Beyond Broadway: Where to Go to Get the Real Nashville Experience

There's more to Music City than honky-tonks

March 9, 2024 10:00 pm
Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville, Tennessee
Getty Images

Nashville is a boomtown. The Tennessee capital welcomed over 15 million visitors in 2023, and that figure has been swelling steadily every year of the past decade. The lion’s share of all this added foot traffic accumulates on and around Broadway, a roughly 20-block stretch of downtown dense with bright neon marquees. Below the signage are lively bars, restaurants and boot shops. Live music of every conceivable genre spills out onto the streets into the early morning. You don’t need to squint your eyes too hard to imagine this scene as some honky-tonked variation of the French Quarter.

But much like how Bourbon Street is hardly indicative of New Orleans as a whole, so, too, is the case with Broadway in Nashville. You see, this city is improbably vast. Encompassing nearly 500 square miles within its borders, it’s actually just a tad larger than Los Angeles. So if you’re spending all your time huddled around one crowded corridor, you’re probably doing it wrong. And you’re certainly not doing it like a local. Here are their expert tips on how to make Music City sing. 

Anthony Bourdain hung out at Dino's during his Parts Unknown days
Anthony Bourdain hung out at Dino’s during his Parts Unknown days

Eat Your Way Through East Nashville 

Cut off from the din of downtown by the gentle meanders of the Cumberland River, East Nashville brandishes a markedly more residential feel. But it’s also brimming with its own form of hip relevance. “Explore these streets and you’ll find some of the city’s best cocktail bars, dives and eclectic concepts,” promises AJ Soldo, a longtime local who works in the liquor trade. “It’s where all the locals go at night to share a beer and a shot, and you might even get lucky and spot a celebrity or two.” 

Dino’s is one of the neighborhood’s oldest drinking parlors. It’s a popular end-up for musicians as well as hospitality folks when they’ve finished their respective gigs. You likely won’t skip over the lengthy list of Tennessee whiskies and cheap beers on offer. But don’t sleep on the food either — especially the now-famous cheeseburger. “Anthony Bourdain hung out there in his Parts Unknown days and had a good time,” says local writer and photographer Jon Gugala. “That on its own should be enough.”

Arrive in East Nashville during mealtime and you’ll be treated to down-home fare that most tourists could only dream of. Mas Tacos Por Favor is a dependable standout. “It has the best tortilla soup I’ve ever had,” says Derek James, a professional musician and producer who lives nearby. “Fresh chunks of avocado, cheese and chicken, cherry tomatoes and corn, and a slight kick to the savory broth make it a veritable drool-fest.”

Cold cut sandwiches are the name of the game at Eastwood Deli
Cold cut sandwiches are the name of the game at Eastwood Deli
Eastwood Deli

James is also fond of the cold cut sandwiches served at Eastwood Deli. He advises finishing the meal with a chocolate chip cookie from the easy-going eatery, baked fresh daily using a top-secret recipe. 

When you have a hankering for that most prized of Nashville culinary exports, look past the long lines of Hattie B’s and Prince’s; Bolton’s is where the locals like to get their hot chicken. “It is night-and-day more authentic than its numerous downtown imitators,” Gugala points out. “It’s also especially potent, so my advice: order mild and get a handkerchief ready to mop up the sweat.”

Four Walls has made a splash among locals
Four Walls has made a splash among locals
Four Walls

Get Out to the Gulch and Germantown  

South of Broadway — or SoBro if you want to be hip — is where you’ll find some of the city’s hottest openings. Four Walls is a new craft cocktail bar that’s already resonating with locals. “It takes its design cues from Spaghetti Westerns and drink ideas from Jim Reeves, the patriarch of the Nashville Sound,” explains Gugala. “The signature pour here is named in his honor; rye, with a blend of vermouths, bay leaf, celery and cardamom. It’s as bold as it is refreshing.”

Gugala often ends up here for nightcaps after filling up on fresh pastas at nearby Yolan. The high-minded Italian fare coming out of this sophisticated kitchen is destined for far broader-reaching recognition than it currently enjoys, he contends. “Nashville doesn’t have a Michelin guide yet,” he says. “But when it does, this place will be among the first to receive its stars.”

Yolan is on the fast track to becoming Nashville's first Michelin-starred restaurant
Yolan is on the fast track to becoming Nashville’s first Michelin-starred restaurant

But for some locals, even SoBro has become a bit too crowded these days, so they’re continuing a southward march. “When I go out, I usually gravitate towards the Gulch and Germantown,” says Soldo. “Many of our most creative and award-winning concepts are nestled in these two communities. Adele’s is a great example. It was one of the first on the ‘farm-to-table’ scene and their seasonal menu and great atmosphere still stand up to the other newer concepts. It’s still one of my favorite spots for dinner a decade after opening.”

“While other neighborhoods are elevating in their dining scenes, Germantown is so well-established that you might as well knock on random doors to discover a great meal,” adds Gugala. “But even amidst all the quality, Henrietta Red —helmed by chef Julia Sullivan — stands apart. Its seafood menu and deep raw bar are a credit to Nashville.”

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Biergartens, Indy race cars and probably more Tang dynasty art than you’d expect

Keep trekking even further south and you’ll find neighborhoods like 12South and Melrose, which only recently evolved into culinary destinations. The former is anchored by Locust, a whimsical dining experience where playful dishes are served exclusively by the chefs themselves; there is no dedicated waitstaff. It’s the brainchild of Noma-alum Trevor Moran, who has garnered international attention since opening here in October 2020. 

Soldo is especially fond of Sinema in Melrose. “It’s an old theater that’s been converted into a classy and elegant dining room,” he explains. “They have great food, an amazing wine list and some of the best bartenders in the business.”

The Blevins Japanese Garden at Cheekwood
The Blevins Japanese Garden at Cheekwood
Cheekwood Estate and Gardens

Make Your Way to the Museums 

“Nashville has a vibrant art scene, with tons of countless local galleries,” says Richard Poskanzer, general manager at the year-old Four Seasons, in the heart of downtown. “Ashley Bergeron’s Swipe Right Art is a contemporary gallery that pairs artists and art lovers and showcases emerging to mid-career artists. It’s a must-see.” 

The gallery is open by appointment only, which Poskanzer and his staff at the Four Seasons are happy to arrange for guests of the hotel. They’ll often end up with a personalized experience, curated by Bergeron herself. “If you end up visiting, ask Ashley for her photographs of the Nashville skyline,” Poskanzer advises. 

About 10 miles southwest of downtown you’ll enter the gates of Cheekwood Estate & Gardens. Poskanzer says its worth braving the 25 minute drive to explore the impressive 1930s estate. “It’s home to a 55-acre botanical gardens, an on-site art museum and outdoor sculptural exhibits,” he explains. “Visitors can stroll along a 1.5-mile woodland trail while discovering the 13 gardens on property. Walking through the mansion is like stepping back in time.”

The Bluebird Cafe is the city's most famous venue
The Bluebird Cafe is the city’s most famous venue
The Bluebird Cafe

Live Music, Low-Key Settings  

All visitors to Nashville ought to know about the iconic Bluebird Cafe. The diminutive club in the suburban Green Hills section of the city has hosted Garth Brooks, Faith Hill and Taylor Swift among countless other superstars. You never know who’s going to show up on any given night. Which is also why it’s nearly impossible to ever secure a spot inside. 

“Bluebird is the city’s most famous [venue], but the best value is at Listening Room,” according to Gugala. “It draws from a wide swath of the city’s real hitmakers. Drinks go down sweeter when accompanied by great tunes.”

Many locals — if they trust you with the intel — will point you towards Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge in Madison, well north of downtown. “It’s far from the Broadway bluster but a hell of a lot closer to how it used to be,” Gugala says. “It holds all the hallmarks of a real honky tonk: cheap beer, amazing live music and a high chance of seeing somebody important.”

But if you want to increase those chances further still, Poskanzer endorses The Station Inn back in the Gulch. “The city’s top musicians come to play in this unique atmosphere, and you may even see legendary artists playing alongside up and coming talent.”

Seats are first-come, first-served. On any given night you can tap your feet to some of the world’s best bluegrass, country, Americana or roots music. And if you’re truly lucky, you’ll pull up a stool during a songwriters’ round, a local spectacle in which artists take turns performing their work accompanied by a single acoustic guitar at the center.

Let Broadway have all the hits — this is where you come to hear what’s next.


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