re there for a long weekend or just a few short days, these are the best places I found to get the best slice of Nashville without hopping onto a roaming beer bike.
Where to stay
I chose the Hyatt Place Downtown Nashville for its location and convenience to most of the main attractions downtown. My room ended up being pretty large with an awesome view stretching across much of the river and downtown. While I did need to close the shades at night to prevent the sun from blinding me in the morning, I loved having a view over so much of the city and being able to get acquainted with where to head to as soon as I arrived. I also appreciated the proximity to the waterfront running trail and the bridge over to East Nashville for my morning runs.
Speaking of running
Nashville is actually a great city for running. While hopping across traffic lights downtown isn’t fun when aiming for a specific pace, the riverfront has an extensive par with trails for running. I also enjoyed heading across the bridge right to the foot of the Titans’ football stadium and following the bike trail for several miles where I didn’t have to dodge any cars or lights.
Where to grab coffee
The Well Coffee has an awesome set up for what at first appears a small and unassuming little coffee shop. To the side is a great sitting room with a large garage door that is left open any time the weather is nice, so feels like sipping al fresco without the sun bearing down. They also play a playlist of popular hits in Bluegrass style which is just a perfect representation of the city, or at least what I was looking for in the city. And the coffee is excellent.
Frothy Monkey is more of a breakfast spot or somewhat a dinner type vibe. Ordering is done at the counter so it’s still easy to grab and go, or just to grab a bite and sit at one of the tables with a cozy and warm crafted coffee beverage in a huge mug. It’s worth the slightly longer journey from the main strip of downtown just for the awesome baked good selection and warm breakfast options to go with a coffee.
Nearby, Drug Store Coffee feels exactly like an old timey drug store counter situated on the ground floor of a trendy hotel. The only old timey thing about it is the look though, as they pour awesome modern craft coffee with a large variety of options from cold brew to pour over and everything in between. They had my favorite muffin of Nashville, and that’s saying something considering the strong competition just around the corner.
Where to grab drinks that aren’t coffee (unless it’s a coffee porter)
The best spot to start with to get a sense of the Nashville brewing scene is Flying Saucer Draught Emporium. The massive bar and restaurant is the perfect place to try out a few of the local brews across a huge range of styles. The draft list takes up an entire legal paper sized side of the menu. For those not interested in local beer, there’s a huge selection of beer from around the world as well and many countries are well represented.
For a taste of something so local it was made a few feet away, head to Tennessee Brew Works. The fairly large outpost of one of the city’s more popular breweries has a large front patio with lots of seating and an upstairs area with another outside balcony. When I visited, they had buy one get one free specials for happy hour and a live bluegrass band performing. I appreciated the selection of different beer styles and the Tennessee twist they put on a few of them, making the beer stand out as being unique.
Little Harpeth may not be right downtown, and essentially located within an industrial park, I’d suggest taking a Lyft rather than walking like I did. I’d never heard of it before visiting, but found it on tap at most of the bars and restaurants I found. The atmosphere is typical brewery dark warehouse, but the beer made up for it. With pretty big pours and great prices, it was easy to stay longer than I had planned. My favorite: the deliciously malty Marzen.
For something a little different, more of a traditional bar and Honky Tonk, there’s Robert’s Western World. Of course it’s touristy, but you’re not going to have an authentic experience or discover new craft beer. Right in the middle of the tourist strip on Broadway, there’s pretty much always live music going on and it’s always packed. No matter, grab a seat at the bar, get a cheap Bud Lite and take in some live music. Why don’t other cities have this?
Perhaps even more touristy, though unapologetically so, is Dierks Bentley’s Whiskey Row. With wide open doors and windows making it almost feel outside, the big space inside is perfect for listening to some country music performed live on a nice day, which is nearly always in Nashville. There’s a decent beer selection with some local crafts if you ask, though good luck finding a menu of it beyond the bottles of Bud and Coors on the bar. If the goal is to take in live music, especially country which you won’t find elsewhere, this is the perfect spot. This is Nashville in miniature.
Where to eat
My goal over three days in Nashville was to only eat Hot Chicken, and thanks to a wide selection of it and the recommendations of others, I was able to meet that goal and loved every minute of it. The best chicken I actually had was at Bolton’s Spicy Chicken. In East Nashville, it was a little harder to get to than the others from downtown, but worth the trip over. It’s a shack first and foremost, but the blazing hot chicken served up is incredible. I was crying, sweating, and sneezing the whole time, but loved the deliciously seasoned and juicy bird. Best part, the multiple options of different parts of the bird you can get.
If Bolton’s and Prince’s are temples to hot chicken, Hattie B’s feels like the Vatican. A huge shack out in the west of downtown, I couldn’t believe how packed it was in the middle of the day. With a line stretching round the block, it took almost an hour to get my food, but the wait was worth it for some more incredible chicken. With more options here on the spice level and type of meat, and a wider beer selection, it’s no wonder it’s the most popular destination since there is something for everyone. Be prepared for a long wait.
My favorite real restaurant experience in Nashville was at Puckett’s Grocery. Perfectly timed to catch free live performances, I was able to enjoy nearly two hours of music while I ate and tried a couple of their great Tennessee craft beer selections. While not at the level of the hot chicken shack offerings, their sandwich was still pretty good and better than anything I’ve found outside of Nashville. It’s a huge place, so the wait didn’t seem too bad for good food, drinks, and excellent live music. This is Nashville in a nutshell and I think the best place to enjoy the best of it without the circus of some of the places on Broadway.
Though it is on Broadway, Acme Feed and Seed felt less seedy than some of the other locations closer to the heart of downtown. It’s a massive place with multiple floors that range from Honky Tonk Funk to Rock to a DJ on the roof terrace with awesome views of the river and city. I largely stayed on the first floor and listened to the house band play funky jams while I took a break from chicken with some Tennessee style BBQ. The food was great, and enhanced by the music. The bar is also awesome with a ton of good beer options and I don’t think I even discovered them all as each floor looked like it had different options.
Nashville lives up to its reputation as a party city, but while the live music is rocking and there’s plenty of local libations, it’s not all drunken escapades in Music City. There is plenty of enjoyment to be had while still being able to wake up the next day. No other city has live music in such abundance where it’s easy to bar hop for different music styles. I was also surprised by the great craft beer scene and extent at which pretty much every bar went beyond the bottled domestics. While the hot chicken is awesome, it’s also not the only food in an emerging southern cuisine mecca that’s quickly updating classics and cooking up delicious options all around town. While I don’t have any plans to hop in a truck-bed hot tub, I would definitely head back to Nashville.